Released: 2013, Relapse Records
Reviewer: Peter Atkinson
Death metal’s not typically big on surprises or variation. But New Zealand’s Ulcerate deliver both in bunches on their stunning, smothering fourth album Vermis.
The trio meld the technical dexterity and brutality of Morbid Angel in their prime with the eccentricities of Gorguts, and set it to the turbulent rhythmic dynamics and jarring heaviness that echoes Neurosis – all while managing to sound very little like any of them in particular, save for bassist/vocalist Paul Kelland's David Vincent-like roar.
Vermis is an avalanche of swirling, elliptical riffing and chaotic drum salvos and stilted tempos, a seething mass that hurtles ever forward with nothing to stop it but the end of the album itself. That just three guys are making all this glorious noise is nothing short of amazing.
And it's not like Ulcerate add much, if anything, in the way of frilly extras, effects or layers of instrumentation here. Kelland, drummer/percussionist Jamie Saint Merat and guitarist Michael Hoggard just don't seem to waste any notes, and use what they have to fill whatever space is there, which makes for a dense, crushing heavy and assaultive album that is as genuine as it is punishing. Yet the towering “The Imperious Weak” and “Cessation” and the disjointed “Weight of Emptiness” are epic masterworks that boast an eerie, imposing beauty.
And it's that aesthetic sensibility that set Ulcerate apart from the rest of their tech-death brethren. Too many bands get wrapped up in complexity, wankery or death metal's inherent ugliness – or some combination thereof – and end with something that is all flash or bash. Ulcerate use their obvious prowess and almost jam band-like approach to create atmosphere, soul and purpose – all while still grinding your face into the floor.
Vermis is a savagely smart, often mesmerizing album that could legitimately be called “thinking man's death metal” - as pompous as that might sound. But if this isn't it, I don't know what is. Brilliant.