In Praise of “Stare Into Death And Be Still” by Ulcerate (#9 in 2020’s Top Ten)

As the title and cover suggest, Ulcerate’s Stare Into Death And Be Still is an invitation to meditate on the end of the universe. This is perhaps not the most edifying attitude to have during a pandemic (especially when the album dropped in mid-April) but death metal/post-rock titans Ulcerate have pondered the end of all things and wrote the soundtrack for the final moments of existence, and much like you’d expect, it’s quite the experience.

Technical death metal is rarely known for being atmospheric or conveying a mood, but SIDABS manages to take an album full of blistering blast beats, dizzying (and dissonant) guitar work, and deep growls and somehow make it sound relaxing, tranquil, and beautiful. I don’t normally put on tech death for study music, but SIDABS has been one of my go-to spins for when I need to hunker down and get work done, all thanks to the album’s wall-of-noise sameness from start to finish. But for those who want more than a darker post-rock experience, SIDABS gladly welcomes you to pick the album apart, and what initially sounds like the same song played eight different times comes to take on the best qualities tech death metal has to offer. These songs are marvelously complex and intricate, boasting not only stunning displays of musicianship on every front but wildly divergent song structures that make each track remarkably unique when examined individually. With SIDABS, the challenge isn’t to find the best sections or moments on the album; the challenge is to find the sections or moments that fall short of excellence.

This leads to the album’s biggest weakness – you will either love this album or absolutely hate it. There are no individual songs that one can isolate to enjoy and discard the rest; normally, that is a positive remark (listen to albums, not songs!), but the album has very little in the way of flow or movement and could be shuffled with little loss. But this is only a testament to the album’s consistency and cohesion, and for those who enjoy Ulcerate’s brand of metal this is not an issue at all. Here’s to hoping that the end of the world isn’t as nihilistic as they paint it to be – in fact, I am certain it will not be.

If you have thoughts, let me hear them!

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