Thursday, April 9, 2020

Ulcerate - Stare Into Death and Be Still

They've been around long enough that it's easy to take them for granted, but New Zealand's Ulcerate is truly in a league of their own. Ever since their debut in the early 2000s, the band has been an ever-evolving force in crafting a brand of death metal that is, to be succinct, extreme. The beauty of the band's extremity, however, is that it can be appreciated and digested in different ways. Whether you're searching for unrelentingly varied barrages of drums and guitars or a dissonance carrying a palpable bleakness equally serene as it is somber, there's something here for a wide variety of death metal fans. The band's sixth album, Stare Into Death and Be Still, not only carries on with this formula but presents it in the most impressive way since 2011's seminal The Destroyers of All.

"The Lifeless Advance" and "Exhale the Ash" open up the album with plenty of momentum and refined, technical flourish. Between the lightning-fast blast beats and cymbal work on drums, the ominous lingering of the guitars, and echoing, deep growls, many push and pull moments occur within the blink of an eye. Quick, effortless flashes of high guitar notes also accent both tracks in Deathspell Omega-esque fashion, giving the compositions satisfying counterpoints. The title track brings a behemoth of a riff, one that bends with thunderous force and is sure to stick with you. The rest of the album showcases how Ulcerate weaves melody into their repertoire. Bringing to mind "Extinguished Light" from the previous album (2016's Shrines of Paralysis), tracks like "There is No Horizon" and "Inversion" feature guitar work that is isolated enough to create its own kind of tension. That guitar work comes in the form of both loud riffs and ambient, softer buildups, but it allows the album a much needed sense of pace and to catch its breath, if even for just a minute or two. The back portion of the album leans more towards distortion to embellish its cacophony. "Drawn Into the Next Void" being a prime example, while the drumming doesn't let its foot off the gas, the guitar distortion swirls around more than attack with reckless abandon, ultimately bringing the album to a rewarding apex. 

Time will eventually reflect on Stare Into Death and Be Still as the right album for the unintentionally right time. The band obviously wasn't predicting this current state of the world, but listening to extreme death metal with lyrics such as "Isolation swallows everything. Idle as it burns to ember." evokes a certain catharsis that feels all too appropriate right now. I'm not sure that the impact of The Destroyers of All can be replicated ever again, but I feel comfortable declaring Stare Into Death and Be Still is the best encapsulation of the band to date, especially considering the clarity of the production value. With so many highs and lows, it's a perfect way to channel and purge emotional distress. I'd recommend listening to this album as much as I would recommend opening up your windows to make sure you get fresh air during these strange times we're living in.

- Mick

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