...

Ulcerate has always been a very special death metal band. We celebrate a lot of different kinds of death metal, from the gory to the cosmic and from the neanderthalic to the cerebral.

Death metal and its tangents seem consistently able to surprise, e.g. The Acacia Strain led this year with perhaps the best deathcore album I've heard ever, while Afterbirth produced a hybrid of slam, brutal, and progressive tech-death that enthralled even a hater of that subset like me, and finally, Black Curse came along and released a blackened death metal record so good that it will almost certainly throttle its way up year-end lists. Declaring Ulcerate special doesn't detract from other death metal bands, nor is it meant to say that death metal cannot generally be special outside of the Ulcerate case. But it is precisely because death metal seems perpetually polymorphic, so capable of producing so many different forms, that the extra-superlative efforts of Ulcerate become so very distinct as they are.

The main thing about Ulcerate: dating back to their debut and reaching up to this newest, called Stare Into Death and Be Still, the band has produced hyper-emotional death metal. Despite death metal being a genre I hold quite dear, it also tends, if we are honest, to have certain repeating themes that put barriers on certain emotional spaces. Ulcerate has been forging this path for quite some time, having some kind of seismic epiphany during the writing sessions for The Destroyers of All that saw some long-term aims of the band click into place -- to such a degree, actually, that their later reduction from a four- to a three-piece saw no noticeable shift in their compositional abilities.

...

...

Ulcerate's individuating element has always been their incorporation of post-metal aesthetics and sonics into their death metal, letting the very death metal vibes be carried by the drumming alone, a persistent and fierce battery that marries a Brann Dailor-esque sense of perpetual shred with the groove and sneer of a death metal group like Suffocation or Immolation. Meanwhile, Ulcerate's guitars and bass tend more to that swaying and seasick kind of lurch -- it's not hard to imagine that these same riffs laid over stripped and dub/kraut-y drumming might get billed as post-metal instead of death metal.

The band has been producing winning records of a bespoke style that, despite the massive critical plaudits they've received over more than a decade, almost no other bands have sought to tap into, save perhaps (ironically) for some stretches of the modern Gorguts material. The changes here are subtle when taking their work as a whole, only revealing themselves on close examination of the abstract moods and timbres of their records rather than the checklist of techniques and compositional forms. This album feels more like an alternative history to the band's work, a parallel follow-up to The Destroyers of All compared to Vermis and its own follow-up Shrines of Paralysis.

The evolutionary wing back in Ulcerate's discography tends to privilege busy playing and a certain roughed-up production that highlights feelings of anxiety. This was perhaps a subtler thing (as much as death metal can be subtle) on Vermis, where the production and a drum-boosting mix brought a sound that taps into a particular anxiety-inducing cacophony. It's paired nicely with the deeply emotionalist bent of Ulcerate's songwriting that they seemed to have pinched from post-metal. Stare Into Death And Be Still is not necessarily devoid of that nerve-shredding anxiety -- could any record with drums this orchestrated and ripping ever really be anything but? The directionality of that heart-thumping, tear-welling anxiety seems to tilt elsewhere, though, toward the kind of deep welling blackness of depressive paralysis or intense grief.

In terms of achieving that mood, Ulcerate once more reveal themselves to be masters of the form. It's fairly non-controversial to say that funeral doom has been producing some of the best emotionally heavy music within the heavy metal sphere in the past five or ten years, with groups like Bell Witch, Mournful Congregation, and more producing music to rival the all-time great emotionalist heavyweights of Neurosis and Godflesh. I'd argue that Ulcerate demands a place in those rarefied heights, though. I've written in the past about my personal emotional ties to the music of Ulcerate; what fascinates me about the band is that every new record seems to be a portal back to those spaces, a tether back to perspectives and emotional experiences I might otherwise see buried beneath the detritus of time that often buries the epiphanic, empathetic insights of the young as they grow calloused with age.

What is remarkably admirable about Stare Into Death and Be Still is that it is the fourth consecutive Ulcerate record to hold tight that deeply emotional core, that the band have executed at such a high level so consistently. Those subtle shifts in the precise emotional timbre likely has a lot to do with their continued success; this is a band that knows precisely what they are doing, that are very deliberate in their deployment of techniques from both technical death metal and post-metal. That Ulcerate bite deeper into and manage to find even more resonant spaces within their conceit is indicative that this isn't merely one of the best records of the year but one from one of the best death metal bands of all time.

This album absolutely is a must-listen, not just for fans of the subgenre but fans of heavy metal in general. It is a small but notable blessing that, in a year that has gone so wrong in so many ways, we continued to be blessed with artwork of this caliber.

...

Stare Into Death and Be Still released today via Debemur Morti Productions.

...

Support Invisible Oranges on Patreon and check out our merch.

...