New Zealander death metal giants Ulcerate return with ‘Stare into Death and Be Still’, their brand new sixth album on their new label, Debemur Morti Productions. When I first heard of the label change, I was curious on how the new album would sound like as on paper, Ulcerate did not seem to fit in with the rest of the black metal focused label’s roster. Even so, I gladly waited for the new album as Ulcerate is one of my favorite bands and I wanted more of their sweet, sweet dissonance. I am ecstatic to say that ‘Stare into Death and Be Still’ blew away all my expectations and became, for me, the best Ulcerate album so far, beating out my favorite album of theirs ‘Everything is Fire’. Before I tell you why, I want to point out how gorgeous the album artwork is. Jamie Saint Merat, you’re not only a monster behind the kit but a monster with the pen.
So, what can you expect from this album? Clean production and more of Ulcerate’s sweet dissonance. I believe this album has the best production out of any Ulcerate album. Paul Kelland’s vocals are not overpowering and have a really nice cavernous tonality to them that really blends in well with the atmosphere of this album. Jamie’s drums, although intense, are not overbearing and does not destroy but rather maintain and propel the texture of the album as the guitars shift around. Michael Hoggard’s guitars are distorted but are clear enough to distinguish the various melodies and layers of harmony. The dissonant riffs are just what you expect, intense and groovy while constantly shifting around in an uneven see-saw motion that Ulcerate fans know and love.
Now, what makes ‘Stare into Death and Be Still’ different that it’s the best Ulcerate album? ‘Stare into Death and Be Still’ is Ulcerate’s most melodic and dynamic album yet. The album begins with “The Lifeless Advance” and immediately this song sets it apart from the bulk of Ulcerate’s discography and introduces some key ideas that shape this album. First, the increased emphasis on the melodic sensibilities of the see-saw riffs brings a new dimension to the band’s sound. The melodies have a meditative quality to them as they constantly swirl around you as the guitars pan from side to side playing the riffs in a call and response like fashion. “Stare into Death and Be Still” and “There is No Horizon” are also great examples of these. Additionally, the riffs can develop a sense of melodic energy reminiscent to Sulphur Aeon when used to propel the song forward like in “Exhale the Ash” which alongside “Inversion” contains some of Ulcerate’s best riffing ever.
Secondly, Ulcerate explores multiple dynamics and influences on this album. On several occasions, Ulcerate brings it down to a more quiet, pensive, and sometimes mysterious instrumental breaks and intros. “Visceral Ends” is a great example of this as it starts off with a mysterious intro and weaves between calm and bombastic sections as the song progresses that culminates into a powerful ending. “Dissolved Orders” is another song that takes advantage of those influence to create a beautiful album ending. On the other hand, you have Ulcerate at their most aggressive with the track “Inversion” which has an in your face intro and some of the most dizzying guitar passages on the album. All three songs show very different but complementary sides of the band. ‘Stare into Death and Be Still’ is all about the balance between these sides and how to effectively use them.
In addition to the melodic sensibilities and dynamism, ‘Stare into Death and Be Still’ explores old and new influences as well. It is no secret that Ulcerate has post-metal and sludge metal influences. On this album, those influences are applied effectively in a variety of ways from the intricate layering in instrumental breaks (“The Lifeless Advance” and “There is Horizon”), to the hard-hitting groovy meditation of riffs (“Inversion” and “Drawn into the Next Void”). There is also a heightened atmospheric black metal influence that adds to the atmosphere and texture of the sound. The song “Stare into Death and Be Still” is a great example of this as the song shares similarities in texture and structure. However, it is the addition of two new influences that has gotten me the most excited about. The first of which is most notably found on the song “Drawn into the Next Void”. In this song, Ulcerate explores psychedelic soundscapes reminiscent of Morbus Chron and a toned-down Oranssi Pazuzu that create some surreal passages. The most notable and personally most extremely welcomed new influence is of melancholic death/doom metal reminiscent of the Peaceville 3 (mainly My Dying Bride) and early Katatonia. On tracks like “Stare into Death and Be Still” and “Visceral Ends”, Ulcerate adds some excellent emotional guitar passages that float above the shifting dissonant riffs which creates some beautifully melancholic sections that remind me of Weeping Sores. The only minor complaint I have is that I wanted to hear more of these emotional moments as Ulcerate does them well and I hope to see them move further down into these sonic territories and bring forth even more intricate melodies and harmonies.
With an increased level of melody and dynamics, Ulcerate has truly captured something special with ‘Stare into Death and Be Still’. The album is a beautiful, meditative, and introspective exploration of death that brings out new dimensions and emotions from the band. ‘Stare into Death and Be Still’ is an album you can easily get lost in but for all the right reasons. The usage of melodic dissonance combined with the atmosphere, harmonic layers, and texturing has made this album an instant masterpiece. Ulcerate fans must not skip this as this is some of the best death metal out there.