Technical death metal has never been my forte. I strongly suspect it’s a concentration issue, but bands whose sole purpose — at least on the surface — is to cram as many notes possible into a measure fly right over my head (I’m looking at you, Archspire). When I listen to metal, death metal in particular, I tend to go for substance over style. In this respect, I’ve been very lucky this year to find an increasing number of death metal bands that play technically proficient music without sacrificing the atmosphere that draws me to death metal to begin with. From Chthe’ilist’s debut full length, to Blood Incantation’s Starspawn (a name that is starting to border on household), to Gorguts’ Pleides’ Dust, to Auroch’s stunning Mute Books, the list of phenomenal death metal this year stretches on and on. Now, then, is a better time than ever for New Zealand’s Ulcerate to return with their fifth album, Shrines of Paralysis, and put on a how-to clinic.
Ulcerate have been a personal favorite in tech death since first hearing 2013’s Vermis. Eschewing more flashy fretboard antics, Ulcerate’s technicality is instead based on a complexity of rhythm and chord structure, giving them a more dynamic sound than their more shred-oriented brethren. Which also allows them to maintain an absolutely suffocating atmosphere on top of their skilled musicianship. Listening to Ulcerate is the closest thing I can think of to what being in hell would sound like; their music is pummeling, dense, and all around spiteful.
All of these hallmark traits return on Shrines of Paralysis. Songs like “Yield to Naught” and “Chasm of Fire” demonstrate the shifting, tension-inducing nature of Ulcerate’s craft at their peak. For being a three piece band, this record sounds absolutely massive. Much of this is owed to the high quality production value of the release, but the compositions themselves are also arranged so that every instrument works together to create a wall of sound. The guitar and bass lock horns and form the thick, churning chords that pull the majority of the weight in the band’s music, while any remaining space is filled by the frantic drumming of Jamie Saint Merat. While the density of the music can often be intimidating, the compositions are often tempered out with brief moments of airy contemplation, giving the listener a bird’s eye view from which to better appreciate the chaos that surrounds.
Making death metal that is at once technically proficient and deeply rich in atmosphere is a hard balance to strike, but Ulcerate have always been at the top of this game, and Shrines of Paralysis shows that they are far from sacrificing that title. By no means is this album an easy listen, but if you have the patience and time to give it the attention it deserves, there are many intricate details to be uncovered, and you will find that this will be one of the best death metal albums you will hear all year.