Ulcerate

support Defilementory
author AP date 17/08/17 venue Pumpehuset, Copenhagen, DEN

August is prime time for catching artists not often on tour live on off-dates to their summer European festival itineraries. One such opportunity arose with the confirmation of New Zealand’s technical death metal outfit Ulcerate to play at Copenhagen venue Pumpehuset — a band whose last visit to Denmark took place more than three years ago and whom yours truly was yet to see live. Evidently, however, Ulcerate’s reputation continues to evade many a consumer of death metal on these shores, with the venue reporting lower than expected ticket sales given the amount of rave reviews the band has earned for its five full-length albums.

All photos courtesy of Michael Hyldgaard Løgtholt

Defilementory

By beginning their set with the chaotic “Sovereign”, the Roskilde-based brutal death metallers of Defilementory make it clear from the outset that their music is not designed to please the masses. One must have an existing affinity for the genre in order to appreciate the abundance of stop/start dynamics and angular riffs weaved into the onslaught, with only the occasional groove emerging from it during the likes of “Beneath”. In the fourth track, “Drown Within”, the quartet does toy with a more atmospheric style by allowing in an instrumental passage which, by virtue of its placement at the exact middle of the setlist, brings some much needed respite into an otherwise intense barrage. Slowing down has the additional benefit that the four musicians are able to replace absolute focus with a less rigid performance — something that mars a lot of the concert.

Indeed, there is often little to look at besides the classic death metal pose: a severe face expression, head banging and legs spread in a 45° angle. Apart from bassist/vocalist Thomas Fischer’s occasional surge to the front to hover over his audience with menace, Defilementory’s showmanship here is not of the memorable sort, and with the music devoid of the kind of hooks that might instantly draw even a first-time listener into the band’s misanthropic universe, their concert sadly just blends into the stream of decent yet anonymous support sets one has grown so used to seeing.

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Ulcerate

With five studio albums notched on the belt (including last year’s phenomenal “Shrines of Paralysis”), it is baffling that Ulcerate still commands such a measly following in this country. The Auckland, New Zealand-born trio has more than earned the accolades bestowed upon them by critics worldwide, yet as the clock strikes 10 p.m. to mark the beginning of their set, the venue remains at half-capacity at the very most. Like Defilementory, the trio chooses precision over wildness, delivering a razor-sharp rendition of “Abrogation” as the first cut before wooing us all with “Dead Oceans” off their 2009-outing, “Everything Is Fire”. As one of the proggier and most dynamic pieces of technical death metal the band has written, there is no need for crazed antics to force the point across — yet the band does have a certain, understated visual appeal as well. The dimly lit stage and silhouette effect on the three musicians are perfect companions to the esoteric nature of Ulcerate’s music, and there is something quite eerie about the slow swaying movement of bassist/vocalist Paul Kelland on the right and guitarist Michael Hoggard on the left.

Ulcerate nails the art of whisking up an atmosphere thus, but even more impressive is the immensity of the soundscape. It is astounding that the trio does not need to rely on a backing track in order to recreate the avalanche of noise unleashed by songs like “Extinguished Light”, and in the live setting, one develops an even greater appreciation of the underlying musicianship. One glance at Hoggard’s helter skelter chord patterns, Kelland’s noodle grooves or Jamie Saint Merat’s storm of drumming, is enough to suck all hope out of an aspiring guitarist or drummer. Combined with the atmosphere just described, the inhuman skill on display makes Ulcerate’s performance completely absorbing, to the extent that when “End the Hope” winds the ordinary set to its conclusion, it feels like being awakened from a deep trance. Having proven themselves live and on record thus, surely this band cannot continue to fly beneath the radar for much longer.

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Setlist:

  • 01. Abrogation
  • 02. Dead Oceans
  • 03. Clutching Revulsion
  • 04. Drown Within
  • 05. Extinguished Light
  • 06. Cold Becoming
  • 07. End the Hope

— Encore —

  • 08. Everything Is Fire

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