Ulcerate – Stare into Death and Be Still


New Zealand’s Ulcerate are known for their dissonant death metal and sophisticated craftsmanship. Lying somewhere on the scale between Schammasch and Inter Arma, listeners should expect complex time signatures and guitar distortion mired in thick clouds of melodic ash. As a favourite in the underground alongside Neurosis and Isis, they also invite high expectations with each release.

Unfortunately, Stare into Death and Be Still is an apt description of the musical experience. The sound on this record is a lethargic misery that begs you to give up rather than reflect on the source of your melancholy. Which is all the more frustrating when you consider the glimpses of originality on display here. Few bands come close to perfecting the atmospheric death metal mood that these boys serve up. The guitars wail like dying animals while technical drums pound away with death metal intensity. Underneath it all is a triumphant melody creeping through the grime. Opener, ‘The Lifeless Advance’, is Paradise Lost meets Pallbearer with grinding tremolo picks and savage snares. Some will hear shades of early Anathema in the mix. ‘There is No Horizon’ captures the glittering loneliness of Lycia with clean guitar passages and flashes of military drums. 

But the relentless doom is unbearable for the rest of the record. At track three you’ll be checking how much remains. The answer will have you rubbing your eyes with the underside of your fingers. We love dark and harrowing masterpieces at Scream Blast Repeat. Indeed, The Cure’s Pornography and Joy Division’s Closer are two of the most oppressive sounding albums of all time. Yet the misery on these records is intense, stripped-down and drenched in the inevitability of a lonely death. On ‘Visceral Ends’ you’ll be begging for some female vocals to inject a different palette of pain, while ‘Inversion’ captures My Dying Bride’s morbid soundscapes without the pulse of Yorkshire’s finest. On ‘Drawn to the Next Void’ we have a sluggish tempo and an unreconcilable paradox – how do you marry aggressive death metal vocals with the funereal sounds of ringing guitars? It’s a conflict they never resolve because the instruments are too literal in their interpretation of the mood. Imagine instructing an artist to depict the theme of darkness and have them deliver a black canvass with splashes of navy blue. This is what we get on this record.

Make no mistake, Ulcerate want you to have a miserable experience and aim to wrap it in a post-metal casket. In that they are successful. We know that extreme metal should never be an easy listen, but it should at least be listenable – these are two different things. Nobody doubts the sophistication and capability of this band, but they miss the mark on this release and offer an interminable journey only die-hard doom metal fans will appreciate.

Romania’s Katharos XIII executed the vision Ulcerate aim for here and did it with more imagination on 2019’s masterful, Palindrome.

JVB


Verdict


Release Date: 24/04/2020

Record Label: Debemur Morti Productions

Standout tracks: The Lifeless Advance, There is No Horizon, Visceral Ends

Suggested Further Listening: Katharos XIII – Palindrome (2019), Paradise Lost – Gothic (1991), Schammasch – Hearts of No Light (2019)