Album Review: Ulthar — “Providence”

ulthar - providence

Somewhere there’s a paper with dozens of esoteric equations and quotations that would explain exactly why Cosmovore, the debut from Ulthar would be right up my alley.  The fact that it failed to connect upon initial release is a mystery for the ages (though most likely due to reviewer burnout) but fortunately no such issue befalls the mad vortex of sophomore album Providence, which brings a dizzying maelstrom of Lovecraftian madness and twisted death metal to reflect the insanity infecting the world at this moment in time, in any time.

By now it should be no surprise that I have a particular penchant for the way I prefer my death metal: decidedly old school, full of groove with riffs that cut mercilessly along to traditional structure.  Upon my first listen to Ulthar’s debut Cosmovore that “in” was eluding me.  Coming back to it now an older, sad but none-the-wiser man the footprints of the old school are everywhere, couched in between brilliant bursts of Voivod-ish space explorations.  It’s there in the tremolo riffing of “Solitarian” and that song’s crushing mid-paced breakdown in the song’s final minute.  In fact, put Denis “Snake” Bélanger on vocals for “Infinite Cold Distance” and it would work as a killer Voivod tune.  Let’s not even talk about the sprawling epic “Dunwich Whore” – it’s obvious at this point I probably never even got that far in my initial listen.

So live and learn, okay?  I’ve come around, have embraced the decayed and esoteric mythological riff worship the combination of Shelby Lermo, Justin Ennis, and Steve Peacock have evoked.  Three players who already bring some of the best and freshest black and death metal around (when can we get another Pale Chalice album?!?) together are crafting some of the most wicked and diabolic music this side of the universe, and I’m finally tuned to the frequency: how does Providence carry Ulthar forward?

Well, it turns out that not changing the formula but simply doubling down on everything that worked the first time is a good recipe for success.  There are no massive, lengthy tracks on Providence; instead Ulthar prefer to blast your brains into the cosmos with a barrage of punchy, trippy riffs that entangle your senses.  Opener “Churn” is a two-minute face ripper that is relentless in its attack, making the most of the band’s two vocal melee.  “Undying Spear” opts for mysterious with a twisted twin acoustic opening before plunging into majestic power chords before channeling some serious Morbid Angel worship through a modern lens.  Things open up at the three-minute mark, allowing for a crushing riff to briefly bring back the majesty before closing into claustrophobic death metal again.

The title track begins to make clear the essential fourth member of Ulthar, and that’s the stellar production work.  If there’s an advantage Providence has to Cosmovore, it’s that the mix never fails the performances: everything stands out even as guitars weave in and out, and the drums and bass chase each other, occasionally locking in place before wandering off to explore other, stranger avenues.  The two years between albums also contribute to that clarity: the songs here feel a little less rushed for all the energy and ferocity they bring.  Amid the chaos of a track like “Through Downward Dynasties” are small moments (seconds, really) where the music is allowed to breathe before once again plumbing infernal depths.  The aptly named “Cudgel” alternates between vicious blizzards of notes and monolithic doom stomps.  The opening of “Furnace Hibernation” feels like the best Morbid Angel riff you’ve never heard.  In an album full of highlights, the way “Furnace Hibernation” marches forward makes for one of the best moments on Providence.

ulthar band
Ulthar (photo by Melissa Petisa)

As the relentless attack of closer “Humanoid Knot” (another favorite) crashes to a snare rattling halt, I come away awestruck that on only their second album Ulthar have crafted a classic; one that feels as seasoned as anything that’s come out on the last ten years.  Somewhere in the vast reaches of space large, unrecognizable shapes are stirring, turning their baleful eye upon the Earth.

If we are crushed by Elder Gods, at least the tunes that brought them here were worth it.

– Chris

Providence will be available June 12 on 20 Buck Spin.  For more information on Ulthar, check out their Facebook page.

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