Released: 2016, Relapse Records
Reviewer: Peter Atkinson
New Zealand's Ulcerate set the bar pretty high for themselves with 2013's masterful Vermis. With its technical grace, genuinely savage intensity and wildly unorthodox construction, the album took death metal to bold new extremes and was heavy in every sense of the word.
Shrines Of Paralysis, the trio's fifth album, essentially picks up where Vermis left off - and pretty much stays it course. Indeed, much of what I said about Vermis in my October 2013 review is true of Shrines – hence the lower score this time out as it seems more of a drawn-out continuation than a truly new chapter. But the fact remains, Shrines is a veritable cyclone of riffs that come from every angle, turbulent tempos, serpentine rhythms and bassist/vocalist Paul Kelland's unrelenting roar that will pin you to the back of your chair like the guy in those old Maxell tape ads for the better part of an hour.
Shrines doesn't waste any time getting things rolling with “Abrogation” and its steady barrage of Michael Hoggard's guitaring and Jamie Saint Merat's drum fusillades that go all over the place but nevertheless move things forward at a steady clip. Things just keeps building from there. “Yield To Naught” and “There Are No Saviours” grow longer and more chaotic, ultimately leading up to the titanic title track.
At 9:26, “Shrines Of Paralysis” is the most epic tune on an album full of them - “Abrogation” is the shortest song at 5:52, not counting the Godfleshy curiosity “Bow Of Spite” that acts as bridge between the front and back halves – and lends a smothering doomy heft to its technical sophistication and grandiosity, making it a truly staggering, almost oppressive denouement to act one. The comparative brevity and sparseness of “Bow Of Spite” comes almost as a relief afterwards.
The second act provides a bit more space to breathe than the first, if only by a matter of degrees. “Chasm Of Fire,” which follows “Spite,” mixes its dizzying complexity and brutal fits with moments of relative calm and is perhaps the most dynamically diverse song here. “Extinguished Light” eases into its mammoth, nearly nine-minute framework and has an ebb and flow not unlike “Chasm” and plenty of atmosphere between tantrums. “End The Hope” offers the same sort of head-fake mellow start, but soon launches into attack mode and closes the album out with a particularly fearsome flourish.
At 58 minutes, Shrines can be a bit of an endurance test. It's definitely a lot take in – or just to take, period – all in one sitting, as punishing as it is for much of its duration. Indeed, essentially splitting the album into two parts was smart move by the band, whether it was calculated or not. It allows for a natural break, some time to lick your wounds as it were, before the beating begins anew.