Ulcerate brought their crushing live show to the King’s Arms stage one last time, doing their best to beat the wrecking ball in reducing the building to rubble.
A surprisingly sparse crowd wandered the beloved venue, much less than I’d have expected for a Saturday night Ulcerate gig. This band is probably our most acclaimed and successful extreme metal export. Signed to Relapse Records, seemingly constantly hopping round the globe on tour, and with a slew of critically lauded albums behind them, I’d expected Auckland to show up in numbers. Oh well, maybe the rain kept people home, or maybe everyone was still exhausted from Thursday’s Cattle Decapitation show.
I missed Silent Torture‘s opening set, but from what I hear they were in unsurprisingly fine form. If you go to a show these guys are opening, and it seems that’s half the death metal shows in Auckland nowadays, get out early and catch them. Do as I say, not as I did last night.
I was half in love with second openers Spiteful Urinator on the strength of the name alone, but I had to admit they seemed a left-field choice to open for Ulcerate. Pissed off punk aggression as subtle as a bottle to the head, followed by one of most dense and complex death metal acts around – that’s quite the transition.
Despite that I found a lot to like here. Spiteful Urinator lived up to the name, with a set of concentrated bile and scorn delivered in two minute bursts. Vocalist Dane (they only list their first names publicly) has a nasty rasp and retch that sounds black metal inspired. Meanwhile bassist and backup vocalist Tonamu kept grabbing my attention. His bass slung low and legs spread wide, he’d periodically stretch his face up to the mic to scream with abrupt fury. The band’s set was hardly varied, but the short songs ensured they didn’t have time to get stale before the next gut punch.
The dark chords and feedback as Ulcerate prepared to launch their performance called the damp crowd back to the stage. The band weren’t here to hold our hands; without a word and shrouded in smoke and shadows they simply began their assault.
The first thing I often notice at an Ulcerate gig is the sheer weight of the sound. The tuning and mixing produces an oppressive, suffocating atmosphere few bands can match. For a mere three musicians, the wall of sound is massive. My only complaint last night was that at points guitarist Michael Hoggard‘s more detailed fretwork sounded a bit lost in the monstrous rhythm section. This seemed to improve as the night went on, though whether it was the band or my ear that adjusted I’m not sure.
Musically, this is the kind of metal that demands active attention. The riffs are labyrinthine, the song structures disorienting. Every element progresses the song, just not to places that you could expect or predict. Tight as a spring, the three piece move the music through deliberate, serpentine transitions and builds. They wind through dissonant, angular riffs, ferocious blast beat and double kick driven fast sections, and moments of sinister melody. Throughout it all the dark and hopeless atmosphere reigns. The crowd was warmly appreciative but not hugely animated. This was music to become hypnotised by, more so than mosh to.
You could never fail to notice what an awesome talent drummer Jamie Saint Merat is. His skill is undeniable, but what I love about how he plays in Ulcerate is that he doesn’t just lay down the beat, he adds a huge amount of flavour and detail to the songwriting itself. His thunderous double kicks pummel through the more aggressive passages, while when slowed down he becomes his most unpredictable, weaving patterns and hits in ways that always manage to catch off guard.
That’s not to say he showboats or eclipses his bandmates. These three have been at it a long time, and they function as an effortlessly complimentary unit. You couldn’t have Ulcerate without Hoggard’s sinister distortion and head spinning riffs, or Paul Kelland‘s frightening vocal roar.
I’ve seen Ulcerate a few times now. You know what you’re going to get with them, and that’s no backhanded compliment. What you’ll get is one of the most musically impressive and sonically dense performances out. May that never change.