One minute and fifty seven seconds. This is how long track five of Shrines Of Paralysis is. And it had me bolstered to the palm of its claw-tipped hands. Typically, such gripping feats come only in the form of enrapturing performances of miracle musicianship and unparalleled technicality. Most of the symptoms of sheer exhilaration would have been evident on my dropped gob, but I felt anything but joy leaving this brief release. “Bow To Spite” sounds like a seismic flow of depravity. In the time it takes to make hardly-browned lukewarm toast, Ulcerate had me wrapped around their thumb, immersed in the thickness of untapped degradation. More so than any death metal album since the band’s own Everything Is Fire, this record sounds like release. The tangibility of atrophy beneath the warped conventions of abstract craftsmanship here should not be underestimated. A lesser vessel in the metal sphere might combine genre attributes and peer inspiration to contrive exclusivity, but Ulcerate have finally proven that the unprovoked well of creativity dug out in their sophomore effort is not only deep in scope, but abundant in volume.
The element of release isn’t the only tying attribute to the band’s sophomore release. Much to the joy of many, Shrines Of Paralysis almost acts as a spiritual successor to Everything Is Fire. This is not to say it is devoid of originality; this release is easily the most experimental in the band’s discography. However, opening track “Abrogation” doesn’t spend any time loitering about. It opens with assault, diving into unbridled riffing the moment the track begins. It is truly impressive to see the band returning to the pacing of their sophomore album three releases post it’s unveiling. Similarities abound: abrasive dissonance, daunting speed, abrupt time signature changes, the tone of the album is set immediately. There is one primary element that prevents this record from simply being an extension to prior work, solidifying the album as unique within an already alarmingly distinguishable discography. Michael Hoggard’s fret wizardry is about as melodic as is possible within the confines of atonal tech-death. This came as quite the surprise because anyone who has spent any amount of time trying to dissect Ulcerate riffs would know it is a mind-bogglingly difficult venture. Hoggard’s ability to then implement somewhat addictive patterns within the hectic shredding is pure genius. Behind all the frenetic compositional elements at play during any given moment are cues to progressions and melodic sequences allowing for songs to become predictable enough for quick learning, but not so blatant that a song enters commercial territories.
Ulcerate don’t typically like to provide a fun time for first-time listeners, and while the guitar work might be somewhat easier to remember through subsequent listens than the shockingly dissonant riffing on Vermis or The Destroyers of All, Jamie Saint Merat’s performance behind the kit left me rummaging through multiple thesauruses as a feeble attempt to try and encapsulate just how astonishing the drumming is at times. Merat has a near-unprecedented ability of replicating the prowess of a three-armed mutant, showcasing levels of limb-independence that actually infuriates me in the best way possible. His wildly dynamic approach to manning the kit sits on display in the opening three minutes of “Chasm Of Fire” as he pairs subtle technicality with appropriate building before launching into a controlled implosion of destruction. If anything, Shrines Of Paralysis shows Merat’s keen sense of musicality. Where previous releases presented him as a matchmaker of sorts, cloning the themes presented to him, this release gives him even more leeway to alter the tone of individual tracks. It would seem Hoggard’s riffing has reached an apex of harmony with Merat’s technical approaches, and while Paul Kelland’s bass work is commendable in every sense, this album is driven by the melodious consonance between drummer and guitarist.
The behemoth that is “End The Hope” closes Shrines Of Paralysis about as perfectly as is humanely possible, acting as a final leap of energetic desperation before diving into a ceaseless void. Ulcerate should be proud because they manage to accomplish a lot with this record, even relative to their superb output. Loud production and fairly par-for-the-Ulcerate-course lyrics might hold this back a tad when placed in the general death metal context, but there is no denying this is one of the best death metal albums to be released since the band’s own Everything Is Fire. There is some merit in my consistent comparisons to the band’s second album, because it was revolutionary, and this might mark a second groundbreaking event in the life of post-2000’s tech-death as bands attempt to implant the emotional into the visceral grit. Paul Kelland. Michael Hoggard. Jamie Saint Merat. We might mark Lemay’s and Schuldiner’s of the world as death metal’s kingpins, and I have zero doubt this New Zealand trio will be respectfully noted as innovators and shapers of the state of metal on the whole. 14 years of music, 7 years of near perfection. Shrines Of Paralysis is more than essential.
2. Yield To Naught
3. There Are No Survivors
4. Shrines Of Paralysis
5. Bow To Spite
6. Chasm Of Fire
7. Extinguished Light
8. End The Hope
Official Site: http://www.ulcerate-official.com/