[Artwork by Ian Miller]
Upon dropping needle to record, you will quickly discover why people dig Ulthar. As is the case with an endless amount of power trios that join and precede them, these guys go straight for the gut with force and produce a level of rumbling that defies their numbers, and at no moment throughout the duration of either of their albums does the listener not experience the full strength of each player. Such was the case when we were introduced to the band through 2018’s Cosmovore, and album number two, Providence, follows suit in an equally impressive manner.
What’s perhaps a little more unique about Ulthar’s form of authority, however, is the fact that it’s managed without hitting the listener over the head with the proverbial “hook and pull” maneuver. That’s not to say Providence is necessarily lacking in the hook department—their method is simply a bit more subtle, either by design or as a natural result of the swirling vortex of turmoil the three heavy hitters cook up most every moment across these 37 minutes. So yeah, while there are no junctures akin to “Dead by dawn. Dead by dawn. Dead by dawn. DEAD. BY. DAWN,” or even a monster riff break-out hook similar to the bomb Tomb Mold dropped last year 3:35 into “Planetary Clairvoyance,” saying Providence ain’t an infectious trip is off the mark. A song like the title track spends most of its time belting ears with writhing riffs, relentless battery, and the band’s signature back-and-forth between two distinct roaring styles, but then a pleasantly melodic measure traipses in shortly after the 2:30 mark that’s just as likely to sneak into your brain out of the blue while planting fricken begonias in the backyard on a sunny afternoon.
Adding to the overall crookedness and standing out as one of the more unique characteristics of Ulthar are the vocals. Guitarist Shelby “I’ll take 37 Doritos Locos Tacos, please” Lermo (Vastum, Apprentice Destroyer, Illogical Contraption, ex-Extremity, ex-Apocryphon) belts out his customary lower-end bellow, and bassist Steve Peacock (Mastery, Apprentice Destroyer, Kneel, Spirit Possession, Pale Chalice, Pandiscordian Necrogenesis, and perhaps your band, if you’re lucky) provides a terrifically charismatic black metal snarl replete with BLECHS, OooAAGHs, and BLEHooooAGHs that bestows the whole of Providence approximately 30 additional levels of magnetism.
There’s really not much concerning Providence that’s worthy of grousing over. I suppose if you’re the sort who appreciates a more straightforward approach laden with endless hooks and break-outs, you might feel a little disoriented as the songs unceasingly rip & tear from one moment to the next, but it’s a 37-minute castigation most any fan of warped death metal should find quite pleasurable once proper time is spent absorbing all the hideous nooks and crannies. It’s worth noting that as great a match as Peacock and Lermo are as guitarists and vocalists, the drumming provided by Justin Ennis (Ruine, Vale, Void Omnia, ex-Mutilation Rites) is likewise exceptional and every bit as necessary, and there are very few instances throughout Providence (outside of some nifty synths / keys and a brief acoustic intro to “Undying Spear”) where his force isn’t felt one hundred percent.
Sometimes it’s quite beneficial to one’s mental health to take a break from the current and very real horrors of life in the modern age and allow some strange, grotesque, contemporary death metal to lift us away to even more impossible realms. Providence makes for an ideal companion to just such a thing, and Ulthar ought to be saluted for tearing a portal in our grim reality. ESCAPE!