By David Matthews
Ulcerate – San Francisco Bathhouse – 22/05/2015
“Ulcerate” is a New Zealand three piece experimental music group, with Jamie Saint Merat-drums, William Cleverdon-guitar, and Paul Kelland-bass/vocals. Their music borrows from aspects of many different genres, the most obvious being a combination of progressive/melodic/blackened/technical/death-metal. They are currently touring Australasia for the release of their fourth studio album “Vermis”. Ulcerate produce their work from the specific perspective of “deathmetal”, both in theme, and sound. They incorperate within their imagery a traditional (somewhat cheesy and generic) style of death-metal, which could be described as “brutal”, “anger”, “dark”, “morbid” etc. Aiming to generate sound of an oppressive, and aggressive nature. Though their latter compositions have progressed to sometimes suggest a “nicer”, “delicate”, dynamic, and emotive side.
This was the fourth time I have witnessed in the flesh, what is the powerful experience of being subjected to such intensity that is an Ulcerate live performance. And as you may assume, I have been listening to their recordings for the better part of a decade, and I still find myself unearthing something new each listen, of even the oldest material. It’s layered thick with subtle brilliance, and some (not so subtle) musical skill. It in itself is a showcase of musicianship, both traditional and more unconventional. Ulcerate produce great sound production and world class technical professionalism. While their sound could be described as intense, noise, experimental, or brutal, using heavy distortions, and low bass frequencies, their compositions do though show some relationships to the traditional notions of both classical music and sonic art categories. Following the rules set out by music theory, but also bending, and breaking them intentionally to create mood and emotion, and to contrast against the harmonic and the dissonant. Ulcerate use a lot of dischord harmonies, though these are almost always responded with clean, tuneful parts which help to hold different pieces and sections together, and give the listener some breif respite from full time extremity. The combination and layering of different scales, modes and key signatures work to create its own natural harmonies and dissonance to which blend and distort to become almost inaudible interpretations of scale and chord. This dynamic movement creates mood and atmosphere, with builds and breakdowns as an important part of their makeup. The timekeeping is that of a mathmatical genius (drummer, Jamie Saint Merat), who combines layers of double/tripple/quadruple timing, easily playing around the beat over odd and displaced rhythms, and switching tempo, which seem to trick you into finding the solid downbeat, only to flip it yet again and change direction entirely; again juxtapositioning the intense with a more easy-listening approach, and creating an intriguing visual experience.