There are plenty of death metal, post metal and black metal bands that use the art of the aural assault to their advantage. It is not a new concept to just charge full speed ahead with little to no breaks along the way in order to convey an air of ferocity or ever-swirling evil. However it can sometimes fatigue the listener when all you have is this constant wall of sound blaring non-stop. Ulsect have a deft understanding of this on their debut, self-titled album. While quite a bit of the album is an endless barrage of sound, it uses select times to allow you to stop and take in the finer details before pulling you back under to struggle.
There is no hyperbole in calling this album an aural assault. There are times when you’re listening and every instrument just comes together as one to decimate you as an observer. This is done in the mix by cramming all of the instruments into a tight sonic space with little room to breathe. During these sections, located in all of the songs, the united sound of the instruments makes it feel as though there is a force actively pushing against you. It’s slightly fatiguing, but not enough to make you want to stop listening.
In the same songs where these sections are present however, there will be times where the listener is allowed respite within the chaos. It’s as if you’re in the midst of a maelstrom that washes you into a dank seaside cave that provides you shelter and allows you to not only catch your breath, but also gives you the often overlooked opportunity to appreciate every second you have where you can simply breathe. An example of this is 4:34 in the track “Our Trivial Toil”. One of the best parts is that while you are given shelter in the midst of the musical maelstrom, you know that it is still outside waiting for you, and the music could fill your place of safety and drown you in its ever flowing intensity. It’s thrilling and gives the album a great sense of dynamics and tension.
Not to mention these slower parts really give you a chance to appreciate the instruments on their own, even if they’re never truly alone in these sections as they are usually paired with one or two more instruments. For instance, the drums are played with a great sense of care during these parts, and it allows you to appreciate the player’s skill not only for the music written, but also for how it’s being expressed. This album and it’s players are more than willing to push as far as they can go, but realize that there is a time and place for a different, more nuanced approach. This is not to say that metal is a genre bereft of a sense of nuance, but there’s something special about a band that really knows when it’s time to speed up and slow down and the subtle changes that entails.
On top of the aural assault, dissonance and atmosphere are heavy players on this record. Here they’re used to push the music along, but also to add layers to parts that aren’t particularly flashy or technical. In the song “Moirae” which is incredibly instrumentally straightforward, dissonant atmospherics swirling in the background and guitar-notes that don’t quite fit with the chugging the guitar and bass are doing make the song pop. It feels just off enough to keep you from getting to comfortable, even as you enter the fifth song on this eight song record. Sometimes a wall of guitar created dissonance will back a driving guitar part as the song goes full steam ahead and that will be just what was needed for that particular section, or it might be that a song is only complete when you’ve heard a distant collection of noises that sound like glass shattering in reverse or a dark and sacred being warping to his palace of pain and torment. This song is constantly using its atmosphere and dissonance to engage as well as oppress the listener.
If you’re looking for the ultimate representation of this album, look no further than its album art. A stark black hole in the center of a smoky, worn landscape of stone. The edges are murky and worn, but the music at its core is dense and unrelenting, never letting you forget that it is at the center of everything. Ulsect have no problem making you beg for mercy on their debut album, but the difference is that they will occasionally give it to you simply to make you understand that they can take it away at any moment. There are always the edges where things appear mostly-clear, but everything else of substance is within the unconquerable dark.