ULCERATE is a force to be reckoned with; a truly intense musical expression, but not in the typical sense. There is a feverish, smoldering death metal attack including the prototypical growling vocals and blasting drum work, but ULCERATE only periodically goes for the jugular, not perpetually, like more conventional death metal bands do. The emphasis is upon varied textures and dynamics as part of what's an atmospheric journey. In an oversimplified sense, they are equal parts IMMOLATION paired with NEUROSIS. Sure, it's music to bang your head to at times, but more than anything, ULCERATE produces extreme metal that can lead one into a trance-like state. The New Zealand-based act has just returned with its sixth full-length album, Stare Into Death and Be Still", and it offers everything the band has been known for, while expanding ULCERATE's horizons as well.
Little has changed with regard to the band's trajectory and approach since forming in 2000, founded by drummer Jamie Saint Merat and guitarist Michael Hoggard. While numerous members were in and out of the band during the early years, the core duo has been joined by Paul Kelland, on vocals and bass, since 2005. The lineup stability and shared vision has contributed toward their momentum building, with each successive release qualitatively topping its predecessor. As such, "Stare Into Death and Be Still" stands in line and proves to be dissonant and discombobulating, a maelstrom of intricate and interesting technical death metal complexity that's built with precision and directed with purpose.
While there is an abundance of nuance involved on this tremendously dynamic release, the paradox is that ULCERATE continues to reap rewards based upon their dichotomous approach. It's a far cry from "good cop/bad cop" simplicity and juxtaposition, though. The more prominent post-metal atmospheric developments lead towards climactic and explosive extreme metal freneticism. "Dissolved Orders", for instance, opens with evocative and calm melancholic portions that might capture the attention of the more adventurous fringe of shoegaze fans, and that's before the song winds toward a monstrous metallic barrage. And mercifully, this approach isn't unreasonably applied in a manner that would render it excessive and formulaic. For example, the inverse of this coarse-calm dichotomy is evident on "There is No Horizon", a track that's abundant with a dense fracas that essentially bookends a trance-inducing and serene midsection.
While the hellish growling and blast-beat battery dives in to punctuate certain melodious and ethereal segments on "Visceral Ends" and elsewhere, the transitions are fluid without losing any impact. Mirroring the manner in which the two sides of this coarse-calm coin complement one another is the dueling instrumental interplay, namely, the riffs and guitar work playfully spar with the equally spry percussive surges on a song like "Drawn Into the Next Void". That tension defines ULCERATE.
The inventive New Zealanders have truly upped the ante with regard to what they're capable of producing. ULCERATE's tried-and-true tools of the trade remain sharp, and they've boldly taken steps to create their most beautiful offering to date: one that doesn't forsake an ounce of their brutality and heft. This release doesn't provide much by way of instant gratification. It's a piece of art that requires patience to fully absorb — from the music to the conceptual focus upon death that reveals the men behind ULCERATE's proverbial masks exposed in a more vulnerable form. "Stare into Death and Be Still" isn't an easy release to consume, but it's rewarding on the deepest and most profound levels for those who are patient enough to allow ULCERATE to work their magic.