Destroying All

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Looking for some straight forward, old school death metal with grooves and traditional song structures? If so, then stay as far away as possible from any of Ulcerate’s three full-length releases. The New Zealand trio is the quintessential forward-thinking Willowtip act, even more so than most other groups on the roster, not to mention modern death metal in general. Angular, shape-shifting rhythms, guitar work that is more about the painting of sonic pictures than popular notions of riffing, and a vibe in both lyrics and music that is suffocating in its bleakness. As such, The Destroyers of All is in fact all that and a bag of chips. Drummer/composer Jamie St. Merat, uh, opens that bag to reveal its contents…something like that anyway.

I’m curious about how your relationship with Willowtip first began. In 2007, you released Of Fracture and Failure on Neurotic, who if I recall ended up partnering with Willowtip in some capacity later anyway. Then you released Everything is Fire on Willowtip in North America. The pairing of Ulcerate and Willowtip just seems, for lack of a better term, right.

It’s a pretty simple chain of events really; more or less exactly as you described. Neurotic at some point licensed all their releases to Willowtip, so Of Fracture and Failure came out in the U.S. on Willowtip.  When were preparing to record Everything is Fire, we just couldn’t get a word out of Neurotic as to where we stood with the record.  Basically, it was a lack of communication for a solid few months.  A ton of bands were bailing from the label, so something was clearly up.  I just got in touch with Jason at Willowtip and said we were interested in jumping ship, as they would be releasing the album anyway.  Upon catching wind of this, all of a sudden Neurotic pipes up and tries to illegally demand cash from us for a “breach” of a one-album contract.  We sought legal aid and told Neurotic owner Ruud Lemmen, that we weren’t interested in fucking anyone over and we’d like the courtesy extended our way as well. That was the last we heard from him.  Perhaps he should spend less time trying to rape bands and more time focusing on not failing at being a label.

Though this is the first Ulcerate album to which I’ve spent a considerable amount of time listening, your style of death doesn’t necessarily lend itself to immediate gratification. It has a growing quality and it takes a couple of spins for the songs to truly resonate, while the arrangement dynamics surface more with repeat listens. I’m guessing you’ve heard this before.

Yeah of course, we understand that for sure.  All of our favorite music is exactly the same; often my favorite albums I really don’t even like at first, then something just clicks.  So that’s obviously subconsciously filtered through into how we approach our own music, although it’s not intentional to write obtuse music; it’s just what naturally comes out of us.
I don’t know if this album is any more or less tougher to break into [compared to the previous two], as I really have zero objectivity here. Obviously to me everything seems really logical and “easy” for lack of a better word.

On The Destroyers of All, the album title seems to work on multiple levels, including something as simple as equating it to the sheer death metal heaviness of this band.  But the lyrics tell a much bleaker tale as indicated in one of the more penetrating lines, “our extinction, seeded in blind avarice.”

Yeah, we were a little worried at first that people might take the literal meaning of the title at face value, certainly not what we were aiming for. It’s just the perfect overall summation of the album themes, delivered in a really forceful, fuck-off tone.  The Destroyers of All as a general theme is how human beings as a species have a propensity to destroy. The album progresses to elaborate our destructive habits and the lack of respect we hold for the planet, its inhabitants, and each other.

In fact, there is a line in the title track that made me think it could summarize the Ulcerate attack: “Cold blooded and callous, it does not grieve.”

Well yeah, I guess that could fit [laughs]. We certainly try to convey a sense of hopelessness with the music for sure.

[Bassist/vocalist] Paul [Kelland] takes a rather sparing approach to lyric writing, which equates to saying more with less, rather than any kind of simplicity in meaning. Is this approach a typical one for the band? Can you offer some insight into his lyrics?

Yeah for sure. This has been something that we’ve all talked about; kinda distilling the essence of what you’re trying to get across in the least verbiage possible.  Before Paul, our two previous vocalists were at the other end of the spectrum – very, very metaphoric, and certainly a little too verbose for our current tastes.  Suited at the time, but once we decided with Everything is Fire that the vocal was going to go a lot more forthright and commanding, that meant a trimming of the fat so to speak.  But for my tastes, in terms of imagery and the underlying themes, Paul’s lyrics are fucking perfect for what we’re going for, in my opinion.

On “The Hollow Idols” there is a line that seems to speak directly to notions of mass control (e.g. religion) and humanity’s need to worship something larger than itself, often not realizing the control given over to the oppressors who are disguised as saviors/leaders. That line is: “The marred hands of our leper idols wring us of all hope.” Am I even in the ballpark of the message being conveyed here?

Yeah that’s pretty much bang-on. Here’s a liner note from a previous interview, where Paul outlines the theme of that particular track: “The Hollow Idols are our imagined personification of intention in the universe. They embody all our desires, strip us of reality, and empower a decrepit morality. They instill blind and hollow hope and fracture our posterity.”

In consideration of your three full-lengths how would describe the sound of The Destroyers of All in comparison to Of Fracture and Failure and Everything is Fire? Would you say you’ve progressed as a band?

Of course, I think the progression is fairly evident in terms of how convincing the material is, and how the songwriting has become a lot more fluid.  Not too mention our ability to perform the material.  The Destroyers of All for me is a lot more all-encompassing and a lot more visceral. I think there’s a far wider dynamic range and it really feels like stylistically we’ve definitely solidified our place in the scheme of things.  Everything is Fire is I guess a mix of the dryer, more sporadic tone of Of Fracture and Failure, but obviously with a lot more atmosphere and a more realized sense of foreboding.

Because of the sheer creativity involved in [guitarist] Michael Hoggard’s playing you get a lot out of one guitar in the trio format. Do you tour as a trio too?

No, definitely not. We’ve never been a one-guitar band; we always have a second live guitarist, and the albums all utilize two very distinct rhythm channels, regardless of the fact that only one guitarist records them.  It’s just really not an option at all.

It seems that interpersonal chemistry is everything when it comes to a band like Ulcerate.

For us, there’s always been the solid foundation of writing members, and then we tend to have commitment and ability issues with the live guitarist spot.  For the first time ever we’re now actually working with someone (William Cleverdon) who is easily on our level in both those regards.

The band is credited with engineering, mixing, and mastering the album. Even the art and layout are credited to you! Is there anything for which the three of you aren’t responsible in this band!?

Tour booking and organization is the only facet of the band where we have to relinquish control over everything. But asides from that, no!

Incidentally, that album cover makes my eyes cross when I stare at it too deeply and for too long. It seems fairly basic, though dark, upon passing first glances until you really begin examining it and then things get a little bewildering, if not frightening.

Yeah the older I get the more minimal things excite me, particularly in design. They’re also the hardest to pull off convincingly.  The album art is just an exploration and an illustration of the overall them of the album, as mentioned earlier.  The main figurative piece of the elk being attacked is from a photo I took while visiting the Sistine Chapel in Rome; at the time I took it I knew I had to use it for something!  Throughout the entire layout everything is referring to animals; be it the sculptures or the skull tissue, which I photographed from a deer skull that a friend had lying around.  Thematically the art deals with conflict at all levels of nature, that we as a species no matter how much we try and dissociate ourselves from the lower animal are still very carnal, survival-based in our actions, even though this gets filtered through political and ideological lenses.  I guess there are hints at the “might is right” school of thought, even though nothing is ever as black and white as that, and the reference is aimed more at nature in general.

Based on the reviews you’ve read of Ulcerate albums what bands do you see mentioned most frequently when trying to make points of comparison to your style? Have you read any that just had you scratching your head in puzzlement?

The usual suspects: Immolation, Gorguts, Deathspell Omega.  Which certainly all makes sense to me.  I’ve seen a Tool reference and a Meshuggah reference, which seems really foreign to me, particularly the Meshuggah one.

One could assume that it is much easier for a band in New Zealand to get international press coverage in 2011 than, say, 1991, because of the Internet. Would this assumption be correct and do the positives of mass Internet exposure for metal bands outweigh the negatives in your opinion?

Of course, there are really no obstacles these days, which is great for us. Every bit of correspondence we do is via the Internet.  As for positives outweighing the negatives, I’m not really sure on that one.  Because of the ease of everything there’s a huge glut of worthless music that never existed before.  And trends have now become micro-trends that twist and morph all over the place, rather than building over a number of years. And you see that everywhere in music with the amount of gimmicks bands need to employ to differentiate themselves from everything else.  Everything is a lot more fickle and worthless and no doubt it’s only going to get worse.  Not saying amazing work isn’t being created; you’ve just got to dig a little deeper to find it amongst the mountains of shit [laughs].

What are the members of Ulcerate doing when they are not writing, recording, or playing with the band?

We all work full-time jobs outside of the band. I’m lead designer at a web studio, Paul works for a bank, William runs his father’s gun shop, and Mike is currently studying.  All of our interests outside the band still pertain to music at some level, whether it’s other projects, recording, etc.

Any worldwide touring plans in Ulcerate’s future?

We’re in the planning stages of international touring for the album.

Closing comments? Thanks for taking the time.

Cheers for the interview!


  1. Commented by: faust

    Great band.

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