Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Artist of the Day: Ulcerate

Ulcerate's fourth album, Vermis,drops this September.
In the field of Death metal, it’s becoming increasingly hard to stand out from the crowd. Progress is often limited to incestuous genre hybridization, so bands turn to advertising themselves as the most “intense” and “brutal” out there. Immolation created suffocating dissonance, Morbid Angel perfected blast-beat thunder, and Death injected the genre with philosophy and unpredictability, so it would seem there’s little left to say that hasn’t already been screamed. Meanwhile, in New Zealand, Michael Hoggard and Jamie Saint-Merat decided it was time for the genre to take a step back and breathe a little. Born of their insane guitar and drum chops in 2000, Ulcerate started as a talented but otherwise unremarkable death metal outfit. After the band added and dropped a number of musicians, it settled on a trio of Hoggard, Saint-Merat and bassist/vocalist Paul Kelland. Those three would lay down the album Everything is Fire, and for once, death metal had a legitimately fresh sound.

Ulcerate’s latest (and most stable) incarnation is consistently precise and powerful in its unique approach. Based around combining atmospheric elements with the onslaught of technical death metal, its two albums Everything is Fire and 2011 follow-up The Destroyers of All have been met with high praise from Allmusic, Terrorizer Magazine, Decibel Magazine,, and other popular music destinations. The band’s calling card is drummer Jamie Saint-Merat, who is quickly establishing himself as one of metal’s percussive juggernauts. Capable of navigating multiple time signatures and with an excellent feel born of jazz and funk studies, Jamie is one of the more interesting examples of a drummer who plays both in and around the music. His contributions to Destroyers could be an album on their own, as he mellifluously transitions from airy cymbal work and syncopated tom rolls to double-kick work in excess of 1000 individual strokes per minute.

Of course, there are plenty of bands that can burn your ears off with brutality; it’s Ulcerate’s deft throttle-control that sets it apart. On tracks such as Everything is Fire opener “Drown Within,” Hoggard and Kelland demonstrate a willingness to let the song build and evolve. As the piece fades in with screeching diminished chords, Saint-Merat pummels a surgically off-kilter set of rhythms that complement the rapidly changing modalities that carry the first half of the song. The following turn towards spacey and minimalistic soundscapes is nothing short of breathtaking, and brings to mind a more extreme and challenging take on the prime works of Swedish superstars Opeth. While Ulcerate has yet to find the mainstream appeal of that group, it’s off to an awfully promising start three albums in. Fourth effort Vermis is on the horizon for this September, and if it’s anything like the last two, you better hold onto your hat and jump on the bandwagon before the rest of the world finds out what the metal extremists already know: these guys are for real.

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