Band – Ulcerate
Album – Stare into Death and Be Still
Country of Origin – New Zealand
Genre – Technical Death Metal
Release Date – April 24, 2020
Label – Debemur Morti Productions
Author – JGilbert
“Stare into Death and Be Still is the metal way to tell people to STAY HOME and listen to an hour-long album”
Back in 2011, I was feeling removed from the metal scene as an indirect result of some big changes in my personal life. I wasn’t listening to much new metal, and wasn’t feeling particularly inspired by the stuff I was hearing at the time–chalk it up to my issues; there was a lot of good music coming out back then. When I first heard Ulcerate’s The Destroyers of All, I was reminded of how fulfilling it can be to listen to a good extreme metal record. Ulcerate is a band that gets better every album, and now the death metal wizards from Auckland, NZ, are back after four years with a new label and a crushing new full-length, Stare into Death and Be Still, out April 24 on Debemur Morti Productions.
As I write this, the State of Michigan (and many others) are locked down with Shelter-In-Place orders from the governor in an attempt to slow the spread of a new and potentially fatal disease. A lot of us are spending more time being still at home and staring into death; at least, that’s what MY newsfeed seems like these days. A perfect occasion, then, for a long, introspective album about the universal entropic march towards the inevitable end. Stare into Death and Be Still is so long and dense that it can be difficult to find the occasion to listen to the whole thing in one sitting, but the emotional payoff is worth it every time. This is very much one of those albums that leaves an impression after it’s done; the listener’s mood, perspective, even entire day can be changed by having the psychological weight of this artistic monster in it. Long time fans of the band will know that this is something of a specialty for Ulcerate, and they’ll be delighted to know that Stare into Death and Be Still sounds both “new” and “like Ulcerate”.
One of the more marked differences compared to previous releases is a sense of restraint and minimalism in the production and arrangement of the songs, but don’t expect Ulcerate to go easy on you just because they’ve mastered shifting between a smoulder and a conflagration as smoothly as they shift tempos. The noticeable increase in clarity and space in the mix means all of Ulcerate’s unconventional chords and off-notes are easier to hear and easier to listen to. The wall of sound is still enormous, but now it rewards rather than punishes a closer examination. This is a record you could listen to a hundred times and still find subtleties and nuances in the composition that had eluded you before; I can already tell that Stare into Death and Be Still will be one of my “most listened albums” in 2020.
Album opener “The Lifeless Advance” swirls with legato riffs and mesmerizing drum work. The band’s love of post metal icons such as Isis and Neurosis is immediately evident, but unlike a lot of the slow-build atmospheric bands they emulate, Ulcerate’s ability to grab your attention without being overly bombastic is nothing short of brilliant. “Exhale the Ash” also has unusual musical features that compel double-takes and “what was that??” moments from the listener, and together they help give Stare into Death and Be Still a strong start. The title track of the album, available for streaming now of Bandcamp, is as good a summary of the record as can be given in eight and a half crushing minutes. The newfound sense of dynamics in the writing and arrangement come through to the band’s favor as right around the time it all begins to feel long in the tooth, the overall tone of the album shifts from furious to brooding for the second half.
The remainder of the album is used as an opportunity to explore a broader palette of sonic textures than we’re accustomed to from the band, and they wear the new styles well. “Visceral Ends” and its follow-up “Drawn into the Next Void” are equally strong in their melodicism and gloomy introspection as the earlier tracks were in their brutality. Album closer “Dissolved Orders” is also available on Bandcamp right now and shows what Ulcerate sounds like when they turn things down a few notches: the distortion, the tempo; never the intensity, though.
Overall, Stare into Death and Be Still is a special record; one that defines a turning point in the band’s career. This represents a more mature group of artists creating something with staying power that has allowed them to show off all the musical ground they know how to cover up to this point. Its only weakness derives from the unconventional structuring of the arrangements and their ponderous run times, resulting in an experience that is remarkable in its happening, but leaves no real memorable moments once it’s past. You will remember how it made you feel, though. You’ll be remembering that all day.
Recommendation: Stay home. Wash your hands. Watch the horrifying news from around the world about the viral pandemic as you listen to Ulcerate’s new opus. Stare into death, and be still.