If you were to plant a seed in hopes of producing a Oak Tree for future generations, that tree would grow slowly. Through diligent watering, staking the tree to keep it vertical and lots and lots of luck, in maybe thirty years you would have a tree you could be proud of. That tree would, of course, be a mere fraction of its potential, but it would be the start of something beautiful (provided it was fortunate enough to stave off infection and parasites and other illnesses lethal to its specie).
In today’s day and age of constantly updated iPhone releases, it’s normal for people to expect a massive shift with each new release. A fancy new design. New colors. No headphone jack. Maybe a new internal processor or iOS with a fancy name. That’s what people expect and want. It’s the compounding of the American dream from a life of indefatigable hard work that leads to a few quiet years of success and a better life for your children into the idea that by winning the lottery you can reverse your fortunes overnight.
The problem with the second analogy is that things that change drastically often burn out, fade away and lose their luster rather quickly. Just like the estimated 70 percent of lottery winners who end up bankrupt. The same principles apply to music. Some bands, like Anathema or Katatonia do present a radical shift in sound. And sometimes that shift works very well. Some bands even change their sound from album to album experimenting with new details and instrumentation knowing that it’s their core chemistry that makes them succeed. The issue is that, significant change does not often bring correlating success. Rather, it’s the slow, careful and attentive progress that brings lasting success. It’s those bands that revel in a catalog of consistency.
Ulcerate is a band consistent with our earlier Oak Tree analogy. Since their formation, the New Zealand band has undergone loss rather than progression. Operating as a trio since their 2009 release, Everything is Fire, the band has relentlessly powered ahead using similar core principles. Much like the slow growing tree, Ulcerate adopts small branches and saplings to its grove for each album.
Now on their fifth full-length, Shrines of Paralysis, Ulcerate largely sound exactly like the band that released Destroyers of All in 2011. Still using their unique brand of bended riffs and thick, unyielding drumwork to support vocals that are largely barked in a rhythmic monotone manner, Ulcerate are, as always, instantly recognizable. In a way, Ulcerate is the world’s fastest drone band despite their use of heavily technical guitar work and rhythms.
There are two tracks in particular that represent the new tweaks to the Ulcerate sound. First, “There Are No Saviours,” which opens with a pure, Master of Puppets-level of distorted crescendo, adds layers to the Ulcerate sound. In particular, the addition of individually picked notes and clean guitars, add something new to the sound. Further, that track adds atmosphere in a way that was previously not included in the Ulcerate tackle box. As the track thins out, there’s an almost grunge sound to the guitars that bend and sway with the open drumming. Still, despite the slight cleaner tweaks, the track is one of the heaviest on the album.
One of the more surprising tracks on Shrines of Paralysis is the second to last, “Extinguished Light,” which opens more riff-based than Ulcerate are normally known for. At nearly nine minutes, “Extinguished Light” has room to breathe–and the band certainly indulges. While the blistering double bass makes plenty of appearances, the rhythmic focus is more snare-heavy than usual. In addition, there are more elongated periods of vocals without an actual beat beneath them allowing the composition to elongate like an ellipses and distort time and space. Ulcerate are not only playing unidirectionally, they are weaving compositions in a three dimensional soundscape.
As their tree slowly ascends towards the sky, fans of the Ulcerate sound will be happy to know that it hasn’t changed much. While detractors may point out that the band hasn’t really evolved since Everything is on Fire, there’s some solace in knowing that things will be constants in life. There is not another Ulcerate. They will forever be a constant. Technically proficient, chaotic in their rhythms and monotonous with their vocals, the New Zealand trio continue to produce high quality music that is both relaxing and technically proficient.