Sages have taught us that the secret to a good scald is knowing when not to scald. The brilliance of a scalder is that, through their experience, they know when to dial it back and when to wait for a mass of troops to attempt to scale the wall. Maybe they have raised a ladder and are attempting to breach the defenses that way. The scalder waits. Well, the good scalder waits. For he knows that the best scald will be that which scalds many. Let them gather at the gates. Let their weary bodies prepare for assault. For, at his discretion he will make rain a field of hot oil or molten metal that will cook their pale bodies within their armor.
Combining the tenets of death metal with the atmosphere and sharpened edges of black metal while wrapping the entire thing in a shell of month old bologna, Ulthar create a sound that is wholly unique. The rhythms, much like the vocals, belie a deeper understanding and combination of the two styles. At once chaotic and insane, the bigger picture reveals a pragmatic pattern always utilizing a main theme or energy to keep the gravitas of each tune flowing.
“Solitarian” opens slowly. Guitars calmly bang out a call to arms in three distinct blasts. Those chords, rich in harmony and feel, herald the outbreak of pure chaos. Within moments, the cavalry is upon you—hooves crunching through skull bones. The pace is primarily one of rage; a furious assault without regard bystanders. Yet, that initial call to arms will weave its way across the discordant melodies and furious rhythms of “Solitarian.” In front of it all stands a vicious vocal attack diverse in both its delivery and its intensity.
The vocals are perhaps the most unique aspect of Ulthar. On “Entropy-Atrophy” the vocals take on death metal growls. Pulsating with phlegm before an alternating blackened-crust attack takes over. Those vocals – higher in tonality and almost bird-like in their throat ripping assault – paint a uniquely complementary picture. Where one might expect these two vocal assaults to bash heads, they instead join forces to create a two-headed phoenix wrapped in the gear of battle.
And how can we mention the professionalism without discussing the brief synth breaks that occur? Before “Asymmetric Warfare” opens with all its grinding death metal goodness, a brief synth break sets the mood. While containing all the 80s kitsch of Stranger Things and the synth revival, Ulthar uses this tool to effectively split the album and draw the listener into their timeless dimension. Much like the tension-filled intro and ensuing emotionally soaked opener to the closing track “Dunwich Whore,” the synthesizer break doesn’t feel out of place, nor does it on the closing of the album as a fuzz-laden noise track closes things out. Most importantly, none of this feels like a gimmick. Rather, it feels intimately connected to their mastery of craft. Let’s face it, interludes have long been a somewhat infuriating addition to death metal. Fortunately, Ulthar do them properly and without remorse.
When it comes to the art of defense and all the myriad of intricacies and patience needed for successful aggression, Ulthar represent an elite class of professional. Through chaos and tension does patience reign. Through dissonance and contradiction are the battles of blackened death metal won. And, when the battle clears and the last cauldron of steaming molten metal is poured, there will stand Ulthar upon the parapets waving blood encrusted flags of victory.