Ulcerate – Vermis (Relapse Records)

Avante garde death metal as refreshing as a brutal breeze cutting through the oppressively clammy heat of hell
Release Date: 
17 Sep 2013 (All day)

By and large, death metal can be a regressive kind of music. Let’s face it, as a genre, it tends to evolve at a much slower rate than any other subgenre of metal I can think of. Fans of death metal will, by and large, welcome albums that sound like they were written back in the early 1990s and are suspicious of too much change. Even bands that create their own formula within the boundaries of death metal (Nile, Behemoth, Necrophagist) tend to stick pretty closely to colouring within the lines once their own take on the genre is established. There are even a substantial amount of death metal bands that exist solely to pay tribute to the ‘classic’ death metal sound (Bloodbath perhaps being the perfect example).

Against all of this, we have the recent release of truly progressive death metal albums by the likes of Gorguts, Fleshgod Apocalypse, Suffocation (just kidding!) and now New Zealanders Ulcerate. As much as I love death metal, it’s a type of music that can get stale and repetitive, and the new life breathed into Ulcerate’s new album Verrmis (their debut with Relapse Records) is as refreshing as a brutal breeze cutting through the oppressively clammy heat of hell.

Perhaps the best way to describe Vermis is not ‘progressive’, given that the term ‘progressive death metal’ conjures up images of uber-brutal blastfests in complex time-signatures, with blistering arpeggios occurring at bpms simply unthinkable by mere mortals. That’s not to say that there’s any lack of blasting or technical playing. But Ulcerate differs from more traditional progressive death metal bands in the curiously twisted and original approach to playing.

There’s more than a hint of Deathspell Omega in the dark, atmospheric, almost spider-like guitar work here. The vocals are typically gruff monotone, but are delivered confidently and written to do what they do well. Similarly, the bass playing functions as an anchor rather than a hook. But it’s the drumming that is, for me, the real treat. Jamie Saint Merat has truly exceeded even the standout performance on The Destroyers of All (the 2011 album released on Willowtip Records) that created such a buzz amongst drummers. The unbridled technical facility and creative freshness of approach of Saint Merat’s drumming should see him filling drum clinics for the foreseeable future or there’s something desperately wrong with the world. The pace of the album varies wildly, from the aching crawl of funeral doom (a la Mournful Congregation or Ahab) to the hyperdrive blasting reminiscent of Origin and everything in between, and it’s all held together through the ever-mutating percussive–work of Saint Merat.

Above all else, this is a death metal album that truly displays artistic depth of expression alongside the to-be-expected intensity and extremity. This is a rare gem, not to be missed.