Five years ago my faith in black metal was restored after discovering Deathspell Omega. This record has just done the same for me with regard to death metal. I've bought a few death metal records since Morbid Angel's Covenent, when I have heard a remarkable amount of buzz, but none till this record actually made me interested in the form again.
Metal music, in general, relies, and is simultaneously plagued, by a certain conservatism or resistance to altering of the form; the same sentiment that hip-hop is calls 'keeping it real'. It is what keeps metal fans coming back, and I get that. Metal fans regard their art as a constant on which they can depend or an anchor to their lives and, frankly, I don't diminish that quality of the music. It does, however, make metal boring to more adventurous listeners. While some metal fans endure from adolescence into their adult lives, still more move on looking for new sounds to be replaced by new adolescents looking for a place to exorcise their disaffection. This happened to me. I still loved my favorites from my youth but needed a new adventure as I grew older. If that destroys my metal cred, so be it.
After discovering Deathspell Omega's Fas (IMO the best record of any genre from 2007) I stopped in my indie tracks and began ploughing through every important black metal record I had missed to figure out how the form got there. After absorbing this record, I am feeling that same burn.
What is so different about Ulcerate, despite me hearing an awful lot of Nile, is that they never rely on death metal cliches. The blast beat, for example, remains synchopated and moves in complexity through each track. You, literally, can just listen to the bass drum on this record and have your mind blown. (if you are that ocd, like me) The guitars have the same twisted, bended and malevolent feel as the aforementioned DsO, but they stay within the blues realm required as a defining feature of death metal.
A side point about words like 'technical' and 'progressive':
I do not know the point of leaning on these words when terming art. In fact, progressive music negates itself because, at the end of the day, this music that purports to be 'progressing', only matters when illiciting a cathartic response in the listener, the same process that make so-called non-progressive music matter. That's all art is. It's a communion between an artist and an observer with that artists work between them. This is because no matter how much we supposedly progress as a species our hopes and fears remain constant. Technical music without catharsis is mere dexterity. It's a football player jumping through roped squares. It isn't anything that matters within the soul. So, the only degree to which progressivism or technicality matters at all is the degree to which it is cathartic.
I had to tell you that to tell you this. Ulcerate's technicality exists only to serve the catharsis in the listener. And boy, does it ever. The doomy oppressive sludge of past acts now is accompanied by this fearful precariousness, and not knowing where these dark authors are taking you compounds the experience. Certainly, with successive listens you will pick up elements of the structure, and this is rewarding, too, yet makes you more admire how that catharsis is conjured, instead of robbing it of its mystique.
I wouldn't be surprised if death metal now enters the hipster realm of crossover appeal as black metal has in recent years. I know that isn't a welcome possibility to some. (I agree that Liturgy is tacky, pretentious, deluded pap, btw) However, Ulcerate has made death metal frightening, again. They have exploded the closely guarded bulwarks of the form and slain sentinels at it's gate. And, for a genre that purports to so embrace rebellion and destruction, that should be an exciting development, indeed.