The new Ulcerate album is an injection for which Death Metal veins has been striving. As the volcanoes lying beneath the surface of New Zealand dwell in sleep, Ulcerate themselves brought to live a major devastating seismic force entitled Everything Is Fire, their second album. There’s not really a much better title to be chosen for the art Ulcerate produce. The band has always described their music as "linear", meaning ever ahead evolving and never-stepping-into-a-river-twice, form of art. If you think of it then the Greek’s philosopher Hérakleitos theory hidden behind the saying everything is fire
just fits. In short, Hérakleitos is known for his theories about constant flow and progression that the universe (living) subordinates to.
Honestly, I had some misgivings about the follower to the 1st album Of Fracture And Fire whether it was the fact of the band becoming more induced with post-* elements or just overall softening the magnitude of their Death Metal vision. It was actually the first interview with Jamie that has already intimidated such ideas. Everything Is Fire is extremely unrestricted album in itself but very honest to the legacy of ie. Immolation and Gorguts. Ulcerate are now standing on their own pillar of the Death monument anyway. I perceive this as a path bands should evolve if they crave for real progression (the abuse of this word these days completely destroyed its meaning thus ‘real’ is added to) but still remain a unique and solid form of Death Metal art.
As you’ve certainly found out this is the 2nd Ulcerate interview conducted with Jamie Saint Merat. There was still a lot of things to talk about. Read on...
Originally conceived in 2009.
PDF version of the interview (old design).
Michael and you, Jamie, are masterminds of the band. Last time you talked pretty much about the ways you compose. For now, could you talk about lessons that you learned from Of Fracture And Failure in terms of the de—constructing/arranging your music? You know many things you sort of automatize and another pop—up and require you to pay attention in order to master them so the whole thing can evolve further. Also there should be things that you might avoid completely this time or those aspects you’ve just continued to incorporate into the music and/or improved them. Does something changed drastically within this process this time? The so called chemistry between you guys has to be really superb from what I read and hear.
How have your attitude to linear song—writing evolved as such with the new album? Isn’t it a bit bounding (I know it’s challenging as well) to be sticking with this formula?
Okay, well with the last album we set out from the beginning of writing to come up with a sound bordering on chaos and very suffocating in terms of breathing space (or lack thereof). So
this resulted in a serious amount of parts per song that all needed to be bridged together to work. Initially I guess you could relate the earliest written songs on the album to something like Cryptopsy’s ‘Whisper Supremacy’, whereby it’s more—or—less a string of shortish sections that make the whole. It wasn’t until something really clicked with us by the time we were writing the later songs on the album (Martyr, Defaeco etc) that we tried to tone that approach down a little bit.
So, with regards to writing this album, these approaches were the first that we worked on — Everything is Fire is a lot denser, but just written a lot more maturely. It’s not perfect by any means, but it’s much more satisfying for us to play these songs than the older stuff, as it’s a lot more natural. We stretch sections out that need to be accented and really pay attention to flow and smoothness, regardless of how chaotic a part may be. So yeah, our writing chemistry is getting easier and easier as time goes by, because we’re getting more and more of an idea of where we want to go with this band. We’ve got the exact same taste in music, and there’s really no ego at all involved when we write.
The attitude remains the same in terms of linear writing — it’s the most liberating way of writing this kind of music. Bounding would be knowing that there’s a format already set out for a song before you sit down and write it. We’ve evolved how we approach this method of writing in that where possible, we try to write songs from top to bottom, one part after another, rather than a collection of riffs or patterns and arranging those. Not 100% possible all the time of course, but when it works, it seems to really make the songs grow themselves, and we don’t get hung up on trying to slot in a really good part into a bunch of riffs.
Also on the note of OFAF and EIF albums — it seemed that you literally let your instruments fight on OFAF over the top many times but on EIF everything is so incredibly fitting, compelling and compact, I just can’t get enough of this cohesive union.
Yeah, but that comes down to the production and playing abilities. The Of Fracture tunes are certainly not easy songs to play, and obviously 3 years ago we didn’t play as well as we do now. Production—wise, as I said earlier with the song—structure, we wanted the production to be smooth, organic, warm. Most metal albums these days are sterile, cold, mechanical with little or no atmosphere, which just doesn’t appeal to me at all. So if you take our approach of ironing out the chaotic vibe of Of Fracture and produce it as organically as possible, then we’ve hopefully gotten close to how we want to sound.
The atmosphere of the new album just doesn’t get a listener a space to breathe and I think you have silenced all those who were saying OFAF was souless and empty album, which apparently wasn’t at all! Hopefully the new one will help them to understand the old album as well, don’t you think?
For sure, everything’s just a stepping stone to the next album, so I’m sure you can hear what we were trying to do with Of Fracture. We didn’t always succeed, and a lot of the songs are too over—the—top for my liking these days, but without that experimentation, we would never have known what works and what doesn’t — and the same will be said with the next album.
Also what’s your attitude towards solos, any chances they will be brought to Ulcerate music in the future?
■ Drown Within
The natural human desire of searching for solace amongst a proposed afterlife is the central focus here. Related to this - the control and exploitation of others through various parasitic means, to build a larger belief base to which more comfort over the fear of death can be derived for the preacher.
■ Withered And Obsolete
Withered and Obsolete' as a title, as well as within the lyrics, is a description of all religion in current times. Notably, the arrogance of religion in demanding an unjustified respect; religion being protected by taboo from scientific scrutiny, and reason more generally. 'Withered...' also touches on the fallacy of human morality being derived from scripture (or any other spiritual source).
■ We Are Nil
Amongst the unquantifiable vastness of the universe, human life and the scope of our knowledge is merely an insignificant grain of sand. 'We are Nil' expresses the realisation of this insignificance, also our ability to comprehend it and make the decision whether or not to delude ourselves in order to hide from it.
Human beings have evolved the ability to reason. This process is an essential and critical part of our ability to, not only survive in the purest sense of the word, but to lead a respectable life on 21st century Earth. Unfortunately, a portion of society seem to choose not to use this ability to its full effect, resulting in a baseless reliance on others. 'Caecus' is about an absolute lack of sympathy and pity for these people.
The thirst for power among us is not all encompassing, and certainly not the sole human function in respect to social behaviour. I despise the use of 'Social Darwinism' as an excuse for a lack of empathy or compassion for others. We have developed altruistic traits through our ancestry for the betterment of the species, and ignoring these instincts is plain bigotry.
■ The Earth At Its Knees
Humanity and the Earth have been crippled as a result of the sentiments outlined in 'Caecus' and 'Tyranny'. 'The Earth at its Knees' depicts this decay and touches on self-reliance in a bid to better ourselves. Self-reliance from a political perspective is not automatically intertwined with totalitarianism.
■ Soullessness Embraced
As an extension of the first two songs, 'Soullessness...' outlines the acceptance of our insignificance in combination with the absence of an afterlife. Embracing the void and accepting ourselves as mortal.
■ Everything Is Fire
The cornerstone of the album theme. Everything is in a constant state of change. We cannot accept anything as face value. Question and rationalise everything, and always continue to.
They’re not for us unfortunately. They don’t fit with the vibe of the material at all, and we just don’t need them as compositional devices. We already go pretty overboard with the amount of guitar tracks on the albums! We’re about defying tradition, and the guitar lead is just that, a tradition that stems from jazz and blues trading 4’s etc. It seems a little ridiculous that only the ‘lead’ guitarists take solos when none of the other musicians do (certainly not saying that’s a good idea, haha). I really enjoy certain bands with iconic solos who use them as compositional devices, but the majority of the time it’s just ego—stroking.
How exactly you work on the guitar layering. The guitar arrangements are just incredible, the tones, dis—harmonies come out just from another space. The dual attacks, the fresh riffs and advancements, man, that’s something what wasn’t here for quite some time in such an amount & pure creative spirit! How many tracks have you actually used in the studio when laying down the guitars?
We use 4 rhythm tracks (2 per channel) to thicken the sound, and 3 channels for overlaid counterpoint melodies. We spent a long number of hours working out counterpoint parts for the rhythm tracks — it’s pretty rare on the album that the L and R channels are playing the same thing, so this adds to the density. And in the really dense parts (end of Soullessness Embraced, Everything is Fire etc), we have the rhythms playing counterpoint, along with 3 separate overlaid lead channels also playing counterpoint parts. Not to mention the bass lines throughout the album very rarely follow the guitars as well. So, when you add this altogether that’s a lot of melody and harmony, and it gives it a very unified, thick and rich tone, that you can only get via this method. It’s a lot of work, but it really pays off. We also manage to get 90% of this effect live with our guitarist’s’ abilities to loop patterns and then play off of them.
Also when it comes to drum patterns, that’s something to be adored on Ulcerate as well, your style of playing is like painting (you called it layering in the previous interview). It’s like watching a colorful painting grow and entirely swallowing the listener. Where are all those ‘colors’ flowing from, man? I’ve read in another interview with you that you can’t play jazz but you definitely seem to understand and being inspired with it, don’t you? Would you agree you can use or try to use something from the jazz drumming ways, playfulness in Ulcerate? You know, the metal drummers are in majority of case 90% stamina but you seem to accent your way of playing from an opposite side as well.
It’s not so much a matter of being not able to play jazz — I just don’t play the style convincingly as I’ve only ever dabbled in learning it properly. Like any well—established musical form, jazz has a huge history that players draw from and understand — of which I only have an outside understanding. I’ve never been a huge fan of traditional jazz, I have a lot of respect for it, but the vibe does nothing for me. And besides, the style of drumming that I bring into a death metal context has more to do with guys like Marco Minneman, Benny Greb, Jojo Mayer, Gavin Harrison or Carter Beauford than any jazz drumming. So yeah, I like to colour and add a lot of subtleties (huge fan of closed hi—hat work!), Even if most people won’t notice it — and this just comes from listening to guys like the aforementioned — drummers with a very deep understanding of music that are able to play around and make their parts sound really alive and improvised. With great drumming, it’s the small stuff that sticks out and really grabs my attention. Anyone can do 16th note rolls for minutes on end, I’d rather hear broken patterns and embellishments on top of that foundation that are in a musical context.
Let me tell you the use of the deep vocals is something that I can’t find words for just to say how much I appreciate it. This is not my Death Metal narrow—minded conservatism (although I like it), I loved Ben vocals immensely, but I still have in mind vocals on The Coming Of Genocide and I was dying to hear the low vocals within the current expression of Ulcerate. How much effort needed Paul to invest into his vocal transition, how difficult the process was till his vocals got the right tinge? In the end, do you find a musician, who is doing vocals, more benefiting for the band in terms of phrasing accuracy than in comparing with ‘just’ a vocalist who isn’t instrumentally any skilled? Also, can you reveal how do you lay down the vocal patterns in the music?
Yes, we’re very pleased to make a return to that sound. It’s something we wanted with Ben as well, but we were willing to try out something a little different. But this time around, no, it needed to be done.
Paul put in months of practise coupled with a lot of recording sessions to mark the progress, but he’s totally mastered the art now and it really fits like a glove. Ironic given how long he was in the band before we even thought of trying this out... And yeah — a musician who handles an instrument at the same time has vastly superior phrasing and rhythm, it’s really tightened up that side of things. The vocals always land where they should live now, which makes the whole band a more powerful outfit.
Paul arranges the lyrics to the music — the order of writing is music first, lyrics second, then arrangement of said lyrics. So it’s just a matter of working out amongst us which parts feel right with vocals and which should be left free. The last stage of arranging happens at the tracking stage, where minor changes are made as need—be.
Another thing! The hell eruptive & destructive tension of the bass distortion you have played around for the first time on EIF! This is just another thing that makes the new album more Taupo (eruptive and moving). But how come you were not trying to mess with it/using it on your previous releases? Afraid of sounding to Mortician—like? In the end you have to be satisfied. In your own words, where has it moved the Ulcerate expression, how have it altered Ulcerate’s sound and the music feeling?
I think between the last album and this album we were exposed to a lot of bands not necessarily from metal that were using distorted bass in a really effective and crushing manner. It can be an absolute force in projecting monster tone, so we were keen to give it a go. Especially with the amount of slower sections on this album, it allowed us to really use the bass as a destructive backbone. We’re using quite rhythmically stripped—back bass lines on Everything is Fire against the guitars, and it gives a hugely solid sound — and it treats the instrument more like it should be — a rhythm instrument all of it it’s own, rather than a ‘3rd guitar’ scenario.
You ended up engineering/mastering/mixing the album. The fact that you know what you want and go for it at 200% is admirable as well as the result you got. How have you managed to master these operations? I think already OFAF had a sound all bands striving for organic/powerful yet clean sound could envy. What are your main concerns which you put the main emphasis on when you are at every single stage of these aforementioned duties? Plus, there’s also this thing, you know, it’s couple of times I heard from other bands that they would do these duties on their own but they don’t have the necessary distant look at the material recorded (this applies to mastering/mixing) and after spending hours in studio, they seem to think to perceive things differently — not as objectively as few weeks after recording is finished. Ho w do you keep up this distance and how exhausting it can be since you have to record your instrument to it etc.
Well, it’s just out of necessity that we handle the production side of things. The art comes naturally and I would never let anyone else touch anything that was trying to represent what we’re getting across. That’s just way too personal. The intent with this album was the same as the last, track and mix then send overseas to be mastered. Which we did, but the mastering was just never quite right, so we just fell back on some test mastering I was playing around with. Certainly not claiming that this is a highly professional job by any means, but it’s as close to what’s in our heads as we can get.
In terms of distance from the material etc — yeah, that is a pretty horrible part of it, knowing when to let go etc. Taking a week or 2 away from the recording straight after tracking is pretty crucial, and just trying to stay as objective as possible. Next time around I’m certainly keen to have someone else take a look at the mix side of things, we’ll see I guess.
I am not a fan of the 5.1 surround sound used for music, not sure how about you. But during few initial listens to EIF that idea suddenly spurt onto my mind, that album in 5.1 could maybe brought another overwhelming dimension to the listening experience...
The way I view music is that it’s a stereo artform. 5.1 would probably sound quite weird — although I guess for the more layered parts it could be effective. Would be a bastard to mix though, haha.
What albums productions do you see as real influence, something that you can learn of or just astounding productions worth mentioning for their significant mark on Death Metal? On the contrary what’s definitely a no—no production—wise?
The early Morrisound productions are all fucking amazing, even right through to albums like Angelcorpse’s ‘Inexorable’ and Suffocation’s ‘Despise the Sun’. Some of the Mana productions are really nice (not so much the latter outputs though, or at least to my tastes). I really enjoy a lot of the Swedish studio sound — Berno, Bergstrand, Nordstrom etc. Cult of Luna’s productions are immense and really great on the ears, although of course not death metal. For me, and for us as a band, it’s crucial that bands come across sounding like how they would in the room. Warm, acoustic sounding recordings are something to strive for with this genre, as lately, everything’ has become so digital and fixed sounding. That shit is an insult on the ears. Maybe if I wasn’t a musician who was so used to the recording process I wouldn’t have such a harsh opinion on this matter, but honestly, almost every album these days is just so processed and fake sounding. So I guess for me no—no’s with production are drum samples that sound like type—writers, drums that a quantised and aligned to a grid (so transparent, and just sounds like shit), and the ultra ‘clean’ and sterile mixes. Extreme music needs to sound extreme — or it at the very least needs to sound real.
I don’t know how intentional and conceptual it might be, but truth is all your three album covers have various contours of man, human body parts interweaving through the artwork and similar colors are used. Jamie! Time to reveal the secrets. Also how much is the lyrics of inspiration here for the art? Will you give it a try few albums later to get some Pantone ‘endorsement’ deal like renaming one of their brown swatches to Ulcerate?
Yeah, not intentional per se, it just comes from the lyrical subject matter — which has always been the surrounding human condition. The colour thing is also not intentional, just something that I’ve gravitated towards subconsciously. I guess I have very little objectivity with this kind of thing, so it’s always going to be a little self—indulgent. But I think first and foremost, the album art does reflect the mood of the music, so regardless of palette, it’s doing it’s job! I would like to point out though that the inner panel art for all 3 albums is pretty individual, and something I spend a great deal of time getting right.
Lyrics are the be—all—and—end—all of the art as they provide a context from which to work. Naturally, the lyrics come from the music, and the art comes from the lyrics, so everything is inextricably linked. The words on the page tell the story, and the music informs the delivery and tone — which I then try to illustrate via the art.
When we did the first interview, I got a great response about it from a guy named Goaters, he seemed to be great fan of the band. Later on his name ended up being listed as one of Ulcie members. What’s the story, how he did fit into the Ulcerate org? Any stories from his participation in the band? I’ve heard something like he fucked up some of your gigs because he set up some things differently or something. Anyway how much people were able to fill in the shoes for the 2nd guitarist spot? Having someone capable as Oliver, with a real metal name (the Saint one really needed an opposition) and really being a fan fired into the music you create; it couldn’t get much better, hm?
We found Oli just through various shows and him always showing an interest in what we were doing. He learnt a track or 2 and recorded him jamming it, and from there the rest is history. Up until this point his task has been solely just learning material, with the occasional live show here and there. Not sure what the rumours you talk of though are? But yeah, everything is working out great, it’s really tightened up the second guitar slot, something we’ve always struggled with other members.
This one is really something I would like to know. In almost all of the reviews you are compared to Deathspell Omega. Aside of the fact it’s a killer band, I don’t see this comparison too valid, what’s your opinion? Sure there can be found similarities, in my opinion maybe even more on OFAF due to the dissonance going on there but I definitely see your background somewhere else, do you? One of my friends have called you Immoguts, although you stand pretty much on your own with EIF, are Immolation and Gorguts the bands you would agree on as being the important influence? The Coming Of Genocide had also Hate Eternal traces for me definitely.
Well it’s a valid comparison for a few of the parts on the album, but it’s not intentional at all. Most of the album was written before either of us started to really pay attention to DsO. There’s possibly just an overlap of influence and ideas and intentions between the 2 bands, I’m not sure. But yeah, Immolation and Gorguts have obviously had a large effect on us, given that we inhabit that kind of sound. But we are trying to do our own thing, and the more we write, the more I think we distance ourselves from any band. Hard to say, time will tell I guess. But the earlier material definitely wears its influences on it’s sleeve a lot more, but that’s unavoidable when your like 21 just starting out.
It’s quite some time actually, but to me The Coming Of Genocide demo was a big promise for the future then, the potential was evident and already with OFAF I got more than I could’ve ever imagined and asked for. How do you view this Death Metal onslaught you created back then, what were you striving for with that demo?
We were starting to think along the lines of what we’re doing today, but there was a lot more emphasis on being tight and more classically death metal sounding. There’s bits and pieces of experimentation with melody and rhythmic ideas, but as I said before, we were just starting out trying to find our footing. The demo itself was purely to serve as a promotional tool, and for us to actually hear what we sound like. Production—wise, it was very minimal — for example the drums are mic’d with a single mic. The idea was tight and clean as possible.
What you think of following drummers and would you say they have some particular contribution to the style?
Very tight and very fast, great technique.
Awesome technique player, and a pioneer for introducing different ideas into the standard 3 or 4 beats that death metal drummers use.
Not familiar enough with his output to have a really solid opinion.
Kinda same as above, I’ve only really heard ‘Retribution’ with him on it — and it’s got that really, really solid backbone and sense of beat placement that lacks in latter day extreme music.
Derek Roddy, for Derek Roddy I would like to know your opinion on his ‘jazzy & improvising’ talent, since I think he is first and foremost a Death Metal drummer, when attempting at some improvising stuff it always sounded to me miles away from what it should be, it was like hearing him count than just letting the feeling and skill flow out.
Yeah, he has exceptional feel for blast beats that is really unmatched — and it would have been nice to see a couple more Hate Eternal albums with him. The jazz stuff I’ve heard him play sounds like what it, a death metal guy playing jazz, not necessarily a bad thing though. It translates awesomely through his DM playing — the bits and pieces on ‘I, Monarch’ for example where he drops the pace a little makes for some killer sections.
The master, and possibly the best drummer to come out of death metal — not in a conventional technique sense — but in terms of creativity and beat placement. Also, his (or Immolation in general) ability to go for the slower groove rather than just constant hammering should be applauded and emulated more often.
Jamie, I must admit the beginning of Drown Within is completely melting actually one of the countless albums peaks right at its opening. Could you describe how have you come up with something so huge? Were you sure this one is going to kick off the album? When it comes to song order could you give an outlook on how have you picked up the songs when choosing their place on the album?
The hugeness just comes from layering — counterpoint and instruments playing off one another. We wanted something slow and lumbering to kick the album off, and hint at the dynamic content of the album (using the clean, haunting section after the first riff).
The rest of the album’s ordering sort of flows on from ‘Drown’ — ‘Everything is Fire’ was the obvious closer, and we just slotted in everything else by varying the pace and making sure the mood travelled well over each song — that there was no disjointed—ness.
What is the old Ulcerate vocalist, James Wallace, up to by the way? Does he recovered and doing some bands? Is he still keeping an eye on Ulcerate? Hope he does like the new album and so does Ben I believe.
He plays drums for a black metal / rock act called Creeping. We’re still buds, seem him regularly. I know Ben’s into the new stuff, most of it was written when he was still doing shows with us.
Jamie, time to close the talk down till your next album. Hopefully next time we will talk here about your shows in Europe and maybe the USA. Just keep on moving the Ulcerate thing, you guys made Death Metal do a step forward once again with EIF and that’s how it should be. Thanks for you time and input! A conclusion to this chapter is yours.
That’s the plan man — by the time we get back from touring this year we’ll be looking at album #3, we have no plans to soften the sound or dumb it down. Hopefully too we can get to the US in the next year or so and really start to get a roll on with touring.
Thanks again for the interview Jan, appreciate your efforts!