Of Fracture and Failure
4/4/2008 - Review by: Etiam
Psycroptic, take note--challengers approaches. Their name is Ulcerate, and their debut 'Of Fracture and Failure' is as strong a contest to the Australian tech/death throne as any in recent years. A bold claim, to be sure, but the crown began to slip from Psycroptic's brow with the monochromatic 'Symbols of Failure', and with Ulcerate making their bid its perch becomes even more tenuous.
'Of Fracture and Failure' succeeds in being at once bludgeoning and nuanced, calculating and restless. Each song is roiling mass of tempo and meter changes, creating a perpetual feeling of discomfort and frustration. It begins with the riffing, premier whirlwind technicality: grinding, low-end syncopation, swirling leads, bursts of tremolo picking, dissonant chord articulation, the works. The bass does occasionally rise up in the mix, generally to make a counterpoint independent of the lead--'Becoming The Lycanthrope' being a strong example--but is often too low to discern clearly. (This is perhaps the only shortcoming of the production, and a commonplace one at that.)
In fact, this album is idiosyncratic almost to the point of distraction, particularly in the percussion of Jamie Saint Merat. Though it will take another album or two to place him in the top drumming pantheon, Jamie puts on a performance here of remarkable ambition and ability. Beyond their extreme speed (no longer impressive in and of itself) his parts are fiendishly complex, requiring him to flit from cymbal to tom to snare and back again for nearly constant fills. In short, he does justice to the human/octopus hybrid seen on the album's front.
Although 'Of Fracture and Failure' is the band's full-length debut, Ulcerate have been around in one state or another for some years now. Constantly driving towards tighter arrangements and a more distinct sound, they have finally achieved a state of focus and technical prowess that allows 'Of Fracture and Failure' to take form. Indeed, absorbing it all at once can be rather overwhelming, and, admittedly, there are very few passages that linger in memory long after the album is through. But this is the perennial Achilles Heel of the genre and is to be expected in some measure for most groups. With that said, Ulcertae have clearly made a distinct effort to differentiate their material from itself, and tend to succeed. For, however stunning an album may be at the outset, tech/death's mania and extremes soon fade into background noise, particularly with today's audiences taking virtuosic musicianship and ultra-brutality as matters of course.
Deathcore is a genre that has made this error more than most, and Ulcerate flits about its edges from time to time, particularly with the vocals of Ben Read. His style is as free-spirited and diverse as the music, sometimes have a cadence and timbre similar to that of many chest-thumping "reeeeee"-peddlers. However, these compositions are all quite soundly within the realm of death metal, were composed for their own sake (not the moshpit's), and are altogether too emotionally dynamic to be considered deathcore by any stretch of the imagination.
Boasting the technical chops to stand up to any group, Ulcerate now need only to develop their songwriting a touch more to be truly remarkable. Hopefully, they will follow the example set by the nearly 9-minute closer, 'Defaeco', which slips just the right amount of melody into the mix to leave the listener's equilibrium thoroughly jarred. As of now, Ulcerate doesn't quite reinvent the tech/death genre, and fans of the genre will quite probably have heard a number of bands in this vein before. Few, however, are likely to have many names to drop of bands that can execute this style as well as Ulcerate do on 'Of Fracture and Failure'.
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