Even as a metal fan, I typically prefer to be ear-wooed than ear-fucked. Let me explain. I’d rather be caressed gently by the shoegaze melodies of Alcest than get into a fist fight with Slayer. I’d rather take a pensive walk through a Pacific forest with Agalloch than be tormented by Anaal Nathrakh. I’d rather make goofy jokes about the devil with Ghost than worry about Watain actually sacrificing me to said-Devil. That said, sometimes there are exceptions. Sometimes I just want to plug in my headphones, drop the needle on a record, and get ear-fucked, HARD, non-stop for forty-five minutes, until I’m ear-screaming in ecstasy and ear-begging for more. Not just any heavy album is up for such a marathon of ear-fucking, but Ulcerate’s new tech death masterpiece Vermis not only lives up to the challenge, but it made me ear-cum. Six times.
Ulcerate first burst into my consciousness a few years ago when Mick introduced me to their 2011 album The Destroyers of All. I was instantly hooked, mainly on just how fucking heavy, dark, and brutal it sounded. There was a tangible weight to the music, and it crushes your skull under an onslaught of crunching bass, distorted riffs, and pounding drums. When “Confronting Entrophy,” the first single from Vermis debuted a few months ago, it was clear that Ulcerate had no plans on changing their approach, although the finished product reveals the band has made some tweaks that improve that approach stylistically.
The most notable thing about Vermis is that while as a whole it’s a hurricane of death metal, the eye of the storm is made very clear. Songs like “Odium,” “Vermis,” and “Clutching Revulsion” have moments of calm, rests from the torrential downpour of guitarist Michael Hoggard’s distortion-soaked riffs, the howling winds of Paul Kelland’s roaring vocals, and the thunder of Kelland’s bass and drummer Jamie Saint Merat’s pounding skins. During these moments, it’s easy to forget about the blitzkrieg you’ve just heard and lose yourself in thought… only to be quickly and mercilessly thrown back into the storm. Changing pace suits Ulcerate quite nicely; the band is able to transition between the different parts of the songs more subtly, instead of just blasting right through.
Fret not though, fans of the heavy; I didn’t just use hurricane as hyperbole. No, the most destructive force in nature is a perfect metaphor for Ulcerate. Vermis is a pummeling, unforgivingly oppressive amalgamation of music put together by one of the bands that does it best. Hoggard’s work at both creating melodies to carry through the songs and then burying those melodies under fifty tons of concrete riffs is a sight to behold, while Kelland’s bass adds even more weight and crunch. But the real star of the show here is drummer Saint Merat, whose double bass kicks and light cymbal taps (like the ones in the beginning of “Confronting Entrophy”) are perfectly at odds with one another, adding just the slightest bit of delicacy to an album that is much more herd of rhinos stampeding across the plain than gentle faun resting in a sun-drenched meadow.
Vermis is one of my favorite albums of the year, and while I’m not a frequenter of the genre (ear-wooing, remember), it doubles as one of my favorite technical death metal albums of all time. Hearing the musical precision of the band produce such a dense chaos is incredible, and with Vermis, Ulcerate has made huge strides toward the pinnacle of bands I want to see live, just to witness that chaos in person. Vermis is another album this year (joining Altar of Plague’s swansong Teethed Glory and Injury and Steven Wilson’s The Raven that Refused to Sing) that should break down genres and be experienced by all fans of metal. Just be sure to wear an ear-condom.