SCENE: It Djents Headquarters
A massive collection of new writers nervously congregate in one corner of a darkened room. A pile of new and unreleased albums covers a table in the center, Ultu Ulla by California’s Rings Of Saturn distinguished by having no fingerprints on it. The editors and senior writers cluster in another corner.
“I’m not gonna touch it,” says one.
“Don’t look at me,” says another.
“I really hate them,” says a disembodied voice over the PA system, its four speakers hanging from the corners of the room. A chill fills the air. Will an album by such a popular band go un-reviewed?
An editor walks to the opposite corner. His smile has the air of unease. He clears his throat, then speaks, “Guys, I really love the enthusiasm you are showing and how much material you’re creating for us, but this Rings Of Saturn album really needs to be…”
The new writers jump in fear and shout a babble of profanities, remonstrations, and other invective before the editor could even finish. He turns and looks towards the nearest loudspeaker, “I don’t think this is gonna happen.”
A door opens and a writer — not quite tenured, yet not quite new — walks in: “Sorry I’m late, guys! Did I miss anything?”
The editor thinks quickly and turns to him: “Andrew! We have a bit of a problem with nobody wanting to review this Rings Of Saturn album. Uhm… since you handled Felix Martin and DragonForce, we thought that maybe, you could, uhm…?”
The writer smiles at the editor, a fellow Canadian, and he walks to the table, hefting the copy of Ultu Ulla.
The other editors turn at once. One of them shouts, “No! Don’t do it!”
Another says, “Seriously Andrew, you do not want this on your sound system.”
The writer looks at them, somewhat amused. He says, “It can’t be that bad. I’ll give it a few spins.” He shrugs, taking the album, then turns on his heel, and walks to the door.
“Brave man,” says one of the new writers.
“He’s seen too much,” says the editor.
The booming voice on the intercom then can be heard, “You will regret this, Andrew!”
Almost at the door, the writer turns to a speaker and says, “Oh, hi Inter. When was the last time we agreed on something?”
The voice says, “It happens once a week. This isn’t like Pink Floyd. It’s really a terrible album.”
The writer says, “I’ll take my chances,” then opens the door.
Just as he steps through it, the voice says, “They do not have a bass player!”
The writer freezes in place, looks at the album in his hands, then continues through the door, mumbling, “What in Cthulhu’s name have I got myself into this time?”
The mere mention of Rings Of Saturn elicits strong reactions from metal fans, both positive and negative. Controversy follows them and elaborating on it here would be pointless. Guitarist/bassist/keyboardist Lucas Mann is the only original member. They have 14 ex-members at this time of writing and for a band with only four albums under their belt, that is a lot; comparable to Dave Mustaine, and not in a good way.
Rings Of Saturn play progressive deathcore. The riffs are stripped-down chug-fests, but they overlay constant sweep arpeggios and guitar melodies. The vocals are 100% deep growls and pig squeals, but on Ultu Ulla they get buried in the mix so much that it is sometimes easy to forget which songs on it are instrumental or not. Like the intro to this review says, they do not have a bass player, but, unlike Animals As Leaders, they at least pretend to need one by having a backing track when they play live.
Ultu Ulla means ‘since time immemorial’ in the now dead Ancient Sumerian language. For some reason, Rings Of Saturn like using words from that language in album titles. Certain aspects of the Ancient Sumerian religion have been appropriated by certain ‘mystical thinkers’ and UFOlogists, so perhaps it fits in with Rings Of Saturn’s obsession with space aliens. If this sounds like the band is randomly jamming one concept into another in a desperate attempt to fabricate something original, then it would be because they do the same thing with their music. Ultu Ulla is a random collection of carelessly composed deathcore riffs weighed down by cheesy melodies and wow-it’s-so-fast-but-who-cares arpeggios.
The album launches with “Servant of This Sentience”, which has an overproduced, too-fast guitar motif over a boring deathcore riff with a blues box chord progression. The song would qualify for the ‘progressive’ label if it did not have a predictable verse-chorus-verse-chorus structure. It does change close to the end, with an arpeggio that they probably thought sounded triumphant but instead sounds unintentionally funny.
“Parallel Shift” is next. A little better, it uses keyboards to layer a chord over everything and make it sound like the song is supposed to have a melody. But the song’s breakdown starts 15 seconds into the song. That works for The Acacia Strain, but not for Rings Of Saturn, because their breakdown riffs are just about the only thing less imaginative than their main riffs.
The next song, “Uhallowed,” is a short passage on a pseudo-Spanish guitar. Since it has no cadence, it seems pointless when it ends after a minute. This could sum up Ultu Ulla pretty well: in these ten songs and 43 minutes, Rings Of Saturn spatter the listener with technique but leave nothing satisfying in the end.
Another case in point: they entitled the last song “Inadequate.” It ends suddenly, and every time I listened to this album, I scratched my head and said, “That’s all?”
Notable Track: “Parallel Shift”; “Inadequate”
FFO: The Faceless, Fit For An Autopsy, Veil of Maya
Ultu Ulla will be released by Nuclear Blast on July 28, 2017 and is available for pre-order. They also have bundles. Rings Of Saturn have a social media presence on Facebook, Twitter, and Lucas Mann’s Instagram.