Ulcerate – Vermis
Review by Gary Lukes
Technical death metal. It’s a genre that’s as likely to inspire apathy as it is excitement. There’s often a fine line between technical wizardry and tedious wankery, avant-garde excellence and anal excess. The days of dazzling an audience with overblown musicianship have long passed. While the latest generation of musicians have found themselves busy burning fretboards, there‘s usually an abundance of style over actual substance; entire discs spinning by in a soulless blur of polyrhythms and sweep-picks.
So far, 2013 has heard Portal twist our senses and Gorguts push to blow our minds. And now, Ulcerate re-emerge. Suddenly technical death metal has got a whole lot darker and a shit-load more interesting.
“Vermis” is the Kiwi death metal test-pilot’s fourth album and the latest in a career spent skirting the boundaries of extreme music. It’s fifty-five minutes of technical death metal that oscillates to its own peculiar rhythm. A seething, mutating beast whose heart pounds at hundreds of beats per minute, its rapid-fire pulse dictated by the gatling-gun percussion of skin-beating extraordinaire Jamie Saint Merat. There can be no overstating his involvement, Merat’s drumming provides the nucleus of “Vermis”; underpinning a master class in labyrinthine musicianship and Gorguts-inspired discombobulation.
But far from the sheen and sharp edges so typical of the genre, “Vermis” is submerged under a soup of intentionally murky production. Forgoing the gloss and post-whatever machinations of their previous album, “The Destroyers of All”, Ulcerate’s latest is caked in a thin layer of grime. The result is a claustrophobic collection that closes around your ears, with only the stark instrumental “Fall to Opprobrium” and the moments of spacious droning chords in “Imperious Weak” offering sufficient breathing space.
But breaking this kind of album down, track by track, would be futile. It exists purely as a whole. Nine songs that warp and contract under a blast-furnace of riffs that could melt Immolation themselves. Micheal Hoggard providing a tangle of complex guitar lines whose tendrils wrap themselves into grotesque knots of riffing.
From the slow hum and build of intro “Odium” to the pummelling finale of “Await Cessation”, there’s a natural undulation to each track as they break and burst within themselves. As one ends and sinks into the abyss, it is replaced, erupting anew; boiling and blistering under the roars produced by bassist Paul Kelland’s (presumably) tattered vocal chords.
“Vermis” sees Ulcerate heave slabs of dissonance atop each other to create probably the most hideous and captivating album of their career. The band almost follows a black metal aesthetic, with the emphasis falling less on showcasing memorable riffing and far more with imbuing each track with a sinister atonal atmosphere. From Neurosis-esque climaxes to Deathspell Omega style moments of turbulence, it isn’t so much a question of what Ulcerate bring to the genre, but more of where they’re willing to take it.
Part of an elite crew of forward-thinking death metal bands, the scene is continuing to evolve. While Ulcerate seem to have passed the stage of reinvention, they still continue to refine. But Ulcerate certainly aren’t here to save technical music. After all, they can hardly resuscitate its soul when they’re too busy crushing yours.
Pre-order the album from Relapse Records here. – due out 17th September on CD, 7th November on vinyl.
Check out Ulcerate on facebook here.