Technical death metal is a demanding trade–and not just in terms of sheer speed and accuracy. Bands fall prey to various traps in the tech-death world: songs that overstay their welcome, boggling the listener’s mind with endless flurries of notes; a lack of musical coherence as the songs change tempo and/or time signatures over and over again; and distinct production necessary to hear every note and drum hit, that sacrifices impact for clarity.

Then there’s Ulcerate. Since their debut album, Of Fracture and Failure, Ulcerate has been augmenting their technical death metal with the oppressive atmosphere usually reserved for third-wave black metal (Aosoth, Blut Aus Nord, and especially Deathspell Omega) and menacingly dissonant music. Where their previous album, The Destroyers of All, imparted a sense of imminent doom through the brandishing of all kinds of technical arsenal amidst its suffocating atmosphere, Vermis sees Ulcerate going in for the kill, intent to destroy anyone and anything in their path.

At the album’s opening, the Deathspell Omega comparison is as apt as ever. The bent anti-harmonies sound like something straight off of Paracletus, setting the stage above sinister palm-muted chords. The title track erupts aggressively, with all of the technical virtuosity one has come to expect from the band. It’s business as usual for Ulcerate, although the production is a little dirtier this time around. The instruments are still clear and distinguishable as before, but they are closer now, demanding more from your speakers than they can give. The first two tracks feature sudden, quiet breaks from the terrifying maelstrom, rife with tension and providing the perfect counterpoint to the music’s up-to-11 highs.

Vermis sees the band capitalizing on some elements subtly present on The Destroyers of All. One of these is an increased sense of melody, appearing in fragments; the second is more attention given to slower tempos. Witness “The Weight of Emptiness,” a nearly 8-minute behemoth which utilizes speed only at strategic points throughout the song, the rest focusing often on single repeated notes and single drum strokes. The song ends with a hint of melody in a repeated phrase that fades into darkness. These touches add weight and coherence to the music.

The speed returns with unprecedented ferocity in “Confronting Entropy,” perhaps the finest piece of controlled chaos that Ulcerate has concocted yet. Its similarity to “Dead Oceans” from The Destroyers of All is immediately apparent, but it is only skin-deep; the band grafts its technical assault onto a more coherent song structure. The midsection blitzkrieg is absolutely crushing, deftly changing to a 6/8 lopsided gait before a churning, pulverizing finish.

The album’s midpoint, the instrumental interlude “Fall to Opprobrium,” provides the follow-through on the hints of melody heard earlier. It is a brief respite from the onslaught–a dangerous, guarded creeping-in of a sense of tragedy. Then the spell is shattered by the violent dissonance of “The Imperious Weak,” which slows down into another focused attack midway, laying the groundwork for the devastation of the final tracks.

The melodicism hinted at previously returns in full force on the last song–but in utter malevolence. It’s a compelling twist, and it makes complete sense. There is no pity, and there is no hope. There is not even despair. There is nothing left. At the album’s midpoint lay brokenness; at the end, mere obliteration.

With their last pair of albums, Ulcerate created a brand of music that, while technical, went far beyond the usual confines of its genre. Vermis is as bleak as its predecessors, but even less forgiving. The well-planned use of tempo variation, the utterly despondent, fleeting melodies, and the sheer brutality coalesce into their darkest, most devastating work yet.

The bar was high; Vermis clears it. A critical release from an already very important band.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by J. D. Anderson
October 4th, 2013


  1. Commented by: ben

    ulcerate, akaname.. nz metal ftw

  2. Commented by: Pete

    That’s pretty much what i would’ve said, Will be seeing them again next month down under, should be scary!!

  3. Commented by: Nick Taxidermy

    this record is so fucking scary.

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