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Well, fuck what I said earlier! As time passes by and this album slowly reveals itself more and more, I am beginning to enjoy this music more, in addition to continuing to further appreciate the approach these Kiwis are taking on this album. It is quite an album, indeed, and one of the only true 'growers' of the last five years, in my opinion. As you've probably heard before, this sound that Ulcerate conjure is quite dense and miasma-like, and this album represents a provoking and unusually-compelling artistic take on the abrasiveness of the death metal aesthetic in this century. At first, this album almost sounded self-indulgent and unorthodox to a point of incoherency, though still (thankfully) in a way far-removed from any sort of the generic scale-masturbating found in all the dubious tech deathers rearing their heads everywhere amongst the scene. It was rather in a completely introverted rendering of the technical dexterity boasted by death metal for years, and perhaps a far-removed logical successor to Gorguts' defining advant-garde masterwork Obscura. But still, you can pretty much call a metal band special if they manage to create something rather unique with that jarring instability and amorphous guitar twisting as heard on Obscura. But in all actuality, EiF is less 'mechanical' than the album it's being compared to, and, due to the production and guitar tone, manages to evoke a rich, almost cosmic atmosphere. Here's an album steeped as much in atmosphere as it is in technicality; and Ulcerate's delicate but overwhelming balance of the two elements makes for a most laudable amalgamation of artistic security.
I think what may initially throw listeners for a loop here, however, is obviously the guitar work. And I'm not simply talking about the arcane rhythms and linear songwriting (though that would undeniably be an equal factor) but the sound of this album itself. To these ears, the guitar tone and instrumental mixing is far closer to that of some form of spacey post-rock. Now, Ulcerate are a death metal band after all, but to me, it's only Paul Kelland's gutteral vocals that keep them confined, at least partially, in that genre. As others have noted, the guitar work hardly resembles that of 'regular' death metal at all. Ulcerate's take on intensity takes a starkly original approach: focusing more on disorienting and dissonant melodic vagaries, occasionally beefed up by lower-chords, and in the process creating a force more like the pulse of a quasar than the hit of a sledgehammer, so to speak. And the moderately-layered sound, coupled with the very nature of Ulcerate's frenetic note choice cements this sound's strength. And perhaps in a fashion almost similar to Vehemence on God Was Created, Ulcerate create something undeniably aggressive, but equally relaxed and soothing. Only difference is, Ulcerate's melody is transmogrified through unsettling dissonance and alternative picking; creating vistas of sound that are more than simply heavy; they verge on haunting. But I don't use that word in a pastiche, 'funeral' sound way, as these eight songs seem to seep the listeners mind into the fabric of another dimension, hell, in almost a Lovecraftian manner, in fact. To be frank; there's a lot to absorb with this album, giving it an uncanny musical depth, though one that is almost a challenge to survive in. Much like space, which this album reminds me of, if that wasn't already obvious.
To me the one thing that keeps this from ranking as a more-or-less advant-garde classic is simply a matter of consistency. Whilst the album is enjoyable as a whole, if not a bit tiresome, it's "Drown Within", the title track and especially "Soullessness Embraced" where this album REALLY shines. I simply find the flurries of discordant harmonic work to be more engaging compositionally there, and those songs to have a songwriting direction more compelling and complete-of-identity than the other five tracks. The title track even almost takes a cue from Immolation's tradition of the 'epic closer'; being an enthralling masterpiece that creates a level of epic tension to end the album on a heightened note. Moments like the swelling dissonant harmonies at 4:47 in that song, or the first few minutes of "Soullessness Embraced" remind me just why I cannot possibly claim to not enjoy this album. They're almost like alien paeans to the disintegration of Earth! Something quite special indeed. But I cannot deny the other tracks of their compelling nature, as they certainly have their moments, but they just don't paint quite as much of a picture as the other tracks. The somber/visceral contrast in "Tyranny" makes it an interesting track, even if not especially well-organized. "We Are Nil" is another compelling one, featuring some of the more 'normal' 'riffing' on the album, but with Ulcerate's unmistakable twist. Many of the guitar parts sound rather similar and are subtly differentiated through alternate picking and tonal experimentation. In much of this album's duration, this is properly blended with the songwriting, but at other times it makes things feel incoherent and unfinished, However, the good-bad ratio luckily favors the former, and only minorly detriments Ulcerate's beautifully-irrupt compositions.
And to round it all up, Jamie's drum performance is definitely one of the most steadfast and intense performances on a metal album. The guy knows how to use speed tastefully, and, much like the guitars, subtly accentuates both the primal speed of itself (as well as the guitars themselves) with classy crashes/cymbal work and snare hits. It's a solid, impermeable foundation to this massive sound, and is one of the few times where the speed is absolutely necessary, and not simply to show off. Here it's done with taste, and not shameless self-indulgence. All around, everything here comes together in spacey package of equal parts brutality and cerebral atmosphere. It's immensely refreshing to hear death metal intricacy played through a different plane of creation. Here's what happens when you have musicians with solid and true musical integrity; weaving a unique and far-removed sound with atmosphere and intrinsic personality, as well as eschewing the disparate musical competition that plagues ninety percent of technical metal these days. Ulcerate don't dubiously aim to be more brutal than anyone, nor more technical and/or progressive than the last, like so many expendable bands nowadays. Rather, they make true progression by creating something that falls well outside of the fundamentals of their initial influence, into a pantheon for truly elite objective creativity; an artistic phenomenon that doesn't seem to care exactly about being musical, but rather seeing what can happen with music.