Album Review: ULCERATE - Stare Into Death And Be Still
Album: Stare Into Death And Be Still
Genre: Technical Death Metal/Post-Death Metal
Review by Mothlord
My skin is awash in the cool and alien sensation of goosebumps forming and hair standing on end as I am coated in viscous and luminescent tone that plumes and blossoms in mystifying forms. A new Ulcerate record has descended. Right from the onset, inclusive of the multitude of times I had listened through the two singles "To Stare Into Death And Be Still" and "Dissolved Orders" there is a confirmation of a shift in the ethos of the oft hard to fathom and distant entity of Ulcerate. Thru, "The Lifeless Advance", it is clear that Stare Into Death And Be Still may truly be their most human work. In the sense of wearing fragility and uncertainty on its sleeve. It is hard to describe a play by play as the music swarms and engulfs me in its ethereal timbres that wind to the rousing and commanding rhythm of Jamie Saint Merat's top tier drumming. This song strides forward across the planes of the mental, with powerful and driving double kicks that draw you along like a horse does chariot. It is these kinds of devices that certainly ground the listener as they are lost in Michael Hoggard's emphatically, caustic yet poignant synaptic guitar tapestries. Ulcerate are not a band that can be fathomed and understood in one sitting. Every fibre of the tapestry takes its time to loosen itself to the perceptive abilities of the listener. I dare say there is something Lovecraftian about Ulcerate as a band. They inspire awe, fear, confusion, frustration and ecstasy from their incredibly unique take on death metal. It is only so perceivable with our limited capability for processing stimuli in an instant.
Like beholding some shifting, semi-formless incorporeal entity, there is only so much to gleam at first glance. And I say this as the highest compliment to Ulcerate, as their music is nigh masterfully crafted and with every release it becomes a spectacle of diving once again into the inky, cold unknown. And like trudging through that inky, cold unknown. "Exhale the Ash", plumes with warm yet scathing contemplation. There seems to be even more focus on developing and building, and then sustaining these peaks of euphoria than before. I liken this record already, to thrice previous record The Destroyers of All which was their most melodic and atmospherically inclined record until now. Though still, there was a delayed sense of release and window of time to hang onto these moments. Drawn in and released near as quickly as it comes.
Stare Into Death And Be Still, seems to invert this concept somewhat. Constantly shifting around the same theme, and not withholding those warmer, more personal moments from the listener. Instead, finding new engaging chord progressions to come out of already engrossing moments. And instead, withholding the more intensive, technical and chaotic riffs for pinnacle sections to snap your attention with blistering ferocity. The outro of this song though, the very last moment is absolutely a pinnacle of melancholic and contradictory, hopeful despondency that is quickly savoured as a precise resolution to this building collage of womb like musical passages. Next onto "Stare Into Death And Be Still", the first single released and now currently my favourite Ulcerate song as a listener of their entire discography. It is hard as a creative to understand others who inexplicably are able to communicate such potent and poignant emotions through the music. Summarized by a carefully curated collection of notes arranged in appealing pattern. Somehow, Ulcerate continue to achieve this feat in strides. I have little to say for this song, other than it soars upon delicate golden wings like Icarus, soaring too high towards the burning sun. To have wax wings melted upon golden zenith and then cast down, smouldering towards blackened and cold earth.
These are some of the most powerful emotive hooks that Ulcerate has cultivated in their entire discography, and through my entire existence of exploring music. It is hard to experience new music that washes over you with a stunning breath of bewilderment and excitement after a long time of desensitisation. So even for this song alone, I bow heartily to Ulcerate for their intensive work ethic in writing powerful and engaging music, that is always challenging and forces the listener to engage with some introspective conflict within themselves even without lyrics to guide or influence them. "There Is No Horizon", is sombre and plodding with discordant pulses of restrained, yet straining guitars and drums. It is a perfect supplement to follow on and pursue after the previous song. It leaves just enough quarter, as to not back the listener into a corner with no space to breathe. But certainly confronts with its decisiveness, that invokes a sense of anxiety within myself. "Thematically, the album explores the concept of “death reverence” – drawing on recent personal experience to confront the truism that death and tragedy aren't always sudden or violent, that people are often passive observers trapped “in the silent horror of observing death calmly and cleanly”" It as if the listener is being beckoned to release themselves from cerebral computation, and allow themselves to fall thoughtlessly into the listening experience. Perhaps this ties thematically to the concept of the album.
Let go of fear, let go of inhibition. This record, rather than The Destroyers Of All, that evoked images and concepts of the destruction of a macrocosm by the collective. Instead I really get the sense that this record, is now speaking to the individual. Placing less blame, through cold indignation and resolve. Instead to guide and shepherd the mind into a place of acceptance and growth. "Inversion" opens with tonally sharp flourishes of cold guitar chords. Even more contemplative than before, that pace has been lowered even further. Which as far as critique of musical narrative goes, is incredibly apt and appropriate in following themes of confrontation and reflection. The opening few minutes of this, take their time creating space, in a back and forth call and response between guitars and drums. It allows space for the listener to let go of any tension and ride the sonic waves.
I must also truly commend Ulcerate, for though their riff technique and style is very specific and recognizable. There are subtle tails on riffs, or new ways of utilizing different chords or fingerings to evolve and adapt their methodology ever so subtly just at moments when you might start to feel as if they are trapped within their own sphere. Taking established riffs, and evolving them through double time changes with a more complex and aggressive is displayed especially well on this track. Leading into one of my favourite melodic hooks of this record. That truly sounds like an inversion, like gravity has been reversed and you are losing your grip on and connection to Earth before you float into the air out of control and helpless, though euphoric.
Finally in the last moments we are gifted a rare experience with a lead guitar part that verges on being a guitar solo. It is astounding to know Ulcerate once had two guitarists who both played complex and interweaving parts that were layered multiply. To consider that Michael Hoggard manages on his own, to sequence loops and layers so masterfully, and in increasing amounts is incredibly impressive. I am unsure as to how much of this is achievable live, but I believe that if any band can pull it off it is Ulcerate. "Visceral Ends" lurches with distant guitar drones, and shimmering reverb tails. Once again, the mood has been lowered, as if we are at a thematic rock bottom. Tonally, this feels quite foreign for an Ulcerate song. It has more the feeling of a post-metal track by Cult of Luna or Year of No Light. And though the post-metal elements of Ulcerate have been noticeable for many years. It is fascinating and engaging for them to take more time to revolve passages around these elements that are not simply transitions between faster elements.
It is also in this created space, that Paul Kelland's bestial and commanding bellows really feel their most focused and dynamic. With certain inflections and expansions of his range being even more noticeable and displayed to their most heightened effect as it interplays with the lumbering and driving percussion. There is also some subtle palm muted 8th note elements present towards the end of this song. Nothing new by musical standards, but for Ulcerate as I mentioned earlier it is the intentional use of certain tools in their belt that have been left to the side for some time or simply not used at all that create such powerful investment in the listening experience. I was so ready to make some critique of this record for having ideas that seem a little close to previous ones, but before I could commit that thought to writing each time it slipped into my head the band do something to change the formula. This is certainly a song that will catch the attention of fans, as it has caught mine. "Drawn Into The Void" lumbers with introspective inflections in the guitar work. In a way reminiscent again of some Destroyers Of All elements, but also touches of some elements of secondly recent, Vermis. By this point in the record, in service of the concept I have let go of my inhibitions, my prejudices and hang ups as critical listener and have allowed myself to dissipate into the music.
It seems that by coincidence, design or perhaps my pareidolic perception that this track seems perfectly placed to accommodate that for the listener. By far it is the most generically Ulcerate song on the record. But I say that to mean, it has all the elements you would expect and hope for. The jazz touched cymbal and tom flourishes that are incredibly expected in Jamie Saint Merat's performances are noticeably restrained a little on this album as anticipated transition. It is only on this song that my attention is readily drawn to them, and it is a welcome drawing of attention to see a heavily relied on device used intently and carefully. "Drawn Into The Void" could have easily been the first single for the album, which without doubt would have excited fans. It has peaks and valleys, with many engaging moments and it certainly ends with a sense of being unresolved, though confident in that state to hype for the albums release. Though I do wonder how much more powerfully the singles they chose to release, would have hit if they were reserved for the album listening. I do not want to say this is a safe song for them. It simply feels perfectly placed as the penultimate track, which stands resolute upon the albums plateau. Once again, palm muted 8th notes are used here, a carefully decided motif I shall attribute to this record though its use is sparing. It leads the listener, lulled into a receptive state through to the end of the track in a soothing fade out. It easily could have been the last track of the record, a perfect summarisation of everything that band intended to do that does not end on a cliff-hanger, or a potently decisive end. Just a drifting out, into thoughtless contemplation. Instead we end with the second released single, "Dissolved Orders". Which I also do not have a great deal to say about as I have spent many sessions listening through this track.
It does work so well as the closing moments of Stare Into Death And Be Still. Through glossy, glistening notation that is enmeshed upon the pounding and driving percussion I feel I have reached a point of harmony betwixt the chaos. I do not entirely fathom every note of twisting and shifting guitar or drums. And the meaning of the agonized vocals bellowed at me through a veil of cavernous reverb do not have their most potent meaning without lyrics to accompany. But I am simply able to now float through this piece, with complete acceptance for what this record is. And I believe thematically, this connects to the meaning of the record. Perhaps releasing this track as a single has assisted Ulcerate in conveying the albums concept to the listener. Because as a fan, by now you should be well aware of this song, and by albums end you will be able to float as I feel I am. Through some of the most engaging and dare I say, tenderly emotive moments Ulcerate has crafted. And my second most favourite riff/passage on the album. I feel I do not need to give this album a numerical rating, in fact I refuse to do so. Ulcerate are a band who defy human and mundane ranking systems. They simply are an enigma, and an artistic vessel that simply do as they do and it would be a disservice to capitulate to those who as a necessity are aided by these kinds of systems as a means of placing value on art. Ulcerate, have once again demonstrated their mastery over artistry and conceptual intent with this record. Usually, press kits over sell bands with obnoxiously over inflated and sometimes disingenuous use of adjectives to hype a band to new and old listeners. However, Stare Into Death And Be Still is everything that the band have said it would be.
The album truly is a descent into an existential fear of mortality, and the horror of the experience of losing or witness the expiration of mortal life. You are challenged, not through cold and abrasive timbres to accept the message. Instead, you are lulled through the conceptualisation of the music to come to such a conclusion yourself.
Previously trudging and soaring through noxious, desolate and ruined planes. Ulcerate now transition to a womb like and very human characterization. Though not a display of technical fretboard devastation, the album complex in the very way that human thought and feelings ebb and flow in jarring bolts.
This band is not for everyone. If you have a shorter attention span, perhaps you may not be able to fully appreciate the experience. The album does change with intensity, but it certainly takes its time to move carefully through passages. However this is possibly the record that might actually meet you at where you are, with many, many moments to hang onto like clusters of shining gold. Though this album is not the most frantic and technically chaotic. It is still a difficult, or challenging listen if you are not in a place of ready acceptance to be drawn into an introspective world where the boundaries between ego, id and superego dissolve and melt away. The band have shifted carefully from noxious, desolate and ruined planes to now a more sheltering, womb like human approach in tonality. Though not as much a display of technical fretboard devastation, the album is devastatingly complex in the very way that human thought and feelings ebb and flow in jarring bolts. By albums end and second listen through its entirety, I feel excoriated, hollowed out and dissected. It is rare to feel emotionally drained by a record but I am. And that is one of the HIGHEST compliments I can give to any artist. That their music has such a devastatingly potent effect on the thinking and feeling psyche, that you need to go away and contemplate this leveling you have experienced. Like some kind of cerebral comedown from a powerful psychedelic experience, I have a lot to consider. I anticipate Stare Into Death And Be Still will entrance new and old listeners, and likely catapult the band into further widespread recognition.
Whether or not this happens, I have severe doubts to the band themselves having any deep care for such redundant celebrations. So long as the listener takes something intrinsically valuable away from the experience, I am certain the goal has been completed. And I hope that others do too.
Ulcerate is a band for the individual, but also a band that can unite people in that dissolution of the self. If there's one thing you do as this pandemic induced lockdown persists, is buy and listen to this album with patience and intent and engage with a musical journey that will likely change you, as it has me.
Support these incredible artists and musicians.
Stare Into Death And Be Still by Ulcerate, releases 24 April 2020 on Debemur Morti Productions.
Pre-orders available via Bandcamp - https://ulcerate.bandcamp.com/