Anthronomicon by UltharRelease date: February 17, 2023
Label: 20 Buck Spin
Hailing from Oakland, California, the trio that make-up Ulthar had released two incredible records in the form of Cosmovore (2018) and Providence (2020). They carved out their own recognisable sound, despite operating in a fast-growing niche in extreme metal; that which sought to meld death and black metal into an unholy hybrid.
The West Coast three-piece summoned a far more unique tone than most, however, honing a niche that allowed for frostbitten winds of speed and hailstone like cudgels of stinging black metal, while incorporating the elegant, heated grotesquery of technical death metal into the maelstrom. Rather than resulting in something lukewarm, Ulthar instead offered forth a palette of wildly different dynamics that felt like some unhinged game of stepping from steamy sauna to winter swimming and back and forth, again and again and again. It was peculiar but pleasurable – tapping into that perverse, very human desire to betray biology and transgress beyond the boundary of sense and acceptability.
The sublime, dazzling artwork from Ian Miller on both records not only tapped into the traditional unsettling imagery of death metal, but also mimicked the slight tone of absurdity that the band brought to their music, too. While deadly serious much of the time in execution and marked by technical and compositional quality of the highest degree, one could also sense that Ulthar were very aware of themselves and the scene in which they operate.
Almost three years on from the release of Providence, and following an explosion of creativity, the Californian metal band return with not one, but two full lengths, to be released concurrently: Anthronomicon and Helionomicon.
Anthronomicon is the record that will feel the most natural follow-up LP to the more casual Ulthar fan – an album that comprises eight tracks, all knocking around the four-to-six-minute mark, and therefore clocking in for around a forty-minute running length.
The record embodies Ulthar’s continued progression on the sound they had carved out with their prior two albums. It marks a further step in their evolution, pushing their sound forward be refining what has come before. Each of Anthronomicon’s eight tracks represents a galaxy-sized leap forward in their ongoing pilgrimage for ultimate mastery of the sound they instigated at their inception.
Every song is swamped with off kilter technically baffling, distorted riffs, that sound like the swarm from some apocalyptic, apocryphal plague. Bent out of shape guitar work dizzyingly sprawls across bubbling, undulating, yet ever-caustic bass work – playing off one another and interweaving to produce some stomach-wrenching sounds. If any band could give their listeners vertigo, perhaps Ulthar are that band. Take the opener, ‘Cephalopohre’, which sets the tone for the rest of the LP incredibly well, with its razor-sharp, jagged riffs and cyclical nature, turning both the band and listener back to front, evoking some devilish, flayed medical inversion a la Event Horizon.
During this headlong dive into a labyrinth, a maze with no discernible beginning or end, except for the constraints of the physical recording, we are also bombarded with a star turn of jaw-dropping drumming from Justin Ennis. While Shelby Lermo (guitars, vocals) and Steve Peacock (bass, vocals) create constellations of sounds, quantum leaping around their artistic canvas, Ennis instigates the supernovæ and black hole formation with his thunderous drumming. Warping space and time with his compulsively complex skittering work, he also pulls Ulthar’s sharp yet spilling compositions together. Look no further than ‘Coagulation of Forms’ for this to be expressed; what starts as fairly structed for Ulthar begins to become ever increasingly unhinged, but Ennis sweeps all this anxiety-ridden licentious profligacy of deathly creation together in his arms and throws it back in a manner than doesn’t at all undermine the corroding innovation but shoots a tether for the brain attached to melting ear canals to hang on to and make sense of it all.
With the proliferation of death metal in recent years, it would be very easy for Ulthar to disappear into the molten, larval horde, another band gurgling, brawling, and bathing in distortion. But Anthronomicon doubles down on its album predecessors but marking the trio out as anything but straightforward or dime a dozen. The current death metal scene is pushing the very best to constantly evolve and experimental, which has left us lucky listeners in the enviable position of having a sub-genre recently transformed into a hotbed of creativity and quality. It’s no exaggeration to make the case that Ulthar are one of the bands at the very forefront of this glorious reawakening.