As a rule, movies will start with minor background and development then spend the middle two thirds on drama only to end on a happy note or an emotional high. Many, including our beloved horror films, follow this rule of thumb. But when one comes along that gets darker as it progresses and ends with zero happiness or anything tidied up so to speak, what you get is an unforgettable experience. What does that have to do with a metal album? Buckshot Facelift‘s fourth full length Ulcer Island not only massacres your ears but gradually destroys any glimpse of hope or lightheartedness you may feel going into this thing. Also good luck with a clear cut identifier for the grind–powerviolence–death–dbeat–you name it approach of their tried and true formula that while it hasn’t changed much it sure has gotten better.
Since forming in 2004 Buckshot Facelift has dodged genre tags like the plague with each new release, bending genres as well as every possible line in the sand that ever existed in metal. There’s not much they haven’t covered over the past 13 years which is partly due to the wide array of its membership: Artificial Brain, Thaetas, Afterbirth and Grey Skies Fallen. So technical, brutal, progressive and melodic death metal are well represented but the results of this particular band’s output varies wildly and doesn’t necessarily equal the sum of its parts.
15 songs in 41 minutes means each song gets in and gets out at a decent clip. The band never stays in one spot long enough for the listener to get used to what they’re hearing much less feel completely comfortable with it. It’s the whole ‘let’s keep them off kilter but hook them’ mentality and for the most part it works as planned. Just listen to the repeated lyric in “Sundress Skeletor” and try to get it out of your head. Nope, you can’t because it’s an earworm of epic proportions. Or the danceable d-beat in “Ascend to Descend”, it’s heavy but crazy catchy.
The beauty of this album is its progression: it leads off with a grimy version of powerviolence (“Ulcer Island”) then with dissonant grindcore (“Burn the Baby Raper”) and finally with barbaric death metal in closer “A Trophy Cup Intoxicant.” It’s as if the album starts out on the high or happy note we discussed earlier then slowly descends into the depths of depravity and utter disparity, creating that same feeling of when the bad guy wins and you don’t get the nice and tidy happy ending. This makes up for my only issue with this album: the few hideous dialogue clips used to start off some of these tracks. The worst of which opens “Dustification (End Times Version).” The song itself is a nasty little death metal ditty but the opening dialogue is like a mortar round went off two feet in front of you (maybe that was the point?) and all you can think is what the f…?. I’m not against dialogue clips used for songs, at all. But for this album and for this particular level of genre cross pollination it is time wasted from the precious seconds of music we could have had. But with that said, nothing else here is wasted. The entire album is packed with amazing musicianship and the kind of vocals that would make a pig jealous. Side note: in case you’re not a brutal death metal fan that is indeed a compliment.
It’s a lot to take in and may not be the easiest of listen for some and for others this album will have to strike at the right time and mood. Let’s face it this type of angular ferocity is a lot to sit through for 41 minutes. But for those of us who like a challenge and can appreciate music that pushes boundaries far beyond any set limits Ulcer Island is the album that does it and for Buckshot Facelift this album does it better than their previous efforts. They’ve come along way since their debut and it seems as long as they continue to be elusive when it comes to easy categorization they’ll stay on top of their game.