Ulcerate’s emergence was rather inauspicious. Their first work, The Coming of Genocide, didn’t hold much promise. It was pretty standard for mid-aughts uber-blast brutality, assaultive to the point of redundancy. But there were some gnarly guitar squalls nestled in their amateurish blastfuckery, and on their first true album, Of Fracture and Failure, things started to get wild. Then, Everything is Fire happened, and things got real.
That record was a tidal wave, combining Gorguts-esque riff symphonies with suffocating, modern DM oppression. It succeeded in being one of the most corrosive, innovative doses of brutality that death metal had seen in years. However, the unrelenting nature of the record made it an endurance test for even the most calloused veteran, and their following record, The Destroyers of All, peeled back the relentlessness in favor of a sweeping, post-death approach.
Now, the differences were slight. But they were significant enough that some Everything Is Fire devotees bemoaned the (relatively) toned-down nature of The Destroyers of All. Thing is: The latter record was the superior of the two. Less frenetic and adrenalized, sure. But there was a measured, menacing lurch to it that lent it a terrifying, towering stature.
Enter Vermis, merging both facets of the band’s attack. Beautifully. Devastatingly. Vermis seeks extremity not in showmanship, but in coalescence. Ulcerate is oddly similar to Primordial in that they’re a guitar-dense band with few immediate riffs; you have to actively mine Vermis’ series of seven-minute compositions to find the bristling gems. But the collective wash of this trio (pared down from an initial quintet) has finally settled into a wonderful dynamic balance, making said mining less of a chore and more of a treasure hunt. The sickening lurch of “Clutching Revulsion” and the foreboding initial crawl of “Cessation” succeed in creating a palpable sense of dread, proving that Ulcerate has mastered the art of seducing the listener into their Sealy Posturepedics as they wait pummel them with pillowcases packed with anvils.
Drummer Jamie Saint Merat is the chief manipulator; he controls the storytelling with his dropouts and frantic handwork. It’s his delicate / destructive touch that expertly swings Ulcerate from rotting Neurosis-mode into the act of committing war crimes with an army of hammer-fisted bees. Ulcerate had been lurking in the shadows of supremacy for quite some time, but manipulative epics like “The Weight of Emptiness” and “Confronting Entropy” truly establish the band as a paragon new extreme.
Let’s be real: The days of being wowed over-the-top musicianship are essentially over. In 2013, there’s no feat of technicality that will blow the average death metaller’s doors off. Outside of insular tech-nerd circles, this type of crippling wankery is becoming standardized. Tame.
Likewise, attempts at shocking lyrical content and imagery have been passé for years. The one remaining way to twist the knife into a thirsty extremist’s bleeding heart? Make them uncomfortable. Wrench those riffs to the point of disembowelment. Throw them off the beaten path with a fifteen-ton liver kick. Ulcerate have not only mastered this tactic—by being scrappier than Gorguts and more planet-bound than Portal—but they’ve mastered themselves. With their fourth album, they’ve congealed all of their crucial elements into their strongest statement to date, taking Immolation-style gutswallow to not only its logical peak, but far higher than was ever expected of them in their modest infancy. A perfect balance has been achieved, and they’re clawing at the doors of forward-thinking DM’s throne room. Only one question remains: Where do we go from here?