There seems to be a steady rise in the dissonant avant-garde death metal scene as far as 2016-present is considered. I personally trace it back to the return of the pioneers Gorguts and the storm they created with Colored Sands. The sad part of this ensuing storm is that there are just too many bands that are churning out the complex, technical and heavy sounding tracks, but are completely devoid of any emotion or memorability.
Luckily for us, one label has a good pair of ears that have been bringing some of the best black/death metal our way this year: Season of Mist. They gave us EOD: A Tale of Dark Legacy by The Great Old Ones, the AOTY contender in Kwintessens by Dodecahedron, and the hidden gem in Replacire with Do Not Deviate. Now, we get the extremely talented lot in Ulsect, with their debut self-titled album released through the label this May.
Ulsect are a Dutch band that have delivered a solid debut record by bringing in the atmospheric extremities of death metal in the vein of Deathspell Omega and mixing it with the modern progressive metal chugs of acts like Meshuggah and Fallujah. Right off the first spin, it is clearly evident that the 42 minute debut effort is extremely cohesive and has a balance of dark and light moments throughout. But, given the fact that this Dutch group consists of current and ex-members from well-established acts like Encircled, Textures and Dodecahedron, this should not come as a surprise to anyone. Right off the bat, “Fall to Depravity” showcases the band’s creative musicianship, as the heavier sections blend into the more melodic interludes and vice versa. It is the raw dynamics that come to the fore in this constant movement from heavy and rapid to slow and melancholic that shows the best that Ulsect has to offer.
While the heavier moments bring out the chaos housed within your mind, the slower sections really help the details of the musical compositions shine. It’s at those subtle moments that the fantastic progressive chops hidden underneath come to light. This has to be mainly credited to the exceptional work behind the drum kit by Jasper Barendregt. He not only manages inhuman blastbeats at full speed, but also brings dynamic yet chaotic drum patterns into the mix. “Unveil” highlights this perfectly, as it kickstarts with some ferocious beats behind the kit, before slowing down a notch. It’s at this junction that a close listen brings out some extremely captivating nuances in the song’s overall musical structure.
Praise must be given to the album’s production. While the modern clean production may not suit all fans of the genre, it is done to perfection on this record; every single riff, every note, every bass line and every cymbal crash is discernible to the attentive ears. This really helps the beautifully woven bass lines by Dennis Aarts ring clear. The experimental and brooding track “An Augury” is another feather in this record’s hat, with the bass lines and the drum performance creating an aural synergy. Moreover, the mix definitely benefits from the structure of the tracks as the vocals become just another element of music alongside the instruments, making the album sound extremely cohesive.
It’s quite clear that Ulsect clearly have some fantastic musicians in the lineup, who in turn have well-honed song writing abilities. But, with their debut record, they are still working within the basic confines of the atmospheric/avant-garde death metal genre. It would be interesting to see what the band could achieve if they try stretching their sound a tad further and bring a bit more experimentation into their well-crafted sound.
Nevertheless, with their debut, Ulsect have released one of the darkest and bleakest death metal record one is bound to come across this year. The dense atmospherics and sharp dissonance on the album manages to pull one completely into its own world. While this may seem another addition to a sub-genre that is already crowded with clones, a closer listen reveals the band as a monolith that stands well above their peers.
Notable Tracks: “Fall to Depravity”; “Unveil”; “An Augury”
FFO: Gorguts, Deathspell Omega, Ulcerate, Meshuggah