Ulcerate : Cutting the Throat of God

Ulcerate Cutting the Throat of God review

In a recent interview with Treble, Ulcerate‘s Jamie Saint Merat offered confirmations of things I had thought for the past few years about the band’s overall project. More specifically, the deathgazing aspect of their work, attempting to convey sonically as closely as possible the paralytic scale of death, its impossible enormity: “We’re most interested in not so much the event itself, but the atmosphere surrounding it, and its impact on a still-living psyche.” I could quibble with the band’s own bracketing of their work, but the sentiment remains confirmed.

The opening gothic swell of the New Zealand group’s seventh album, Cutting the Throat of God, immediately marks it as different from the earlier works in Ulcerate’s career. Before, they had always mingled and milled somewhere between post-metal and tech death, progressive/psychedelic music and more bestial black metal inflections. On their previous record Stare Into Death and Be Still, we’d noted the increasing sense of a meditative capacity in their music, choosing no longer to pummel and harry the spirit but now to paint opium clouds of the scent of death in the nostrils. Here, the addition of more resolutely goth rock timbres to the synthesizer work and overall tonality of the instruments gives the material an immediate sense of moroseness, one differentiated from the gravedirt-feral approach of much of raw black metal for something substantially more despondent and absorbed in dread. The vision of death as event horizon, an inscribed boundary that permanently limits life, with a perplexing finitude on one side and an infinitude beyond both ends, birth and death.

In their interview with Treble, they mention that their approach to death metal is as the “metal of death,” an admittedly funny historically nomenclature but one that really was the lynchpin of the style. In the ’80s, it was the thing that pushed bands into thrash and traditional heavy metal to add more hardcore into the mix, to bark and rave like zombies and ghouls, birthing death metal as we know it; in the late ’80s to early ’90s, it was what made extreme metal bands turn their back on death metal, decrying its clean progressive arc, to embrace an even more intense and untrained style that would become the second wave of black metal. Ulcerate’s approach to this concept, however, aligns substantially more with my own sentiments. In 2009, at the age of 20, I suffered a monumental mental breakdown, one that left me bedridden for roughly a week, doing nothing but sleeping, sweating, and dreaming evil dreams both slumbering and awake. The focus of my breakdown was on the scalar value of the world, of life, of my life; I had long held a death-fixation, the quiet force that thrums in my head always, that makes me write as long and wild as I do, that makes me act in Dionysian almost parodic scatological humor, that makes me morose and withdrawn in person. But on deep contemplation of the vastness, the size of space, of time, and thus the enormity of death, a death which is the cessation of being and experience, a death with occludes all hope of rebirth or afterlife, I found myself choked nearly literally to my early grave by that witness. It led to many trials in my life and nearly a decade lost; my life in its wake is a radically altered trajectory, one which precludes me from returning to who I could have been.

So when I say that their approach to this topic, which has always been of great appeal and power to me (it was while listening to The Destroyers of All for the first time that I penned, in one pass of the record, my first published story as an adult), provides a suffocating and bleak grandeur here, I want it understood that I am speaking from point of fact and not speculation. They reference in the interview the way death reconfigures us: when you have lost friends, lost family, lost many, many of them, this dulling numbness begins to overtake you and a thing once dreaded becomes inscribed into how you see everything. Previous records roared like the sound of death coming to erase the living; now, Ulcerate throbs with the dread and powerlessness felt by those witnessing and awaiting death. They’ve slowed themselves, taken their own advice and stilled their previously tech death-adjacent drum and guitar work for something more melodic and thus harrowing. The towering tearstained doom metal of the ’90s, awash with that great powerlessness, thrums somewhere in the background now. It’s a fitting change, one that prolongs the band’s life before they fall into something like self-parody.

But moments of the old Ulcerate still flicker, dying embers in this colder expanse. Like Meshuggah before them, they have a sound and space within the landscape of metal that is wholly theirs, with what feels like a gaggle of also-rans pinching the deep dissonances and vast progressive landscapes of the material to similar ends. Enlisting Magnus Lindberg, an engineer who has worked with Cult of Luna and Tribulation, among many others, certainly helps; the instruments here have a gothic heft to them that feels in line with the rich emotionality of those two aforementioned groups, proving again the great value in soundscaping and tonecraft in delivery of a record. Admittedly, the one fault I find here is that, for the first time in their career, the titles and lyrics feel a bit like more telling than showing, ascribing a level of bestial fury to the record that perhaps would have been better with a similarly dialed-back and melancholic titling as their previous album. This is, as you can expect, a minor quibble, one that merely shows the group hasn’t yet made the definitive record of this era of the group. So much of doom metal for the past several years has failed to make me tears-in-eyes emotional, that vacuous hole in the chest, the way the griefs of death but also shame and regret clutch your throat, tell you in no uncertain terms there is no point left to live and no solace to be found after. Ulcerate here continue to touch that radiant ugly core. That’s enough.

Label: Debemur Morti

Year: 2024

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Ulcerate Cutting the Throat of God review

Ulcerate: Cutting the Throat of God

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