Written By: Nameless_n00b_15
I have a long history with thrash metal, dating back to the very first time I heard a metal song (“Dyer’s Eve”) at the tender age of nine. My exposure to black metal is much more limited as I only discovered this site and the many flavors of extreme metal three years ago. Ulthar’s debut Cosmovore bills itself as equal parts black and thrash metal, with a healthy dose of death metal swagger in its step as well. I’m intimately familiar with the thrash portion and merely acquainted with the blackened component, so I approached Cosmovore with curiosity, trepidation, and excitement in equal measure.
Thrash, death, and black metal are not subtle genres, and Cosmovore is not interested in luring you in slowly over multiple listens. It careens out of your speakers clad in spiky leather, brandishing blast beats and venomous riffs at anyone who comes within striking distance. Ulthar are skilled in blending the fiery belligerence of Bay Area thrash with the icy tremolos of 2nd wave black metal. There are the obvious comparisons to Deströyer 666 and Absu, along with early Behemoth‘s unrelenting blackened fury and sprinklings of Testament-flavored groove. What differentiates Ulthar is its more tenuous connection to thrash metal, crafting a sound that is far more blackened death metal than it is blackened thrash.
The black metal influence on Cosmovore is overtly obvious from the outset. The borderline abusive treatment the kit receives at the hands (and feet) of Justin Ennis alongside furious trem-picked assaults up and down the fretboard are Ulthar’s bread and butter. Steve Peacock (bass) and Shelby Lermo (guitars) both contribute vocals over the course of the album. Two vocalists can help create something special as Horizon Ablaze proved earlier this year, but the variety—or lack thereof—here wasn’t enough for me to even realize there were two vocalists. In true kvlt fashion, the vocal delivery is unintelligible, but even with lyric sheet in hand one gets the impression these songs were written by sending a thesaurus through a wood chipper.1 The thrash elements emerge in the downtempo moments, such as the killer opening riff to the title track or after the synth-laden beginning of protuberant closer “Dunwich Whore.” The guitar tone remains uncompromisingly blackened/deathened though, so the band treads closer to Power Trip than the Metallica of yesteryear.
Unfortunately, it didn’t take me long to realize something was very wrong with Cosmovore. Instead of inducing mosh-pit-worthy head-banging, all it could elicit was a few mild-mannered nods and a pensive stare. Ulthar have done what Deströyer 666 et al. have carefully avoided their whole careers: conflating incomprehensible fury and aimless blasting with gripping riffs and relentless aggression. It’s a fine line to tread, but the haze that settles over the listener when consuming Cosmovore is unshakable as entire sections of songs become indistinguishable. In the moments when Ulthar find their footing, such as the groove-laden ending of “Asymmetric Warfare,” and the gripping opening of “Solitarian,” the riffs finally carry you helplessly with the tide. Every song has a moment where the sound finally clicks—the off-kilter mid-section of “Atrophy” comes to mind—but these victories are fleeting. Unfortunately, most of the album simply passes by with all the energy of a runaway train but none of the impact.
I really wanted to like Cosmovore. On paper, it all checked out: fat riffs, aggressive drumming, and just enough atmosphere to set the stage. In practice, you get a forty-minute album that justifies less than thirty minutes of its runtime. I spent a week giving Ulthar a chance to prove itself, but I found myself returning to Cosmovore out of obligation rather than desire. I expected this album to give me head-banging-induced whiplash, but instead I escaped with nary a neck cramp. For hardcore fans of Absu, Immortal, or blackened thrash in general, there may be something here for you. Everyone else, go listen to Mongrel’s Cross again.