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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/