New Zealand trio Ulcerate have released their sixth (!) album upon this waiting world, full of furious, angry riffage, but this time, they’ve made some interesting adjustments to their sound. Are they still caustic and insanely heavy? Oh, yes indeed. Is the music still pummeling and unforgiving? You bet. But they’ve layered harmonies into the mix, along with some quieter moments that shine a little light into the darkness. In the end, this just causes the existing darkness to be that much more consummate. Ulcerate have unleashed a churning cauldron of hopelessness and dread.
This change is no more apparent than in the opener, “The Lifeless Advance,” with its creeping, atmospheric beginning, the band riding in a wave of dark melodicism before putting the hammer down and absolutely obliterating the listener. This song highlights their virtuosity but also offers a somewhat cleaner sound than previous releases. In no way is this detrimental to their sound, as the band have simply focused their efforts and polished the mirror, so to speak. And the album just rolls on.
Label: Debemur Morti Productions
Title track “Stare Into Death and Be Still” is a terrifying, lurching journey into a reverence for death, where the end is not some sudden or certain thing, but instead something to be observed, studied, absorbed. This song warbles, shaking and crushing, with a shimmering cascade of guitars, before ultimately folding over and roaring. You can feel the pain and dread in the vocals as the drums carry you along the river Styx to the appointment we all must one day keep. And that’s something else that’s key to this record: the theme of death and the silent terror of watching it unfold, embracing and devouring us all. Every song echoes this sentiment. Only one song is less than six minutes long on this horrifying expedition, and it is the excellent “Visceral Ends,” which feels like a plague ship, listing at sea, full of dead bodies, drifting endlessly upon the tides. Here is pure atmosphere, as the song loosens itself from the moorings of the album as a whole and drifts along, until it hits a reef and shatters. The song grinds, swirling into itself. You can feel the utter loneliness and pain in the guitar lines towards the end, the vocals crying out for a redemption that is never coming.
What you’re getting here is almost a full hour of pure bleak, blackness. Ulcerate bring Death, Black, and smatterings of sludge and lots of melody to create perhaps their finest album yet. They themselves call this the purest distillation of who they are, the apex of the journey thus far. It’s hard to argue with those sentiments as the band has truly outdone themselves. It’s fascinating to see groups that have been around a good amount of time either evolve or not. Ulcerate certainly evolves here, a mutating organism full of malice and sorrow. Where they go from here remains to be seen, but so far, the voyage has been incredible.