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New Zealand's Ulcerate have caught a tidal wave of buzz recently regarding their third record, The Destroyers Of All. And any open-minded metalhead with an ear to the ground is likely wanting to catch what all the fuss is about. Sadly, hype of this kind rarely rewards anymore. Many bands who've lately been bandied about as a sea-change in metal have left me feeling sadly deflated, as if all avenues of exploration have already been choked up on the innovations of previous decades. Some of the most exciting records of the past few years have also proven to be artistic or innovative dead ends, the bands behind them faltering beneath the weight of their unique formulations. So imagine my surprise when I spun Ulcerate. Here is a record that truly breathes new life into a stale genre, invigorating brutal death by removing one of its most prized elements: the riff -- there's almost no chugging, palm muting, tremolo picking, or fret blazing at all to be found here. Instead we are treated to a variety of droning ambient and dissonant atonal melodies, vast tapestries of churning atmosphere above and seismic activity below. The guitars are all texture and flow while the rhythm section locks-in on intense bass heaviness and frantic bursts of manic drumming. Vocal registers go deep yet retain an easy familiarity in enunciation and emotive power. Honestly, the easiest amalgamation to imagine here is a kinda hybrid Neurosis meets Immolation. Yet even that comparison is stretching what's actually going on here.
"Burning Skies" opens, delivering Ulcerate's intent for remainder of the record. The guitar work feeds back loping drones of repeated notes coalescing into melody. The bass anchors while the drums push through the center of the sound. The drums dominate this record completely. The speed, skill and variety is overpowering, allowing Ulcerate (despite all omission) to remain firmly ensconced within the death metal tradition. I love the layered dissonance in the guitar tone, a sound closely recalling early Killing Joke records. Each note swirls in and out of the maelstrom, a vortex of darkened sounds that is damn near claustrophobic. We're talking crush-depth heaviness without the artificial enhancers. Even the vocals contribute to this heaviness, pushing past the noise to provide your ears a reasonable focus point. This template firmly in place, Ulcerate then continues to tinker throughout the album's remaining six tracks, allowing for only the minutest variations -- this intransigence towards a variety of sounds may be the album's only flaw but within the realm of such uncompromising vision, I am relatively unconcerned. The composite experience tends to count more here than the individuated one.
Like past metal epics that pushed at the boundaries of greatness and immortality, The Destroyers Of All is meant to be absorbed in its completeness. Ulcerate's overwhelming atmosphere of complete pressurized surrender constantly assaults one's eardrums with such hypnotic regularity that if one's attention happens to meander a bit or if a certain sameness starts to grate on one's nerves, well I believe that's actually part of the experience. The only two questions that remain for me is how they handle this material live and whether or not they falter on their follow-up.
You know, in general I like to think of myself as a fair and balanced individual, open minded in his musical tastes. I consider it a blessing that I've been listening to metal music in all of its forms, from an age at which I was unable to even distinguish what those were. An age where really the only brand was 'heavy metal' itself. Come thrash, come speed, come power, come doom, come death, come black, come drone, come folk, come whatever, it's always been a pleasure to experience each new terrain as it took form, to separate the chaff from the wheat. But every so often, I find myself at odds with an album that appears like some new cultural monolith from the void, some tribally praised epiphany of the unsung, and this year out it would appear to be Ulcerate's third full-length The Destroyers of All.
I don't think there's a single hip rag out there which isn't lauding this as one of the year's best offerings on the extreme side of the spectrum, and I've seen it mentioned on years' end lists more numerous than I could count in a lifetime. New Zealand band finds a new direction, and impresses all with its absolution and artistry! Now, let's reverse for a moment: I actually quite like Ulcerate. Or rather, I enjoyed their first two albums to some extent. Everything in Fire, in particular, was an incendiary and turbulent blitz of harrowing architecture. Certainly even then you could tell that there was something mildly different about the way the band were building their compositions. Tense, jerking tremolo riffs supported by one of the more technically versed skin-hammers in the field (Jamie Saint Merat), and what it might have lacked in truly memorable note progressions it made up for in its sheer, explosive facade...
Here, they've basically watered down the formula, or rather pacified it to the degree that the music has become more accessible. That's not inherently a bad choice, knowing just how chaotic they had seemed up to its release, but somehow Ulcerate have managed to leech all that terror and tension out of their music. The influence of drone, post-hardcore and sludge have crept forth into the compositions, and thus this feels like a more excitable alternative to Neurosis or Isis with a drummer who can mete out more strikes per minute than those acts have on entire albums. The guitars center in on spikes or ringing, higher pitched droning notes that one would think might actually brighten up the beats, or add some warmth, and yet they're almost entirely without any value. Each note sequence feels pitifully simplistic and unmemorable, as if the two players were simply trying to zip and zag around one another with all the shiny strings and create some sort of aural sunstroke in the listener.
Quite annoying, and eventually The Destroyers of All grows as tired and boring as watching water drip from a slowly leaking faucet. The odd thing is, the musical meter is not monotonous on this album. The band will shift between slower passages like "Beneath" to more harried, manic double bass beats in "Cold Becoming", and certainly the notes continuously shift with each streaming imprint of irritation, but considering these tracks range from six to over 10 minutes long, there's a lot of headache lying in wait, and the guitars seem to pull the same tricks over and over again in this banal dearth of creativity. I picked up the album earlier in the year, listened through and found nothing even remotely as interesting as what people were raving about, and then put it away for some months. But time has not been kind, and I find myself just as irascible towards its content as I was back then. Hell, I can't even listen through this anymore without reading along to the lyrics, because in all honesty they're better than the music...
Admittedly, this is not the WORST record I've heard in a year choked with disappointments and overrated tripe, but I must say that in ratio to its surrounding miasma of hype, I reaped the least yield of enjoyment out of The Destroyers of All than almost any other of its kind. Compared to Flourishing's amazing debut album, or others in this class of hybridized post-hardcore and death metal, in flounders on such a flat and soulless plane that it's practically two dimensional. 53 minutes with not a single good riff to be shown for it, dull semi-guttural vocals that aren't nearly as interesting as the text they speak, and a jerky atmosphere as annoying as a cloud of flies at a picnic. God, I'll just recommend this to everyone I know. The Destroyers of All is not clever. It's not well written. It's not inventive in any meaningful sense of the word. The Kiwis of Ulcerate can certainly do better, and HAVE done better than this, but until such a time as they return to that point, I must remain humbly and respectfully undestroyed.
A friend gave this to me as a birthday present and I felt the need to review this. I have to admit that I hadn't heard of Ulcerate until I read about them and their uncompromising new effort titled "The Destroyers of All". I read that this album is one of the most original death metal records that have come out lately. I don't know if I agree. That is, because it's not purely death metal.
It's something new. No, it's not post-death metal. "Altars of Madness" was not post-thrash metal. The blasts are there. The growls are there. The haunting atmosphere is there. What is it that makes it different? The way that this band explores their art.
I already explained that they incorporate typical elements of death metal such as the growl and the blast. But, instead of riffs, these guys mostly make use of drony and dissonant chords. There is an ambient feeling throughout the album, and it's not like you'll get past the emotional intensity Ulcerate's music features. I sometimes had the impression that these people don't distort their guitars as much as one would expect from a death metal band, but since they're actually not a death metal band, it's not necessarily a bad thing. Initially, you might think that what they play is complete nonsense. Once you get past the complexity though, you'll be 100% rewarded.
The rhythm section is also a key element on this one, probably more than on a usual death metal release. The bass adds to the aforementioned ambience, multiplying it a hundred times. The way the bass fits with the drumming patterns and the guitar parts is just what I want on my death metal but find it only once in a blue moon, which is, bass you can hear easily but does not draw your attention away from the other instruments, as in Cynic's efforts for example.
The drumming, in one word is intense. By intense, I don't mean fast or heavy. I mean that there is a sense of emotional intensity into it. Sometimes it reminds me of Immolation, sometimes it reminds me of Porcupine Tree. The patterns flow smoothly, from extremely heavy blastbeats to jazzy motifs. Don't expect to figure out the rhythms immediately, you'll fail, unless you're a professional musician. There is an a certain eerie feeling behind every single hit of the snare, the bass drum, the tom drums and the cymbals, which, once again, contributes to the overall darkness.
Ulcerate is bound to be compared to Gorguts, Deathspell Omega, Portal or Mitochondrion, but, since all those bands are great, everyone should be pleased.
Overall, if you like ambient music, dark music, blast beats, death growls, dissonances and sick song structures, do a favor to yourself and check this out. I can't give this album an 100% because since I don't own "Of Fracture and Failure" and "Everything is Fire" I'm not completely into the band, I don't know their overall viewpoint on extreme music. I'm sure that I'l like the other 2 full lengths, too, though, since a band which makes a record as great as this, doesn't have many possibilities of releasing something shitty. Total respect for this one!
Ulcerate is an unusual band from an unusual place. That unusual place is New Zealand, and for me they are the first band from that spot on the map. Their neighbors in Australia tend to be weird too, so I guess it's not surprising that they have a weird sound, but that's going to take some explaining.
It's as if each element of the music thinks it's in a completely different band. The drums and vocals sound like they're in a death metal band. Death growls, and lots of aggressive pounding (especially on the bass drum). The bass and rhythm guitar seem to think they're in Neurosis, playing a lot of slow, heavy riffs that ring out like post-metal. But the lead guitar seems to think it's in Deathspell Omega, playing a hell of a lot of dissonant chords, and almost nothing but. This is especially weird when you consider the vocalist is the bassist, and the guitarist does both rhythm and lead, so each of them appears to be schizophrenic. At times, you think, "Ah, this is a post-death metal band," like when you hear "Dead Oceans". (Even the title may evoke an image of a death metal version of Isis.) Other times, you think, "No wait, this is a French post-hardcore/death metal band," like on "Cold Becoming".
But shockingly, it works, especially in the slower parts. "Beneath" seems to be the highlight, being the heaviest and slowest track on the album, but opener "Burning Skies" and the closing title track also have a great deal to offer. There are times when the dissonance gets out of hand, though. My problem with Deathspell Omega's Paracletus was that it had too much dissonance, without anything to ground it, and here it starts to push that line on "Cold Becoming" and "The Hollow Idols". The songwriting might not be the problem, because if the heavier parts were louder in the mix that may have solved the problem. And most of the time, this is satisfyingly, dangerously, challengingly good music.
The Verdict: Is post-death metal the next thing, or is Ulcerate going to remain an oddity? Either way, it's unique for the time being, and worthwhile. It's a grower, too, so I wouldn't be surprised if I think more highly of it by the end of the year.
originally written for http://fullmetalattorney.blogspot.com/
Although much extreme metal being released nowadays seems to be content with emulating the works of past giants, there will always be those bands out there that try to turn the concept of a given genre on its side and redfine what it can do. Although this can sometimes lead to peril for the band, when done well, it leads to a fair deal of excitement, as is the case with New Zealanders Ulcerate and their latest work, entitled 'The Destroyers Of All'. While it is made clear from the highly distorted riffs, technical drumming and deep growls that this is indeed a death metal record, Ulcerate crosses the boundaries more than once, creating a work that has many of the characteristics of the prescribed genre, but still manages to skim the edge of something different altogether.
When listening to 'The Destroyers Of All', the biggest thing I notice are the guitars. For much death metal, I find that the main purpose of the riffs is to add to heaviness and- in many cases- the technical aspect of the music. Ulcerate is different in this aspect for the fact that the guitar work here is neither particularly brutal throughout, or fast-paced. Although it would be foolish to say that there aren't some looming moments to offer here, the guitars instead offer sounds that rely more on dissonant chord structures, complex timbres and eerie use of feedback. From my personal musical background, the closest thing Ulcerate's guitar work here sounds like is the latter period of Deathspell Omega; experimental, atonal, creepy and sometimes downright disconcerting in nature. All of this works in Ulcerate's favour. When first oging into this record that seemed to have people so excited, I was not expecting something other than a typical (albeit good) death metal record, and the band proved me wrong.
Apart from the relatively experimental guitar work, the rest of Ulcerate is fairly straightforward for the death metal genre. Some great technical drum work of Jamie Saint Merat and washed out but functional bass playing fills out the rest of the sound with the added heaviness the guitars didn't seem to worry about. The most generic thing about the band are the vocals however. While Paul Kelland is a fair enough growler, his grunts here lack the power and emotion to add much to the music.
Ulcerate's 'The Destroyer Of All' is therefore a fairly interesting creature for death metal. With equal parts death metal and something else altogether, the band has crafted an hour's worth of dissonant music that certainly grinds against the nerves at times, but for the time being, the album has given me back some faith into what I perceived was a dying genre.
Ulcerate is described on Metal Archives as a brutal death metal band. The reality is significantly more complicated than that. They are definitely not just a blasting, heavy brutal death juggernaut. Those elements are definitely present, but with much more of a free-moving atmosphere and riffs (if you can call them that) that do not feel confined and rigid. The album is not in-your-face with its brutality. Instead the brutality comes from the seriously oppressive atmosphere. It is unnerving and spine-tingling.
The guitar parts are not really delivered as what we would normally call riffs. Instead, they are more of dissonant and ambient chords. They are the major source of the melody but do not really possess any sort of defined structure. They have a bit of a droning quality to them, although the drums and vocals keep it from devolving completely into an unstructured mess. This has been described as Neurosis playing death metal. To be honest, I am not overly familiar with Neurosis, so I will not comment on that comparison.
The drums are completely the opposite of the free-form guitars. Heavily blastbeat-driven and intense, the drumming is extremely impressive. The drums provide the major driving force in Ulcerate's music. They are also the major ingredient signaling that this is in fact a brutal death metal band.
The vocals are pretty standard. Nothing we really have not heard in several other brutal death metal bands, deep growls and little variety. The lyrics though are well-written and interesting and would probably be better served with a different vocal style.
This album is kind of draining, being nearly an hour long, yet consisting of only seven songs, but it is interesting enough to keep attention focused on it. I like it reasonably well, but have a feeling that it is more of a grower. It is kind of similar to the band Portal's releases, although a little bit better structured. All in all, it is certainly a creative album, different than a lot of the other stuff out there. Who knows, by the end of the year this could be a contender for my Album of the Year.
Alright then, I figure it's high time I got an album review done, seeing as just about everyone else has done one but me. A few days ago I got a hold of Ulcerate's new album The Destroyers of All, and after giving the whole thing a listen I believe I can accurately sum up the experience in three words: spacey... as... fuck. From the minute the opening track "Burning Skies" kicks in after an incredibly ominous audio intro, to the fading final moments of the closing title track, every second of this album is absolutely smothered in atmosphere.
In all honesty, this is more of a drum- and vocal-driven album, because the guitar tracks can barely even be referred to as "riffs". In lieu of any discernible harmonies, the majority of Michael Hoggard's guitarwork is a seemingly endless barrage of eerie, dissonant-yet-ambient chord progressions, and while it does get a bit taxing after too long, I do think it's a very clever approach, because it causes you to pay more attention to the other instruments. Good thing too, because Jamie Saint Merat is a monster on the skins. If the sluggish, almost doom-like guitar doesn't do it for you, fret not, because the drums are almost the exact opposite. Blast beats, consistent, lightning-quick double bass and a fair helping of jazzy beats and fills are abound in The Destroyers of All, leaving no one doubting that this is indeed a brutal death metal band. A very experimental brutal death metal band, but a brutal death metal band nonetheless. Combined with Paul Kelland's impressive growls and dark, misanthropic lyrics ("With blind eyes turned from daylight, we deny. With blind eyes turned from the glare of being, loathe that which we are"), Ulcerate have found a genuinely unique sound that perfectly straddles the line between doom and straight-up death metal.
In the end, The Destroyers of All is a very solid album, but to be brutally honest, because of its droning atmosphere and exhausting playing time (almost an hour long with only seven songs), it doesn't have much replay value. It's the perfect album get stoned to and blast at high volume in the background while you go do something else (or even when trying to fall asleep, but that might lead to some freaky-ass dreams), but as far as actually sitting through it just for the sake of listening to it, this probably wouldn't be my first choice. It's a good album from a very talented band, just don't expect to be able to tell any of the songs apart.
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