ULCERATE – Shrines of Paralysis
I admit that as excellent as Ulcerate’s last album, "Vermis", was I had serious doubts they would be able to match it, let alone surpass it. "Vermis" was a perfect death metal masterpiece. And that is why I can’t believe how easily "Shrines of Paralysis" outclasses it in complexity, yes, but in catchiness. Whereas every previous Ulcerate album required studious several applications to find melody, on "Shrines" you need but two, three the most, to be flooded by a multitude of beautiful epic melodies that are no longer merely delivered through dissonant squeals, although these are still in abundance. For all this, though, Ulcerate still, well, ulcerates, devastates with relentless chaos and brutality and dammit you like it you crazy son of a bitch! In fact, every track except the brief interlude "Bow To Spite" features an all out brutal death metal assault. The comparison could be made perhaps between past Immolation and the infectious "Kingdom of Conspiracy" or old Death and "Individual Thought Patterns", these albums where you do the previously unthinkable – fight the melodies out of your head in vain as they chase you down at every moment of your day, your resistance, though, ever so pathetic and weak because it is oh so good, yet in between the bands pummel you into oblivion actually more mercilessly than before.
Traditionally, I briefly describe every track as I have done so since their sophomore "Everything Is Fire" release. I feel as thought that album for brutality and sophistication and subsequent "Destroyers of All" for melodies were the skeleton for this new masterpiece, although the New Zealanders have evolved and progressed beyond belief. Whereas before they merely hinted as progression, today we can clearly call their music epic progressive brutal death metal. Let us begin, therefore, at the beginning, to quote Lewis Carrol’s famed caterpillar:
1. "Abrogation" – goes straight to the point, no intro, a subdued faster melody that ends the track more pronounced, more emphasis on melody as I counted 4 different gorgeous epic ones, catchier but more brutal and heavier, with more repetitions, a first for them, masterful and engaging structure, coupled with ambient, quiet passage used to enhance the subsequent brutality as on "Everything Is Fire". Already the first track nails my jaw to the floor, Ulcerate is back!
2. "Yield To Naught" – huge epic heavy haunting, oppressive dirge expresses the very sorrow of existence, beautiful melodies in a complex dense mournful aggressive fashion yet fast in places. I feel "feet" of the drums in the stomach, bass palpable and grating against my pancreas. After 7 applications I still barely scratched the surface. The vocals are the best ever and most expressive ever, the guitarsound crushing with ambient quiet distant choir ending, as will become almost a norm on this album, yet another first for the band.
3. "There Are No Saviours" – a huge epic heavy atmospheric doom/death very multi-melodic funeral doom, technical and hardcorish with that Morbid Angelesque rhythm. Vocals actually fit melodic pattern almost sounding melodic themselves, an illusion but enchanting one, more moody quiet ambient parts. Main melody has underlying melodies. Delicious track, a favourite so far.
4. "Shrines of Paralysis" – very doomy supermelodic track but not devoid of aggression and heaviness with generous helpings of My Dying Bride, the melodic riffing highly reminiscent of Crowbar’s "Planets Collide" (Odd Fellows Rest album), reinforced with references to sludge heaviness and almost classical riffing and structure at the end interwoven with Katatonian melody squeals for a fantastic effect. Surely this is really my favorite track.
5. "Bow To Spite" – a first for the band, a brief (under 2 minutes) psychedelic interlude that’s almost black metal in bleakness, just bass and keys, a creepy little number leading off to…
6. "Chasm of Fire" – familiar Deathspell Omega squeals and a more melodic heavy Gojira flair light up a furious emotive doom death hardcorish guitars that border on melodeath while extremely technical. As with the title track, the ending is an absolute death metal triumph.
7. "Extinguished Light" – not as immediately obviously melodic brutal death metal fest with a touch of thrash and seriously funeral doomy ending where finally the melodies shine in a Katatonic fashion (6:30-7:05), the most convoluted and complex track on the entire album. While so far Ulcerate had no traces of the characteristic Machine Headian wails, this one has them in spades (especially 2:00-3:00). When fast probably the fastest track, in scope reminding of Wagner’s "Ride of Valkyries".
8. "End The Hope" – doom/death of My Dying Bride but then brutal tech death with plenty of melodic squeals, very brutal and epicly melodic at the same time as sophistication flirts with simplicity from 6:15 on until that same slow epic morose catchy yet simple motiff ends the hope, for a lingering feeling that this album should have been called "Symphonies of Shrined Paralysis" because this band no longer makes tracks or songs. On "Vermis" they made movements. On "Shrines" they made symphonies.
It is already November so it makes perfect sense to begin to assemble the year’s end top ten. On that list Ulcerate takes my top spot with "Shrines of Paralysis". With this band, my love was at first note and it is stronger than ever. Everything, the brutality, the complexity of structure, the songwriting and above all the harmony and melody has been improved so much since the last album it almost feels like a quantum leap. And all the while one remembers that old adage that the mark of a professional is to make the difficult look easy.