Ulthar are hardly a band that pulls punches. 2018's Cosmovore was a densely packed release, and 2020's Providence pulled listeners again into a maelstrom of blackened death metal (or is it deathened black metal?) that swirled together bombastic riffs and a dual vocal assault. For enjoyers of either LP's churning, burning metal, you'll be happy to know Ulthar are doubling down—literally, in this case, by releasing two full-lengths that are in conversation with one another while remaining self-contained and self-possessed.

The first of these is Anthronomicon. More akin to Providence in composition than its longer peer, Anthronomicon expertly layers chugging death metal riffs, propulsive thrash rhythms, black metal bile and undulating bass without straying too far in any one direction or giving listeners much of a break. "Astranumeral Octave Chants" encapsulates all of this, exhibiting all the weapons in Ulthar's arsenal over four and half minutes. As in opener "Cephalophore," the song offers a menacing moment of respite courtesy of an ambient section near the end, but Ulthar's three-person wrecking crew uses these moments almost as a bait-and-switch—in contrast to Providence, the ambient passages aren't separate tracks, so if skipping through Anthronomicon, you're more likely to be pummeled into submission than lulled into complacency.

As if by way of bridging over to Helionomicon, the album ends with synths and a discordant instrumental passage. However, one could just as easily start the other way around. This duo of albums is unique in many respects, not least of which is the fact that this is pointedly not a double LP. On any double album, bands must justify the length of their compositions and command the listener's attention. In the case of a record with two tracks that hit the 20-minute mark, the burden of proof is higher—however, Ulthar aren't hell-bent on using their allotted time to explore arcane concepts so much as to build a monolith of musical ideas undergirded by cosmic horror.

This is why the other "fraternal twin" in the pair, Helionomicon, succeeds—its ideas are, at best, outright thrilling, and at worst interesting pieces of a compelling patchwork that don't keep the listener too long. The title track, which makes up the LP's first half, is less rapid-fire than Anthronomicon's gatling-gun approach while still moving at a gallop. Riffs are given time to unspool and escalate in compelling ways, often repeating with subtle changes before crashing into slower sections that plunge into death-metal depths.

Like Cosmovore closer "Dunwich Whore," "Helionomicon" sees the band expertly build tension, carrying listeners up a sonic tower and only stopping when opportune windows appear to reveal giddy heights. Second half "Anthromicon" proceeds similarly, though it begins to slow around the 13-minute mark. This is the apex of the climb, a midtempo look at a bewildering landscape. Both tracks cover a vast amount of musical territory. The only thing absent is anything that could be described as "melodic," "ecstatic" or "happy"—each LP places itself firmly on the side of vileness and destruction.

Regardless of your gravitation to fearsome four-minute bangers or byzantine tracks that take up the full side of a record, they're both here. This is the sound of a band that's had time to dial in the sound they want, which makes sense considering Anthronomicon and Helionomicon were born during the pandemic and refined after Ulthar's three members moved out of the Bay Area in different directions in part due to the region's soaring coast of living. Though Ulthar are now a bicoastal band, and its members have had to do more virtual swapping of riffs and ideas, the pace of their creative output has, if anything, sped up.

I spoke with Ulthar guitarist and co-vocalist Steve Peacock about these two forthcoming records as well as the band's moves and plans for touring. The following interview has been edited for clarity. Both Helionomicon and Anthronomicon come out digitally and on physical formats via 20 Buck Spin on February 17.




Providence came out in 2020 when the world was at its worst. Given COVID shutdowns, Black Lives Matter, the election and all this other chaos, did you just scrap your plans for touring and head right back to the studio? How'd this double album begin?

With regards to writing, we'd all moved away [from the Bay Area]. We were all stuck in our respective states at the time, and a lot of inspiration came out of that time in isolation. I spent more time on the guitar during the pandemic than at any point since I was a teenager—COVID was not slow on ideas for any of us. The double album conception was there from the beginning. We were writing so fast, and this was going to be our third album, so we basically figured "go as hard as you can."

There's clearly dialogue or interplay between these records, especially with Helionomicon containing a track that shares a name with Anthronomicon. What's the relationship?

There's absolutely a relationship. Me and Shelby [Lermo, guitarist and vocalist] both had two songs on Anthronomicon that, on Helionomicon, we initially expanded on as one 20-minute track. I specifically had written a song that I wanted to mirror more, and it just spiraled into something bigger with Helionomicon… We had a lot of ideas before the albums' structure took shape. Writing within a structured time, we knew from the beginning if we did that, ideas would flow harder. We ended up with a very determined idea: eight four- to five-minute songs on one album, two 20-minute songs on the other. Lyrically, that part probably came later than on our other albums.

I want to say you're the only band to stick the dread-inducing ambience after the first track—it happens both on Anthronomicon and on Providence. What's the thinking behind that choice?

That's never been a determined thing with the band. I'm personally a huge fan of "blowing your load" right at the start. I do love bands that do the opposite—Morbid Angel albums, for example, almost get better toward the end. For the ambience, though, we were happy from our teaser tracks that people would think the two songs on the second record would be ambient or chilled out, and that's very far from the truth. The slow passages in our band are as much a part of the entire conception as the heavier stuff. They wouldn't be something to try and steer you from the beginning; you hear that a lot with death metal and black metal bands.

Ulthar are unique in being a power trio of sorts with two vocalists. How do you and Shelby divvy things up?

If there was one difference between these two records and our previous ones—I'm not sure if this is a positive or a negative—me and Shelby would usually write 75% of each of our songs and the other would easily flesh out the other 25%. On [Anthronomicon and Helionomicon], we 50-50ed pretty hard between me and Shelby, and Justin [Ennis, drummer] handled the last 25%. Lyrically, it was the same: me with half, Shelby with half. We're very unselfish with how we bounce vocals together. I'll write lyrics for him, and he'll do the opposite on his parts. We write knowing someone would take over at some point. I'm much more of a black metal guy at heart, so digging into something slower and lower is fun. Shelby might take faster black metal parts with a lower growl, and I'll do the same with more death metal sections.

You've been a consistent band in terms of album art, lineup and record label. How has it been working with 20 Buck Spin, and has your recording and mixing changed since Cosmovore?

A lot changed on this record. 20 Buck has been fantastic with the overall vision from the band. We've pushed each record more and more—this one we thought would be a much harder sell since they're two different records and we didn't want them to be the same, but they were conceived at the same time and have that lyrical and musical connection, and we got no pushback [from the label].

As for production and recording, things shifted just as much… For the first time, we didn't record in Oakland, but in Baltimore. We did our demo and first two records in Oakland. It was so much different, but it also felt like home. Recording was a challenge all around, but a really good one. We knew we'd have some hazards doing such a big project in such a small amount of time. I'd like to keep pushing in a new direction

Correct me if I'm wrong, but the band hasn't been out live much in the past few years. Will you be hitting the road for the double album?

We very much are—we played quite a bit for Cosmovore, and we had a lot prepared for Providence. We're in an odd position because we haven't played one song from Providence live so far. There are some health problems in the band currently, but when we hit the road next, we'll have three albums to play from. We're actually getting together next week to try to determine a setlist. We're eager to play new songs, but we're eager to play tracks from Providence, as well.

What's next for you, the band and the other members?

At least for Ulthar, we're in the middle of playing with ideas for the next project… I like the idea of doing a much dirtier-produced EP, but what comes out could also be the reverse of that. We've been writing so much and still playing so much guitar that anything can happen. Also, my band Spirit Possession has an album that will be announced soon (Editor's note: the album, Of the Sign…, has since been announced, and the first single "Second Possession" is now streaming at Brooklyn Vegan).


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