Recently one of my family members was diagnosed with cirrhosis. The disease is generally irreversible, but with early stage diagnosis, as was the case here, its progress can be slowed or stopped. Still, the news hit me hard. Mortality has never affected anyone this close to me. I spent the rest of the day in a daze. The music I happened to put on – Six Feet Under, Tombs – was unintentionally morbid. Popular music can soundtrack many situations. Discovering a loved one has an irreversible disease isn’t one of them.
Then, randomly, I put on Ulcerate‘s The Coming of Genocide (The Flood, 2006). By gum, it was perfect for the occasion. When I interviewed Hate Eternal’s Erik Rutan last year, I asked him whether the term “death metal” acquired new meaning given the passing of his friend/bandmate Jared Anderson. He said no. But Rutan’s not one to split hairs. He speaks through his music, which stares down mortality by challenging human physical limits.
The Coming of Genocide does likewise. Reissued by Deepsend last year, it collects Ulcerate’s initial two demos. They’re imperfect, and all the better for it. Ulcerate aren’t the fastest or most technical band, but on these demos, they push themselves hard. Solos violently charge into songs; shards of ride cymbals disperse over blastbeats. A plaintive three-note theme enters three minutes into “Second Death.” Then the band twists the screw, flaring the theme out into a pungent cloud. The lyrics are tortured, too: “The earth shall burn in the bowels of my fervent abyss.” Fantastical and a little nonsensical, but somehow they fit my mood.
Ulcerate’s next album, Of Fracture and Failure, was high quality, and their upcoming record on Willowtip promises further excellence. However, they are professional operators now. It is unlikely they will recapture that sense of striving, of lashing one’s hands to sticks and picks, and clawing at the earth, that The Coming of Genocide has.