New Zealand’s Ulcerate crush you under their death-fueled might on killer new ‘Vermis’

ulcerateOne of my great irrational fears in a sea of them is to be trapped or encased in concrete or something of that matter. Hearing horror stories–real or not–about mafia members seeing to it that an enemy is somehow built into the concrete pillars of a bridge, ensuring a particularly gruesome death, scares the hell out of me, and I’m sure it’s my claustrophobic nature that amplifies this.

Not that I have any enemies or anyone who would want to subject me to a death inside cement or asphalt or some other inescapable material, but I’m clumsy. I could fall in and be up to my neck in death. Just imagining being trapped, all of that weight bearing down on me, rendering me unable to gasp a breath and left to suffocate is enough to get me shaking and having nightmares. This is why a lot of times when I describe bands as being cement heavy, this is what I think about. Music so thick and weighty that, if it could be converted into the substance, would crush my chest and kill me. I also find it a little odd that I like that kind of music considering my fears.

ulcerate coverOne such band whose music always sounded thick enough to support a bridge is Ulcerate, the New Zealand-based death metal band that has been crushing people under their weight for more than 10 years now. Their style is quite recognizable, from the mucky, throaty growls, to the penetrating, technically sound instrumentation, to the way their thick, sludgy sound makes you feel like you’re drowning in quicksand. I instantly know Ulcerate when I hear them, and considering how many bands dot the death metal landscape, that’s a badge of honor for this band. There’s also a sort of expectedness when it comes to their music, and I don’t mean that in a bad way. They have a sound, a style, and while they don’t veer too far from it ever, it’s sort of comforting to know you can expect a certain kind of record from them and they always deliver. And it’s always totally worth worrying about your own demise taking on their records.

After offering up their last two albums on the most-excellent Willowtip Records, the band made the jump to Relapse for “Vermis,” their fourth full-length crusher. These 55 minutes of, yes, cement-thick death metal is tried-and-true Ulcerate, and it’s brutal in all the right ways, punishing like you know it needs to be. The lineup of bassist/vocalist Paul Kelland, guitarist Michael Hoggard, and drummer Jamie Saint Merat delivers mightily on this nine-track monster, and if you somehow haven’t been exposed to these beasts before, there’s no better chance than this record to see what all the bruising and carnage is all about and why people righteously praise the name Ulcerate. And it might make you feel like you’re trapped in that dreaded cement mixer.

The opener “Odium” lets things simmer before the record blows open, though it’s ominous and menacing in its own right as it sets the path for the rest of the record, that really picks up on the title cut. The muddy, gritty thrashing gets going in earnest, as Kelland’s grimey growling sounds like a horrible beast rising from the earth with nothing but ill intentions in mind. “Clutching Revulsion” is slower moving in areas and also lets some dissonant melodies rise up, adding a touch of weirdness to Ulcerate’s metallic recipe. It is brutal, of course, and leaves no room for any mercy, with the drumming coming across as particularly pulverizing. “Weight of Emptiness” has an eerie unsettling beginning but eventually becomes a muddy, thick creeper that both slithers and clobbers. “Confronting Entropy” stomps and snarls like a dinosaur, leaving its gigantic paw prints all over and unleashing a vicious, explosive assault that is pure heaviness through and through.

“Fall to Opprobrium” is one of the shorter cuts on the record, and it is one of the most atmospheric, but it’s simply easing you before the throne of “The Imperious Weak,” a creative, intriguing cut that’ll have you following on its bizarre waves even while it’s mauling and bulldozing everything in front of it. Once again the drums cause complete devastation, and the vocals let fire roll out of Kelland’s mouth like he’s trying to gurgle forth the world’s epitaph. “Cessation” also has some airy, mind-altering melodies that break up all the insanity, but make no mistake that your fingertips are going to get crushed under the weight of this one. Closer “Await Rescission” just splatters everywhere, with drums causing wounds that spurt blood, dizzying, savage riffs that make you feel like you’re swallowing concrete, and even moments where the band gets proggy and ambitious musically while they bring down the hammers of destruction.

If you’ve been on this long, bloody road with Ulcerate, there’s no doubt you’re going to keep moving along with them as they bore forward like a hell combine. Or, if you’re like me, it’ll further emphasize that feeling of being trapped in a bin or behind a wall or in a pit as tons of cement come crashing down on you, with no chance of escape. Ulcerate are heavy and have the structural might of a towering skyscraper that looms large, casts a giant shadow, and can crush you at any moment.

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