Through a series of roughly twenty short stories and novellas written in the space of twelve years H.P. Lovecraft referenced, described and crafted his Dreamlands amidst poverty, death, marriage, malnutrition, loneliness and divorce in the years previous to his death. A dimension only accessible through dreams, it was nothing less than Tolkien-esque in terms of its inhabitants and unique creatures described but, in positing the author’s passive nature outside of his creativity, these Dreamlands almost assuredly represented an escape from the cruel and unlucky final years of his short life. The labyrinth of associations and implanted characters within Lovecraft‘s mythos creates a blurry picture of the town of Ulthar, especially in the crossover between The Other Gods and ‘The Cats of Ulthar‘, which more or less serves as a starting point for the larger plot of The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath. The novella is surely one of the more superior drafts published after Lovecraft‘s death and this is largely thanks to riveting description of passage into Celephaïs, the finale of interactions with Nyarlathotep, as well as the curiosity surrounding Ulthar, a town where the killing of its cats is forbidden by law. It is a fittingly complex setting and inspiration for the surrealistic burl of Oakland, California blackened death metal trio Ulthar.
A few years after an Oakland apropos crust influenced black/death demo in 2016 the band’s proven talents arrive as avatar between dimensions of theurgistic black metal and old school progressive death metal in the form of ‘Cosmovore’. This is an entirely natural occurrence in the sense that the pieces that form the organic whole of Ulthar come from the madness of each member’s past-and-present achievements. Guitarist and co-vocalist Shelby Lermo is perhaps the most recognizable figure of the trio in 2018 thanks to his station in Vastum and Extremity but the blackened rasps and twisted nature of bassist/vocalist Steve Peacock (Mastery, Pandiscordian Necrogenesis) are given equal time to spark amongst the obsidian flames. The leashing of ancient death and ringing blackened tones comes with insight from drummer Justin Ennis (Void Omnia, ex-Mutilation Rites) who is equally capable serving black metal rhythm, death metal’s technical jog, or d-beat kicking. For many this will appear along with the expectations of a half-assed ‘supergroup’ or side-project that serves to collect the cast-offs of their major stations but the reality of ‘Cosmovore’ is far more frightening.
Whatever coagulation between Absu‘s abrupt rhythmic fluctuations, Mutilation Rites‘ ranting blackened abandon, and the jagged guitar froth Lermo injected into Vastum‘s ‘Hole Below’ you might envision probably comes close to the reality of ‘Cosmovore’ but the deeper experience that Ulthar offers is akin to the spiraling chasm of riffs suggested by bands like Aosoth and Krallice who dance between black and death metal without regard for the nonsense of tradition. Though the full listen will resemble classics of early progressive and/or technical death metal pre-1993 in some respects, the influence of black metal’s post-occult modernists is perhaps even more important. This only suggests lightly that some of Peacock‘s work in Pale Chalice overlaps into Ulthar‘s surrealist tendencies though I wouldn’t say ‘Cosmovore’ resembles Deathspell Omega more than it does Atrocity‘s early years if they’d been far less less focused on early Death.
Ulthar create a detailed and engaging listening experience throughout ‘Cosmovore’ that resembles one great ranting flood of ideas that begins to haunt as it exists. To sit and soak in the grinding, howling, gnarled flapping of limbs and spewing of waste of this record persists as a fleeting thought trying desperately to be remembered. I found myself caught in a loop of terrifying wonder while listening as I spent those first few spins chasing after known patterns and wrestling with that which escaped the tip of my mind’s tongue. To stab out in the dark and remain lost amidst the jagged echoes of ‘old school’ death metal and futurist black metal is a brand of terrifying ecstasy between the familiar and the grotesquely shapeless. To say that I was mystified rather than merely captivated by my own thoughts took some focus and that same amount of effort was needed to identify the ‘hooks’ needed to shape the seemingly formless pieces of the experience.
Whatever great death metal flytrap Ulthar creates to ensnare the willing ultimately rewards with an insistent delivery. To think that the three involved democratically arrived upon ‘Cosmovore’ is a convincing thought as it appears to thrive between three worlds without so much as a tear between said dimensions. It may not be gratifying in terms of initial cohesion but once you can anticipate the mountain of “Dunwich Whore”, the punctuated refrains of “Solitarian”, and the incredible unraveling of “Entropy-Atrophy” there is a ‘complete’ and an intensely performed blackened death metal achievement within. There is great value in an album that reveals its larger musical statements through finely-knotted details and because ‘Cosmovore’ achieves this sounding only like themselves I can highly recommend Ulthar‘s debut. For preview I would suggest “Solitarian” for its instant hit and outwardly-developed ‘hook’ paired with the blackened trip of “Infinite Cold Distance” as the duo will suggest the larger dynamic of the full listen.
Uttering nebulous, shadowy petition. 4.25/5.0
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