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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.