It’s a strange time to be alive, and an even more bizarre period to be writing about heavy metal considering everything that’s going on in the world right now. But we still have very crucial metallic documents to shine a light on, and if one is wrapped in horror and psychologically damaging passages, then maybe it’s for the better. At least it isn’t actually reality.
Bay Area blackened death metal dealers Ulthar have returned with “Providence,” a second helping of their particular formula of this style, and it’s a huge step forward from their killer debut “Cosmovore.” Over eight tracks and nearly 37 minutes, the band covers a nightmarish terrain where existence seems completely detached from normal and where the constant barrage of pain is something one must just accept. The band—guitarist/vocalist/sampler Shelby Lermo, bassist/vocalist/synth player Steve Peacock, drummer/electronics master Justin Ennis—piles layers of vicious, pointed destruction that digs inside your nerves and chews them up so you can feel the same horrors that punish every corner of the world in which this record inhabits.
“Churn” is a quick blast to open the record as the riffs encircle and burly growls pound at your muscles. Maniacal shouts trade in as the guitars hit a tornadic pace before driving into gruff, mucky hell. “Undying Spear” starts with eerie strangeness that makes it feel like you’re about to be abducted before a crazed fury opens up, and growls pierce your side. Tricky playing gets your brain working overtime and moving into the mouth of mauling death before the pace takes off and buries you. The track charges hard, growls and shrieks team up, and everything goes out in flames. The title cut starts with wild yells before the walls break down, and the flood takes over the shores. Menacing growls and killer shrieks stab their way along as the playing gets channeled and devastating. Things go into exploratory mode, veering toward prog, while a new eruption melts all of that. The vocals boil in a cauldron of acid as the track comes to a blurry finish. “Through Downward Dynasties” begins with spacey wooshes that are overtaken by a crashing assault. As things progress, the playing speeds up, leaving you a dizzying mess. Leads burn heavily as the pace slowly crushes, but then the final minutes unleash utter insanity.
“Cudgel” has warped voices circling, drawing you in, and then everything blows up in your face as things get colossally more aggressive. Harsh growls and a muddy build work to get things moving before guitars confound, and a blast of speed strikes. Throaty growls and a manic flash induce panic while the assault wraps around to the back end before coming to a mashing finish. “Furnace Hibernation” hurls fire right from the start, which is fitting, as shrieks corrode, and molten guitar work swaggers. The track is torn to shreds, speeding dangerously, chewing through bone, and ending in a pile of smoking rubble. “Narcissus Drowning” contorts as rough growls enter the mix, and the playing spits splinters. Growls and shrieks team up to add more bruising as your brain cables get tangled, hellish vocals smash senses, and the track ends up in a horrific void. “Humanoid Knot” ends the record by tearing right into the flesh and bringing vicious shrieks. While parts of the song rely on quickness, there also are pockets of meaty thrashing that throw punches, adding piss to the mud puddles. Animalistic growls return while the band gets noticeably more agitated as the playing unloads before ending abruptly.
Ulthar already were an impressive unit coming off their debut, but “Providence” hits the next level in every way. This is impossibly heavy, strangely haunting, and intelligently pulverizing over all eight of its tracks. This band already should have been on your short list of this era’s most important newer forces, and this record should only push them up higher on that tally.
For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/Ulthar-386850314846106/
To buy the album, go here: https://www.20buckspin.com/collections/ulthar
For more on the label, go here: https://www.20buckspin.com/