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Ulcerate - Cutting The Throat Of God

How can a death metal band craft their most melodic and atmospheric album to date and it be one of their very best? New Zealand's avant garde death metal legends Ulcerate continue to show the world why they're one of the most respected bands in the genre over the last 20 years.

8 days ago

New Zealand death metal power trio Ulcerate have reached a somewhat mythic status within their two-plus decade career between the collective and relatively private and enigmatic nature of the band of its members, their consistently acclaimed and spotless discography, and the sheer influence they've maintained on a still-burgeoning wave of dissonant and atmospheric death metal. They've not only become an absolute powerhouse of creativity within the extreme metal underground, they've ascended to the throne as reigning kings of dissonant death metal, throwing together influences from the likes of Neurosis, Portal, and Gorguts to create a sound that is not only densely atmospheric, but technical and avant-garde all the same.

Indeed, the first half of the Ulcerate discography could be called chaotic and dissonant in good faith. Their 2007 full-length debut Of Fracture and Failure is a fairly dry technical death metal album that leans into frenetic drums and wildly twisted and unfathomable guitar lines with an unpredictable approach to rhythm and songwriting that could be compared to mathcore greats of the time like Psyopus and Car Bomb as much as they could be to death metal's Immolation or black metal's Deathspell Omega. The throaty snarls of then-frontman Ben Read helps with those comparisons as well, to be honest.

Their sophomore album Everything Is Fire (2009) established the Ulcerate sound we've come to know and love, with a greater emphasis on more contemplative songwriting and atmospheric dynamic. Ben Read was out, and bassist Paul Kelland stepped up to the mic with a deeper, more menacing bellow. In the years since, the band's songs have gotten longer and emotionally intense in their own way, with the band paying as much attention to the spaces between the notes rather than committing to an arms race to deliver as much oppressive content as possible, as fast as possible. It's at this point in their career that Ulcerate are equal parts death metal, black metal, and post-metal, and it's a sound that they've long-perfected.

Through their acclaimed discography and influence within the scene, Ulcerate have cultivated more than enough good will among their audience to do anything they want, but it would be generous to say that Ulcerate had never quite played it safe, as the band have very much settled into their niche since 2011's landmark The Destroyers of All. They've been making some fine adjustments ever since, altering songwriting and production in small increments as their highly specific Ulcerate sound has solidified over the decade to follow. Their sixth full-length, 2020's Stare Into Death And Be Still, may have been their greatest up to that point, with the band committing to delivering emotionally devastating atmospheric death metal with respect to tangible hooks and a more traditional approach to songwriting delivered through an atmosphere of crushing, existential dread. It's almost as if the band seemingly saw the writing on the wall with the "dissodeath" scene that sprouted in their wake, and they made a clear and conscious effort to craft an album that could not be called dissonant with a straight face.

In those long and dark four years since Stare Into Death, it seems that the incrementalism practiced by Ulcerate has stayed in play, with melodic elements creeping in like kudzu to slowly take over the Ulcerate sound. Their latest, Cutting The Throat Of God, is easily the band's most harmonic record to date, with each track offering instrumental hooks and darkly lush passages that serve to better offer contrast, dynamic, and nuance to the band's brooding atmosphere and allowing the emotional blows to cut - and resonate - deeper.

As its title may suggest, the band's subject matter and atmospheric qualities are no less oppressive and nihilistic despite the melodic focus. Ulcerate have been remarkably consistent on a conceptual front, but Cutting The Throat Of God feels like a natural continuation of Stare Into Death. During opener "To Flow Through Ashen Hearts," Kelland ruminates through roaring bellows on the apparent hostile nature of creation while stargazing; "Stare above at projections from a vast sky in awe as it decays before these eyes [...] This yawning chasm was created in antipathy / In iniquity." Kelland sees a reflection of himself in the dark skies, tapping into the infamous Nietzsche Beyond Good And Evil quote, "if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you."

Obviously, Nietzsche and the greater philosophy of nihilism is well-worn fodder for black and death metal bands alike, but as these lines are delivered to an overwhelming backdrop of reverberating guitars cycling through mournful chord progressions and a head-nodding dirge before exploding into snarling tech death, these ideas are explored with an air of sincerity and genuine care for the philosophy and with respect for the feelings of existential dread, and perhaps acceptance, to follow.

Later on, Kelland seemingly touches on anxiety with what could be a visceral depiction of a panic attack on "Transfiguration In And Out Of Worlds" with lyrics relating to being strangled by thoughts and churning fears, with reminders to breathe in order to escape death. The band fittingly, and natural, building a suffocating wall of sound that swells and crashes with heartrending force that not only satisfies with its artful use of brutality, but also in the haunting nature of the band's songwriting itself.

Guitarist Michael Hoggard has developed his own signature sense of melody through his guitar playing in his career, and he's seemingly perfected it on Cutting The Throat of God. The arachnid-like creeping and spiraling tremolo riffs heard throughout the band's discography are so idiosyncratic to Hoggard that they're unmistakable, and to hear him conjure such deeply sorrowful and introspective moments out of these contorted harmonies and layered blackened death-doom style of playing as the sole guitar player is not just awe-inspiring but inspirational. It's impressive enough when there's a disregard for music theory as a form and function and in the lens of sheer technical battery, but to deliver that style and remain so consistently intense while delivering hooks is mind-bending virtuosity.

Speaking of virtuosity, the Ulcerate's MVP has long been drummer Jamie Saint Merat, who is perhaps the best and most overlooked drummer in extreme metal. He has consistently delivered breathtaking performances throughout the Ulcerate discography, marked by intricate and technical drumming and unparalleled wisdom when it comes to employing intensity and dynamic. Through Saint Merat's percussion and production, these songs live and breathe. Having Magnus Lindberg (Cult of Luna) on mastering doesn't hurt in the band's balance of brutality and atmosphere, either.

Few bands in extreme metal can get more melodic and atmospheric as their career goes on and still achieve such increasing critical returns and remaining consistently high in quality and artisitic purpose. As facetious as it seems to say, Cutting the Throat of God is Ulcerate's catchiest record to date, with hooks laden throughout its morose and introspective atmosphere begging repeat listens. This is no mere nihilistic death metal onslaught, but a deeply resonant exploration and meditation on the self and its darkest impulses. Cutting the Throat of God may very well stand at the top of the Ulcerate discography, and in the off-chance it wasn't already clear, cements them as one of the most important bands in the art of death metal.

-JR

Jimmy Rowe

Published 8 days ago