Given the wide display of personal taste we've curated amongst our cabal of scribes, it's not often that the Sleeping Village as an entity is collectively all a-buzz about the same album. But Ulcerate's high-quality track record is, in many ways, a great unifier. Thusfar, their career has been a remarkably blemish-free endeavor. Moreover, their continued reinvention of extreme metal motifs has led to some of the best examples of genre-melding madness the metal community has had the joy of witnessing. It seems, frankly, that they can do no wrong, and--spoiler alert--Stare Into Death And Be Still only further cements their status as legends. Equal parts technically adept and emotionally bombastic, this album is going to be seeing the light at the end of the tunnel on quite a few year end lists. Mark my words.
To assess Ulcerate's latest offering, two Village-dwellers--Izzy and Loveloth-- took up the pen to express their views, making for a rare double review 'round these parts. Without further ado, I'll let them do the talking.
Written by: Izzy
It all started in 1989, when a new band formed and released their debut EP, a band that would change the landscape of death metal forever, amongst a hoard of new death metal bands and scenes popping up across the globe, they would join the ranks of innovators and classics that will be remember as long as death metal exists. Many of those classics I don’t like because I’m a filthy zoomer, but for the band in question here, Gorguts, I developed an immediate love and infatuation upon first listen years ago.
11 years later, a new band would form, walking in the craterous footsteps of this giant, their footprints slowly growing until the holes they left eclipsed the ones that brought them here. You may already know where I’m going with this, and you may also hate the fact that I’m bringing it up, that is my very intention! We are not reviewing Gorguts today, instead the topic of today’s discussion (as you may have already guessed) is the latest album by New Zealand tech death outfit Ulcerate, Stare Into Death And Be Still.
The reason I bring up Gorguts is they were highly influential, and are almost single-handedly responsible for the sound that bands like Ulcerate have continued to innovate and build upon. Whenever there’s a band reminiscent of Gorguts, they tend to get compared repeatedly, and a lot of fans hate that because many of these bands are doing their own thing and creating something new and different. Ulcerate is an exception, they don’t feel like a rip off or like they are riding any coattails. The reason I continue this trend (in a purposefully contradictory way) is because I think Ulcerate have made something truly incredible. This is an album beyond comparison, everything that it seeks to do it does better than any other band and album. It is Ulcerate’s magnum opus, and a 21st century death metal masterpiece.
Let it be known that Ulcerate are likely my favourite currently active death metal band. They have put out one consistently amazing album after another, each one subtly different, from the comparative simplicity and brutality of The Coming of Genocide, the seething viciousness of Everything Is Fire, the haunting atmosphere of The Destroyers of All, the crushing indignancy of Vermis. Ulcerate have truly never gotten stale, sure you can pick out a best and a worst, that goes with nearly any band with such a large discography, but you can always guarantee they’ll put out a good album.
I’m dragging here, so let’s get to the point, not to rip off the band’s own promo but Ulcerate have truly reached the unrelenting emotional apex of their career here. There’s nothing to be said about improving upon Stare Into Death And Be Still because there isn’t a single thing about it I believe can be improved.
This is a perfect album to me.
Ulcerate’s knack for brooding and oppressive atmosphere is front and foremost on this album, but without sacrificing their technical brutality, they’ve brought together the best aspects of their style which is an easy recipe for a phenomenal album, but the thing that truly makes this record breathtaking is that passion and emotion perfectly mixed in. Some people like dumb, ignorantly heavy death metal all about the riffs and that’s it, nothing wrong with that at all, but for those who like their music to make a connection with them, this album is the soundtrack for depression headbanging. The gorgeous layered melodies fused with somber, introspective sounds make the vocals take on a new light, less like a beastly growl of anger, instead they become a pained howl of mourning, which in turn only makes the melancholic instrumentals hit even harder.
Stare Into Death And Be Still is a complex organism where every piece improves on and is improved by the others, it is an unstoppable force of ferocity and despair from the second you hit play. But in a way, it’s also beautiful, and that’s something I rarely get to say about a death metal album. Ulcerate have outdone themselves, all that is left is to wait and see what comes next, all the while keeping this album on repeat.
Written by: Loveloth
“End the hope, end the veneration, annul the monolith to which we gave rise, total reversion.” These were the parting words of Ulcerate's Shrines Of Paralysis, a nihilistic ode to the apocalypse. Four years passed since and now we face the ashes left in its wake. From them, Stare Into Death And Be Still emerges. The timing of this release could not better now as most of our world sits silent in trepidation. Some people are terrified, some ignorant, some complacent and some, less fortunate, focused on just surviving. Whatever the case, each day the media continues to blindly showcase statistics with next to no context. Deaths and those infected are being translated into mere numbers which isn't anything new considering how desensitized of a civilization we are but in this particular situation, it all reeks a bit more than usual. This perfectly correlates to the main theme of the record – “death reverence.” Bleak for sure, but luckily for you and me, this particular trio creates art rooted in the darkest confines of the human psyche.
Not just create, they weave intricate compositions drenched with dissonance and submerged beneath an oppressive atmosphere. This in itself isn't anything new to modern death metal but what makes Ulcerate stand out is the how they utilize every familiar element to create this unique, massive, emotionally draining and cathartically violent landscape. And with each record they released, you noticed a subtle shift, sometimes they were too subtle but this all changed with the aforementioned Shrines Of Paralysis which introduced melody. It was noticeable but never fully explored due to the suffocating and spastic nature of the record and the extremely murky mix which is another hallmark of the band.
Yet with Stare Into Death And Be Still the paradigm shifted. The production was never as clear and the trio never sounded as melodic and spacious. This makes this particular album their most accessible yet, but make no mistake, nothing was lost. In fact, I would say it added more depth to an already “complete” band. I say complete because of the dizzying and always perplexing performances, evocative lyrics and just sheer presence. Paul Kelland remains a growling powerhouse, masterful lyricist and an equally skilled bass player. Most overlooked band member in my opinion but it's not difficult to see why considering how monstrous the other two are. First off, the obvious, Jamie Saint Merat and his drumming. For me and I am sure many of you, Saint Merat was the thing that immediately grabbed your attention. I can only think of a handful of drummers that come close to his prowess and even fewer that match it. It comes down to his unbelievable independence, creativity and of course mastery of time signatures but unlike a legion of tech death drummers, he can show restraint when needed. And that restraint shines brightly on Stare Into Death And Be Still, which is why I believe this is his finest hour yet. Not just his though, but rather the whole band's: which leads us to Michael Hoggard. Among his numerous talents, what I find the most fascinating is his distinct approach to harmonization and how he counters them with dissonance, wonky octaves or simply jumps between all of them on the go.
It's such a satisfying dynamic and one the whole band shares which is why every Ulcerate album is such a journey. You never know what awaits around the corner and that sense of anticipation keeps you on your toes at all times. Of course, the trio are fully aware of this and use it against you. I say against like it's a bad thing but let's be honest, all of us here are mere spectators left to decipher and interpret the organized chaos. It's something very similar to Deathspell Omega and to an extent Portal but in case of Ulcerate this is a much more emotional and intuitive. This is where all the post-metal comparisons have been coming from since the days of The Destroyers Of All where they first implemented it. However, as with every Ulcerate offering, this one does feel monotonous and taxing on the mind if indulged in too many times but what's great is how quickly the sense of monotony dispersed. The speed of said dispersion was a clear indicator that Stare Into Death And Be Still was something truly special. Nevertheless, Kelland's one-note delivery deserves to be mentioned, but it's nothing that deterred my enjoyment of this in any way shape or form.
From the first jagged harmony of “The Lifeless Advance” to that final cymbal hit that closes out the record, Stare Into Death And Be Still successfully held my attention for the entirety of its run time. Not only held but completely engrossed me and allowed my imagination to run wild and craft these obscene Beksinski-meets-Bruegel landscapes of abandoned cities riddled with ash.
And of course, the band's upward trend of album-length™ continues as this is currently their longest effort yet it doesn't feel like it at all which is a new sensation. A sensation you won't get by reading this review which I feel is already way too long.
With all this said, I forgot to mention one crucial thing. No it's not describing how the songs sound but rather how Stare Into Death And Be Still will be equally fascinating to veteran fans and newcomers. And newcomers I expect because this is already surrounded with a substantial amount of hype and this review will definitely help spread it, much to your and mine satisfaction. There is no doubt about it, this is an absolute triumph and the Ulcerate record I've been waiting for. Turns out watching the aftermath of an apocalypse never looked (and sounded) better. Just sit back, let the flood wash over you and see it to end.
Ulcerate - Stare Into Death And Be Still was released April 24th from Debemur Morti Productions
We provide thoughtful reviews of music that is heavy, gloomy...and loud enough to wake us from slumber. Written by a highfalutin peasantry!