Review Summary: Ulcerate deliver another masterpiece as if it's second nature.
Though Ulcerate have made critics and fans alike run the literary gamut in an effort to put their music into words, they could never have described it as “relatable”. The band have built a career out of playing larger-than-life purveyors of chaos – like omniscient, uncaused beings tasked with recounting humanity’s demise over and over. Perhaps that’s why Shrines of Paralysis
manages to stand out within Ulcerate’s repertoire, even if it follows in the musical footsteps of Everything is Fire
, just as its predecessors have done. Unlike the maelstrom that was The Destroyers of All
or the incessantly parasitic Vermis
, Shrines of Paralysis
sounds as if its creators are aware of their own mortality. Listen past the hellish veil of noise and one will hear states of grief, torment and even fear. For the first time, the barriers between these artists and their art have begun to subside; at last, Ulcerate sound human.
It’s difficult to tell if there’s a particular catalyst at play here, because the change in character is as much due to newfound creative vigour as it is to minor but still appreciable tweaks to the band’s style. For one, it can no longer be said that bassist and vocalist Paul Kelland is in the shade of his colleagues, as his contributions to both departments are critical to the album’s aura. Having never boasted the strongest vocal range, Kelland remains at home in the lower-register, but he’s taken the initiative and shaken up his delivery. His trademark bellow is as strong as ever, only now it’s propped up by aggrieved shouting and guttural incantations; the latter of which takes on a more purposeful role during the “Bow to Spite” interlude – a dark, plodding concoction of liquefied bass and atonal augmentations. It’s possible that this is the result of some delegation on Kelland’s part, because his bass work has also received a much welcomed boost in the mix. This brings it into equilibrium with Michael Hoggard’s dissonant, contrapuntal guitar lines and adds another dimension to what was already a stunningly multifaceted piece of work.
Kelland making waves appears to have given Hoggard a more dynamic, self-aware approach to his own role in Ulcerate. With each passing chapter, his guitar work was becoming ever denser – a penchant that, while having paid dividends, became a double-edged sword when compounded by the over-compressed production style adopted after the band’s signing to Relapse. Hoggard bucks this trend on Shrines of Paralysis
. While the album is surely still brick-walled, such a qualm is reduced to a pittance on account of the guitar work cutting through the mix with ease. There is a much clearer melodic focus than on Vermis
, exhibited best during the tail end of “Extinguished Light” in which articulate picking whittles its way through an otherwise impassable, noxious haze. “Abrogation” also heralds the return of more riff-driven songs, ending on one of the most frenetic sequences the band has ever composed. Motifs can flare up then instantly dissipate or split then intertwine with consummate grace, never failing to leave you awe-struck by their sheer power – like a solar prominence in a stellar display that is equally magnificent as it is harrowing.
Curiously, Hoggard’s work is just as powerful when he peels back the miasmic riffage to reveal the music’s scorched, broken skeleton beneath. In cohorts with drummer Jamie Saint-Merat, he will use delicate recesses to give respite while simultaneously building suspense. With this modus operandi, the two can string together monolithic sound barrages in a rather cinematic way, but in works gone by, these devices ultimately existed to compliment something more substantial. On Shrines of Paralysis
, they’re used for something more poignant; “There Are No Saviours” and the title-track elicit feelings of genuine sorrow – a far cry from the steely-eyed malice of songs like “The Imperious Weak” and “We Are Nil”. In a way, they feel like a more candid take on what Ulcerate attempted with “Weight of Emptiness” some three years prior, highlighting the band’s newfound trace of human fragility. Saint-Merat continues to pepper these lulls with cymbal work so intricate that it’s almost illusory, showing us the fortified creative synergy between himself, Kelland and Hoggard.
Nevertheless, during the album’s more bludgeoning moments, it is Saint-Merat who once again takes the reins. The aforesaid title-track contains snare-drum abuse in droves, packed with metronomically tight fills that sound downright explosive. However, most remarkable isn’t necessarily his speed, power or even technical aptitude, but the patience and forethought he demonstrates in building up to these colossal assaults. “Chasm of Fire” is a dual-crescendo with all the potential it needs to go awry, but it’s guided seamlessly by the percussive wands of Saint-Merat – like a wayward ensemble brought to compliance by a conductor. His discipline is particularly valuable given the album’s affinity for the long-form; out of eight songs, only two dip below seven-and-a-half minutes while the title-track is on the precipice of ten. Thematic range is crucial, here. Despite their aesthetic similarities, songs still vary wildly in terms of how they’re arranged, their tone and their place in the album’s arc on the whole.
In keeping with Ulcerate opuses of the past, Shrines of Paralysis
hides all of its nuances from plain view, uncovering them only for the most devout. Return with regularity and the mosaic begins to piece itself together. Feverish at first, the album steadily devolves into a calamity the likes of which appear incomprehensible to us, yet all too familiar. Upon the arrival of the bluntly-titled closer, “End the Hope”, human-kind’s dithering has all but sealed our fate, only this time in the company of our three ushers of doom as opposed to at the hands of them. A masterpiece of musicianship, composition and imagery, Shrines of Paralysis
is Ulcerate as we’ve come to expect, while showing us another facet of them as artists and human beings.