REVIEW: RINGS OF SATURN – “Ultu Ulla”
“This is exactly how music from outer space must sound like.” – I clearly remember thinking when I heard the opening notes of “Seized and Devoured” off of Rings of Saturn‘s debut masterpiece ‘Embryonic Anomaly’ . Not many bands are successful in delivering what they want to project themselves, but not Rings of Saturn. With unearthly album names and brilliantly colorful artwork, they aptly named their unique style as “Aliencore”. But apart from the “looks”, they back it up with some of the most dizzying guitar lines and chaotic song structure I have ever heard. With three near-flawless albums under their belt, they are all set to release ‘Ultu Ulla’ on 28th July via Nuclear Blast records.
Album number 4, has always been tricky for bands. By this time, they have a core set of fans, the expectations are stacked up from the previous record (regardless whether it was good or bad), and there is always that tough conundrum to solve – whether to experiment or intensify the “core” experience. With the introduction of new comers Miles Dimitri Baker (Guitars) and Aaron Stechauner (Drums), I am sure Lucas Mann would also have been fighting with these same questions, as they sat down to write ‘Ultu Ulla’.
‘Ultu Ulla’ opens up with a frenetic finger tapping section on “Servant of this Sentience” in true Rings of Saturn style, followed up by a smack on your eardrums with an ultra groovy slab in the rhythms. Ian Bearer‘s trademark combination of deep growls and fry screams propel the track forward over an unusual guitar line. But then, the band hits you with a supremely melodic guitar hook that is catchy as hell and is sure to surprise the old fans a bit. Soon enough the breakdown drags you down before the pattern repeat itself. I haven’t heard a Rings of Saturn track have such a distinctly solid structure before. The staple Rings of Saturn style is to be random and chaotic but the opener was both melodic and structured which gave a subtle indication that this new album will see the band in a slightly different light than before.
The follow-up track “Parallel Shift” starts in a really brutal manner but somewhere it loses the opener’s momentum. It has its moments but the overall song structure is quite generic, which is not what you expect from Rings of Saturn. However, the band corrects itself on “Unhallowed” and “Immemorial Existence”. “Unhallowed” is a beautifully composed instrumental track on a classical guitar, something that we haven’t heard this band use much before, and “Immemorial Existence” is where the direction of the band meets its core competencies. Full of quirky twists and brutal riffage, “Immemorial Existence” is where you feel the band completely salvages the disappointment of “Parallel Shift”. The melody stands out again in “The Relic”, giving the band a tinge of Speed Metal/Power Metal vibe. Especially the rhythm guitars and the lead guitars weave in a melodic tapestry before the band slams the chunky groove laden “Deathcore” characteristics on top of it. The solo just after the midpoint of the track, is frankly something entirely new from the band. The track ends with the staple Rings of Saturn style, again reinforcing the fact the band is looking for a new direction to grow.
Overall, I felt the band makes the listener sit on a roller coaster ride mixing the old and the new sounds alternately. Whereas tracks like “Margidda” can blend in easily on any of their previous albums, “The Relic” and “The Macrocosm” are something that sounds quite different from what the band has done before. I feel it is a good strategy to gradually introduce the band’s new direction to the older fans because as soon as you feel things are getting entirely different, the subsequent track pulls you right back in.
The production is crisp and the album stands at 42 minutes in length with 10 tracks. I am not sure how the old fans of the band will take it but I felt if kept an open mind, the album is really nice to listen to. ‘Ultu Ulla’ does not have that familiar relentless chaotic structure that we are familiar with Rings of Saturn, but this new direction is not something that makes it a weak album. Where the band may lose some of their old fans as an aftermath of this new direction, but it is sure to win over some new ones. Having said that, I feel the sound on this album is at the tipping point. I would not like to see them pushing it too much from here. Anything more may bruise the unique identity they carved for themselves, but, only time will tell.