Helionomicon by UltharRelease date: February 17, 2023
Label: 20 Buck Spin
This is a companion review to Anthronomicon, so for a fuller picture of the background leading up to this duet of album releases, do check that out, for context and the counterpart to the record covered in this review.
Whereas Anthronomicon was a more “traditional” album format and release for Ulthar, continuing on from their first two records, Cosmovore (2018) and Providence (2020), featuring eight tracks that formed a head-scratching puzzle, its counterpoint is Helionomicon. A second full length, released simultaneously, this record is the ward confined, bed bound, astral projecting, clinically and criminally deranged relation family members and friends only dare whisper about.
Comprising of two tumultuous, avant-garde death and black metal hybrids, both monolithic in nature, as they traverse a topographic investigation of the dimensional bleed hellscape across a runtime of twenty-minutes each, Helionomicon is where Ulthar have let loose not only the dogs of war, but also cast asunder all reason, logic, and sense of reality. The immensity of what is on offer only builds on repeated listens. As dense as celebrated counterparts in the death metal scene who might be incorporating sounds and genres that are more typically seen as challenging (see Imperial Triumphant’s ingestion of jazz, for example), Ulthar instead just dive through flesh and bone, deeper into the sinews of death metal, gnawing at those foundational elements and upending tendons and transfusing the blood for something decidedly… stranger.
The first half of the record is the title track. ‘Helionomicon’ pushes the trio to their creative edge, reconstructing the balance they find between extreme metal sub-genres on a minute-by-minute basis. They sway like an imbalanced pendulum, not only differentiating between their black and death metal roots but bringing in more obvious elements of doom and sludge metal, and even odd school thrash and traditional heavy metal. It’s a wondrous, almost alchemical experimental – at once a distillation of what makes the band so special, but also the inverse, as the trio let the sounds they’re playing with sprawl out, ever further, like a death metal Golden Ratio, ever proliferating. The final few minutes of the track bring in some sublime synth work too, and rather than folding it within their sound, they allow it to really take centre stage and sound ‘artificial’ rather than embedding it in their ‘organic’ instrumentation. An incredible achievement and one can only guess that they may play with these textures and juxtapositions further in future music.
Aptly, but potentially somewhat confusingly, the second and final track of the LP, is named after the partner record. ‘Anthronomicon’, fittingly, is less experimental than ‘Helionomicon’, sounding more like a stitching together of different tracks into one grand, unifying edifice.
That is meant in no way to disparage the track. It’s another towering achievement and certainly is one song, albeit with identifiable, distinct sections. Each new part builds on the last, creating a new vista and perspective. It is certainly the more euphoric of the two tracks. Whereas the first became almost lost in its own experimentation and boundless expressive originality, ‘Anthronomicon’ looks up and towards the future horizon, rattling towards a new sound for the band – serving up a culmination of almost everything that has gone before it; a homunculus of Cosmovore, Providence and Anthronomicon. Before the track finishes in disquieting noise, drone and samples (that brings to mind early Old Man Gloom), we are treated with a grooving sludgey, almost stoner vibe, that brings to mind a picture of Ulthar’s members slowly submerging under a roiling pitch-black river of boiling tar as the album closes, grimacing delightedly, as they can already see what Album #5 can and will be.