There are good bands, great bands and bands that defy all expectations. Ulcerate are without question one of the greatest and heaviest acts who release excellent album after excellent album. Their sense of direction and integrity is without question.
They have just released their brilliant new album Stare Into Death And Be Still. The anticipation for the Auckland trio’s dense heavy music was so great that it was leaked early, something that drummer Jamie Saint Merat finds disappointing….
“Well past the point of flattery with any of this kind of shit. The physical act of ‘stealing’ digital music (particularly when there was a stream already available via official means) is a contentious issue ever since Napster - and as both an artist and a consumer I can easily sit on both sides of the fence. For us personally the issue is not the act itself, but the principle. We make next to nothing from digital streaming anyway, and have never considered the band as a revenue stream - but given that this is underground music where a label like DMP is putting their all into this, this is just a fucking cowardly, shallow manoeuvre.
There is a sense of inevitability and loss on this record, is there a thematic notion that runs through it?
Yeah I agree with that observation wholeheartedly. I knew from the outset that this album would be a more introspective project, and as soon as we had the first skeletons of songs written this notion was cemented. This is not a concept album by any means, but a common thread weaves through a lot of the songs (and obviously the title track) of the horror of passivity and powerlessness in witnessing someone you care for being snatched away by death’s grip.
What inspired it and was it a cathartic/ healing process?
As mentioned before, the sonic direction was the driving force, which is how we’ve always approached lyrics and thematics. But we’ve all in the last few years lost people who are close to us, and it’s been a sobering experience - particularly how these deaths have all transpired in a ‘gentle’ manner, but yet no less horrific for those that have experienced them first hand.
The trademarks of Extreme metal are still there in your music but you are so much more than the sum of your parts. Do you find the extreme tag limiting?
At this point none of us care in the slightest about how others want to genre pigeonhole us. It’s always really bugged me that in metal it’s seemingly not enough for categorisation nerds to say this is ‘death metal’, it always has to be validated with ‘but they’re progressive, forward-thinking, technical etc. etc.’ as if the term ‘death metal’ is something to be ashamed of. The thing that drew me to death metal in the 90’s was exactly because it wasn’t limiting. The way a lot of the older bands drew wide influences, yet moulded into something completely new was intoxicating as a teenager (Still is). But there’s a bizarre contemporary mind-set that seems to be unable to innovate within the parameters of a given style - which is why we see so many bands these days essentially juxtaposing two or more discrete genres in very blatant ways, that to my ear, has a ‘jack of all trades, master of none’ end result.
Stare into Death and Be Still exceeds the expectations of Shrines of Paralysis. Did you feel any pressure to follow up after it was so well received?
There’s always a sense of pressure (or more so, anxiety) when releasing to the world something that has been your baby for the last 1-2 years, particularly when it’s developed in such an insular environment. Usually felt as the release date nears, it’s not at all even considered during the composition process. It’s once you’ve shaped everything into something that is hopefully digestible that the second-guessing begins. But we also have a level of confidence these days that acts as a bullshit detector to know if what we’ve created is actually worth anything.
Is the cohesiveness of your albums in the song writing process done on the road or all at once when you are at home and able to give it your full attention?
We’ve never written on the road, that’s just impossibility. 95% of touring is travelling, whether flying or in a van / bus, which absolutely stifles creativity. But touring is also the outlet, the presentation of the art - it’s a completely different mind-set, with the sole focus being on energy and performance.
Would you describe your records as honest?
Has Ulcerate's vision changed since 2002?
In a broad sense no, but in a detailed sense of course, we’re completely different human beings that were as teenagers. But the primary driver was, and still is: write the death metal that we’ve always wanted to hear, hopefully develop some level of identity and uniqueness, and execute on a DIY level as much as humanly possible.
What drives you to continually move forward as a musician?
It’s an addiction - it grabbed hold of me at age 13 and is worse than ever. It’s not about wanting to move forward, it’s about needing to. There’s a very clear distinction between the two, and I know a ton of musicians who operate at the level of the former that almost always give up, once ‘life’ gets in the way. If you suffer from the latter affliction, you make sacrifices to make things work - we’ve just gotten a lot better at finding a life/work balance that allows us to keep things in perspective as much as we can.
Do any new outside elements influence your sound and lyricism?
I’d say not consciously. Not ruling it out, but we also have a pretty clear idea of how this band needs to sound.
Is extreme music still moving forward?
Death and black metal are the same as any other genre - due to the democratisation of art with the internet you have a complete glut of worthless output from most ‘artists’ because the bar is set so low. But at the diamonds in the rough are fucking exciting, cutting edge. Black metal especially.
You’re formidable live, is extensive touring planned in support?
It was, until Covid reared its ugly head. We had Australasian and North American tours planned for this year which have both been put on ice. So we’re tentatively looking to 2021, with Europe in our sights first. Time will tell.
You've played some amazing gigs such as Roadburn etc. are there mountains left live to conquer?
We’ve never really looked at it this way to be honest - although every album obviously opens doors for us, so we capitalise on what’s in front of us. Being from NZ, we take on as many opportunities as we can, but it’s all down to juggling feasibility and logistics. We have a lot of great offers every year that we have to turn down because of these reasons (bearing in mind we all have careers outside of the band). I’d love us to grow in scope, but it has to be on our own terms, and sounding the way we do I’m all too aware there’s a ceiling on how ‘big’ we can get.
Your audience is continually growing, how big would you like it to get?
I guess I’ve answered this in the previous question. It’s unrealistic given how we sound to think we’d ever get to certain levels, and of course we welcome any growth… but we’re too stubborn to change the sonic direction of the band as some sort of ‘strategy’ - which is how bands typically do things. And if you’re a working career band, on some level that makes total sense. But we fund this band with our day jobs, there’s zero pressure for Ulcerate to have to make money - so we’re free to make it as great or as shit as we see fit.
Is NZ Still home and does it allow you to relax?
Of course, all our family ties are here, and our career work as well. Growing up you take this country for granted until you start travelling elsewhere, and then your perception completely shifts. The only issue with NZ is that it’s located in the asshole of the world, so even getting beyond the border to start something is logistically difficult from the outset.