Ulcerate’s Vermis Reviewed

I promise I’m going to start my retro-reviews series soon. I have one half written, so it should be really soon. In the mean time, I really wanted to review Ulcerate’s Vermis. I’m sad I didn’t get around to listening to this earlier, because it probably would have made my top 10 of the year. The reason I want to review it is that I’m having a really hard time articulating why I like it so much, so this will be a good exercise for me.

I’m not sure how to classify this band. They remind me a bit of Gorguts. I’ve seen them put into the death metal genre, but you should expect some slower tempos, cleaner production, and a bit more sludgy sound than your typical death metal.

To my ears, a lot of this album is about texturing and a certain harmonic technique. I think this is what I like so much about it. The whole album has a very unified feel to it because of the centering around this technique, but they leverage it in such different ways that they end up getting a whole album of really interesting and different sounding songs. Thus it is unified in a non-obvious way, yet still varied. I’ll try to explain.

A song will first establish a root. This is not uncommon in music. In fact, it is the key of the piece. But in this case it is usually not used as such. It really is a place to root the song. It is either a single chord which could be chugging along or more like a single drone note (see the variety already!).

Then levels of texture are added to and removed from this root. The texture usually comes from adding in different amounts of dissonance. This dissonance almost always takes the form of a minor second away from the root. Sometimes the dissonance mounts up fast and the texture is of a brutal nature. This makes a song that sound like more traditional death metal. Other times the dissonance is slight and the texture is gentler. At these times there is a strange beauty to it all.

The opening track even sets the whole thing up nicely. It is a nice slow soundscape intro to the album, and you can already hear this idea. There is the one bass drone, and levels of dissonance and texture are added in. The main dissonance is coming from that minor second shift upwards. It is great stuff. It feels somehow ugly and beautiful at the same time:

It would obviously be ridiculous to reduce the whole album to this style of analysis. Just take the title track. It is hard to even hear this fundamental idea there, because there is so much stuff going on. You can kind of hear it in the beginning, but it is pretty buried by the technical riffs everywhere. The place where it starts to really shine is 50 seconds to 1:10 where it settles into a less chaotic section. There is still a lot of other stuff going on, but you can hear that one root tone throughout and the minor second up periodically coming from the guitar:

At this point I should say that I fell in love with this album before I started thinking about it analytically, because it is pretty much non-stop excitement from beginning to end. It is everything you’d want from this type of album. It is extreme, brutal, ugly, beautiful, technical, thought provoking, ….

Then you dig deeper and find it is extremely well composed. They take small motifs and develop them to make the individual songs. They get a huge variety this way by artistically adding and removing the dissonant textures, but then it is all unified by a common big sound and similar ideas in the motifs. I think I’ll be enjoying this one for quite some time. I give it a 9/10.

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4 thoughts on “Ulcerate’s Vermis Reviewed

  1. Just btw! you might be interested in…
    http://www.deathmetal.org/news/what-the-heck-is-metalcore/

    I’ll read your article with more attnetion and in detail while I relisten to the album, thank you for the insights! I would never know these details about this album if it weren’t for this discussion.
    Thanks.

  2. fenrir says:

    Apart from the analysis (which is very interesting and I tried to locate the elements you describe in each song — not very easy to find sometimes), I don’t like this album at all. I don’t find it interesting or new at all.
    In terms of construction, I find it repetitive in an annoying way because I feel little movement in the music. I hear sections of static noise over a rumbling pattern. Even very repetitive music such as Summoning has a sense of movement in a direction, more of a journey-like experience. This is done on purpose.
    I would say that Ulcerate is superficial because the music’s purpose is not to build something greater than the noise it produces, but to arrange this noise in “interesting” patterns over the repetitive blanket.

    • fenrir says:

      This is very much like what I felt with the second half of Colored Sands. The first half being weak because of its indecision: none of the songs builds up to much, one idea is taken, then dropped, then a different idea is taken, but finally nothing is concluded, we just go back to repetition or finish with something that does not really build on what was going on before. In Colored Sands only the title track approaches something solid, in my opinion. In Vermis, after multiple listens (several of the with my devoted attention) , I fail to find any great worth.

      • hilbertthm90 says:

        I eventually came to a similar conclusion about Colored Sands despite a high praise initial review, so maybe I’ll change my mind.

        Also, my review is essentially saying that it is static and repetitive just like you felt. This is sort of what confuses me about why I like it. Intellectually I see why people wouldn’t like it, but I think it is awesome when I listen to it.

        To me the sense of movement is coming from adding and removing textures/layers and letting the dissonance build up and go away. It isn’t coming from anything traditional like harmonic motion or melody.

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