without Internet Explorer,
in 1280 x 960 resolution
To me, presentation is everything. I can instantly take a great interest in a band simply from looking at a cover, or the titles, or simply from the general feel of a band. If a band has a crap album cover, or a stupid name or album title, I can instantly take a disliking to them. If you want to grab me, you need to have worked at developing an aesthetic of your own, with something which will strike my line of vision. You know how people say "Don't judge a book by it's cover"? Well I do. That said, it's not mutually exclusive. First impressions may not be everything, but you do only get to make one first impression, and it tends to stick. So when Ulcerate's new album came along, it had an awesome cover and an awesome title, this looked very promising. Then I read a review of it which talked about how the band injected atmosphere into their technical brutality. "Back of the net!", I thought because one thing that has always bugged me about Technical Death Metal is the lack of atmosphere. The sheer speed and precision means there is little left for atmosphere, everything feels cold and sterile. Aborted went a good way on Strychnine 213 in trying to inject their frenzied gorefest with some darkness and, as a consequence, some warmth too, but it only seems like the start of something, and is yet to mature.
From the outset, Ulcerate seem intent on expanding the depths, and taking the idea of Atmosphere to it's limits. Opener "Drown Within" isn't very technical at all, compared to bands such as Kataklysm and Necrophagist, they look positively pathetic. The guitars seem fairly simplistic, yet unlike anything seen before in this realm of brutality. I'm fairly certain that most guitarists with a competence for Death Metal could play these riffs, but none of them would. Most guitarists seem to be lost in an eternal race to reach the finish line of brutality, however, in this marathon, Ulcerate have taken a wrong turn and went up a whole different alley. Titles like "Caecus" and "We are Nil" tell us that this isn't going to be any ordinary ride. This isn't your ordinary Blood-and-Guts slasher-flick fare, this is more thought-out and profound.
The Ulcerate formula is a hard one to pin, but several major influences come to the fore-front. Erik Rutan is a key reference point, through his work in Hate Eternal and (especially) Morbid Angel. However, Ulcerate tend to take more from the period of MA which came AFTER Rutan, from Formulas to Heretic. There is little of the Vincent-era ouput, except maybe one or two leanings towards Domination. It's very refreshing to hear a band take note from a period which is often met by derision by most fans, as it is a very underrated time in the band's history. Another key reference point would be of Akercocke. The whole thing tends to sound like an experimental Akercocke song, or what we can expect from them in the next few years (If they don't turn into Status Quo, that is). Another astonishing thing about this band is that they class themselves as "Brutal Death Metal" and, when they get around to blasting away, they do sound Brutal, but they do it WELL. Like the aforementioned Aborted, Ulcerate take a genre which I do not like one bit, brutal death metal and make it palatable (Dare I say more palatable than Aborted do?). They've got rid of the slam elements which plague most "br00thul" bands, there is no hardcore influences, and the band don't seem intent on playing faster and heavier than every other band. They take the "br00thul" model, mix it with the blackened death metal of bands like Behemoth and Vader (But not Black Metal directly, apart from maybe 30 seconds on the title-track) and then top it off with the greatest ingredient of this album, the atmosphere.
It's hard to find a band to reference when I talk about the atmospheric parts. I really can't think of another band which does something like this in death metal or even a band who does this sort of thing without the DM elements. For some reason, I always seem to think of Tool, but it sounds absolutely nothing like Tool. You could maybe say it's like a technical death metal version of Machine Head, or Sepultura, but some might say it isn't. It really is quite unique. Once again, Aborted springs straight to mind. It's a bit like the intro to Strychnine 213 ("Carrion") if it was stretched out for a whole album. The other comparison which springs to mind is Akercocke, who seem to be the closest thing to these guys in terms of style. It's slow, but it isn't doom metal, and it certainly isn't groove. It's atmospheric, but not the cheesy type of atmospheric. There is no keyboards whatsoever, bar a sample in "The Earth At It's Knees". This album was pretty much done wholly by three guys with only a guitar, bass and drums, and the fact they've been able to conduct this type of atmosphere with just basic, standard equipment is mesmerising. There are bands with banks and banks of technology who would KILL to have this kind of atmosphere, without it sounding cheesy.
In summary, then? This is completely refreshing. Most technical DM bands bore the shite out of me. The drums pound along and the guitars shred, but it's all soulless. But THIS is unbelievable. Yes, the drums do blast a LOT, but they don't really detract much from the whole album. It's obvious that this drummer has a lot of skill, from the several Jazz-esque interludes on the album to the fills the guy reels off when blasting. The guitarists do NOT shred a lot, but it's not because they can't. I believe these guys could do wanking solos ala Cryptopsy and Necrophagist if they wanted to, but the fact they don't is fantastic to me. A bit of modesty goes a long way and, on this, it goes MILES.
If you thought Morbid Angel's Heretic would've been an absolute classic if it weren't for the bloody production, well, your prayers have been answered with this album. The vocalist is a mixture of David Vincent and Steve Tucker, with Erik Rutan on backing vocals. If you can't wait for the next Akercocke album, this is your solution. If you love new Aborted and want some more, here is something to tide you over while they go all Phileas bloody Fogg and tour the world 19 million times.
This is a must for anyone who loves technical death metal, and certainly worth a listen for anyone who finds shred-and-wankery a bit boring and just wants some original, yet heavy, music to listen to. The fact that these guys not only have the ability to play some mind-blowingly fast stuff but also have the ability to reign it in is of a great appeal to me, and will be to you too. Hopefully, with a bit of refinement, the band will continue to grow with each album and continue to get better and better with each release without descending into farce, and that these guys can get themselves together and bring their arses over for a European tour sometime, as I'd love to see them live.