PICK OF THE WEEK: Ulthar rampage back with two death maulers on ‘Anthronomicon,’ ‘Helionomicon’

Photo by Melissa Petisa

You know when you have those spurts where you want to get up and accomplish things that are on your agenda, and the adrenaline pumping through your system makes that reality? I get that a few times a year, and it’s always satisfying seeing everything you finished sitting before you, no longer taking up room on your to-do list. I just realized this makes me sound kind of lazy, but whatever. I’m tired.

Never a band to just rest on their accomplishments, Oakland death metal smashers Ulthar have been pretty busy since their formation in 2014 as their debut “Cosmovore” arrived in 2018, following that with “Providence” in 2020. Now, three years later, the band—bassist/vocalist Steve Peacock, guitarist/vocalist Shelby Lermo, drummer Justin Ennis—returns with TWO new records, both full-length efforts that fit nicely together but also have some notable differences from each other. “Anthronomicon” is an eight-track, 41-minute bruiser that has the band delving deeply into their brand of death metal and treating that with cooling space haze that plays tricks with your mind. “Helionomicon” has Ulthar trying their hand at longer-form passages as the two-track, 40-minute album digs in with a similar sound but with added room to expand and explore, the alien parts feeling even more immersive. Both records are further solid building blocks for a band that is trying to keep their sound fresh and growing, proving terrain that has lasted the test of time still can be bent to your will and made even more exciting.

“Cephalophore” opens the “Anthronomicon” portion with doomy blasts and crushing growls as the pace sinks its teeth into your ribs. The leads scorch as the playing trudges, howls crush, and the sharp leads dig into the earth. “Fractional Fortresses” fires up and unleashes a punishing fury, twisting and stomping, charging with sinewy precision. The leads blister as they light up, black metal-flavored hell is unleashed, and a speeding assault robs your lungs of breath. “Saccades” destroys and jerks at launch as further black metal stylings come into focus, pummeling into a muddy pool. Infernal growls strike while the playing plasters, and the blows dealt feel heavier and deadlier, your consciousness taken by an immersive synth bed. “Flesh Propulsion” mashes guts as guitars jolt, howls lash, and a bludgeoning force lays waste to the earth beneath you. Guitars spiral, and then things get rubbery and disorienting, the bass tramples, and the force multiplies until it’s impossible not to submit.

“Astranumeral Octave Chants” brings challenging guitars and gutting heaviness that lands with a quake. Heavy and relentless playing becomes impossible to survive as the speed goes off the rails, and a strange fog sweeps in and combines with decimating drums. “Coagulation of Forms” is charging and relentless, the howls destroying as the channeled pace increases the pressure. Speed continues to rip into flesh, intense carnage collects into smoking piles, and vicious chaos slams closed the door. “Larynx Plateau” opens with guitars peeling off and crazed howls crashing, hypnotic thrashing making the temperature increase rapidly. The pace quickens as the blazing gets incredibly forceful, churning until a shocking abrupt end. Closer “Cultus Quadrivium” is crazed and sooty, riffs tangle, and the pace opens you up at the guts. Splattering speed invades your cells, and beastly howls dig into your chest and leave bruising. Blows continue to land until a synth storm envelopes and spreads, taking over and even marring a brief doomy return that swells and fades out.

The “Helionomicon” portion opens with the title track, a 20:31-long beast that starts strangely and then jars, the growls feeling like they originate from a different kind of beast. Portions are zany and dexterous, and it feels like an organism is slowly growing, the spindly weirdness becoming heavier and meaner. Growls grind as guitars dive, weird noodly playing sections feel like they fell from the cosmos, and then infernal crushing lands with power. A black metal-style rush explodes, the playing challenges, and everything wooshes into the stars. “Anthronomicon” is the closer, running 19:52 and starting in absolute madness that tramples and mars, leaving mental scarring behind. The playing gets muddy before merging into a sound bath, eeriness spreads, and then speed explodes out of that, sending spindly melodies and vile growls into your flesh. Shrieks wrench as the vice gets tighter, and ominous devastation spills from cracks, settling into a strange aura that feels alien at its heart, watching the weirdness warp like tendrils reaching for the moon.

Ulthar’s ambition is remarkable with “Anthronomicon” and “Helionomicon,” two records that have their share of commonality but also exist as different animals that can survive on their own. You get varied experiences with each record, and there’s so much going on here that repeat consumption is necessary and surely something that won’t be a problem. Both records are great on their own, and their union as pieces recorded at the same time stitch them forever as heavy journeys you take one by one that leave you mentally gassed when you’re finished.

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100063748920083

To buy the album, go here: https://www.20buckspin.com/collections/ulthar

For more on the label, go here: https://www.facebook.com/20buckspin

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