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Ulthar - Providence Award winner

by Justin "Witty City" Wittenmeier at 04 July 2020, 12:15 AM

ULTHAR is a black/death metal band from Oakland, California.  “Providence” is their second full length album; they also released a demo in 2016.  “Providence,” is a pure unbridled chaos of an album that beats you senseless while ripping out your entrails.  For nonstop intensity, there isn’t much I’ve heard this year that does it quite like ULTHAR do on this album.  Still, and despite the abrasive nature of the eight tracks, there is undeniable flow within the songs.  It isn’t as if the chaos is controlled by the band but, rather, they let themselves be pulled along the ever tightening rope of sanity begone.  Each song pulls it more taught, one more step closer to an abyssal edge once it breaks.

The opening track, “Churn,” goes for the jugular and continues to feed long after the blood as all but been drained.  This track may pack in more brutality in two minutes that some albums do in forty but it somewhat different than what lies beneath the rest of the album. “Undying Spear, “ couples ominous soundscapes with a short, clean guitar jam for a sound that just doesn’t appear often for this style.  It is a smart play on the band’s part as it allows them to stretch not only the boundaries of themselves but of the genre as a whole without compromising the elements that make it so great to begin with.  Peacock’s blackened screeches are the agents of the chaos around them, a guide in these uncertain waters.  Lermo’s combination of prog and traditional metal riffs at the song’s end exemplifies the band’s obvious desire to craft something outside the box while making it somewhat familiar.

The title track, “Providence,” is intimidating from the minute it begins, what with the dual vocals each trying to murder your ears and the furious drums pushing those riffs against your very being.  The groove is unfuckwithable and slithers around like a snake, each twist and turn tightening the grip on your sanity.  The last forty-one seconds is an exercise in audio bludgeoning. “Through Downward Dynasties,” has funeral doom levels of darkness swallowing up the seconds before the masterful buildup finally breaks the song open around the 1:40 mark.  The speed, and the precision wherein, crashes into more old school style groove and a very depraved performance from both vocalists. The last quarter of the song is more of a slow crush, unending waves that knock you under but never let up the oppressiveness so you can get air.

Ennis’ skin work is nothing short of spectacular but particularly on “Cudgel,” we get to see what his work really means to the band.  He hammers in like any good extreme metal drummer should but there is a sort of flair and imaginative spark that he harnesses to make the songs work for him while he holds the foundation for everything else.  His style goes particularly well with the spastic, unrelenting dual vocal attacks. “Furnace Hibernation,” features methodical drumming intermingled with bursts of aggression.  The rhythm of the riffs and the vocal cadences actually make this song catchy.  That’s right, ULTHAR made a song called “Furnace Hibernation,” catchy.   They want to play brutal metal but they also want you, and themselves, to enjoy it and that really shows through their music.

Narcissus Drowning,” made me question if Ennis has more than two arms, some sort of hybrid octopi-human thing.    Although the drums alone are enough to cause a stroke, the guitars/bass and the vocals just make that much more feverish in the attempts to cause whiplash.  Other than the album opener, this is the most uncompromising track on the album. The final track, “Humanoid Knot,” ends the album with a band.  Blink your eyes really fast, over and over again, while walking in dark, in unfamiliar territory and you might have an idea of the harrowing trepidation presented.  And what about the song’s halfway point, where they slow down to a lumbering earthquake?  If that doesn’t ground you into dust then your whole body might be numb.

I thought I had my “best of so far list” made for this year’s halfway point but ULTHAR’s “Providence,” will certainly have me going back to the drawing board.  Pound for pound, I doubt there will be many more albums released this year that will match the outright intense yet approachable music that this mind melting album contains this year in extreme metal.

Songwriting: 9
Musicianship: 9
Memorability: 9
Production: 9

4 Star Rating

1. Churn
2. Undying Spear
3. Providence
4. Through Downward Dynasties
5. Cudgel
6. Furnace Hibernation
7. Narcissus Drowning
8. Humanoid Knot
Steve Peacock – Bass, Vocals, Keyboards
Justin Ennis – Drums, Electronics
Shelby Lermo – Guitars, Vocals, Samples
Record Label: 20 Buck Spin


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Edited 01 February 2023

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