ULTHAR – Helionomicon (2023)REVIEW

Seekers wriggling from the the veils of space and time arrive in silence carrying two yet-unnamed books, one in each hand. In the right a puzzling script, labyrinthine directives on the subject of maneuvering the plane of living shadows. In the left hand a tome of two epic prose-metered cuneiform chants meant to steady the symbol-précised verbiage of these illusory conjurers as they challenge our inverted dimension to a crowning duel of the hypnotic arts. Once opened the now lumined mortal ears cannot be closed to the eerie resonance they’d create, transfixed as they dwell on psychic planes distinct from that of the living; Reciting one completely channeled phrase at a time in infinite alternation United States-based avant-blackened kosmikker death metal trio Ulthar transform themselves entirely through perpetual conjuration, mashing plane against plane in a diabolic dual thread. ‘Helionomicon‘ portends to be the potent essence of the trio’s greater sojourn made liquid, two additive black/death metal rants approaching the twenty minute mark, with each half designed for the reveal of emergent vacuoles which burst into detailed lustre on their path forward, loosened of their horrors without dogging the intended course drastically. Longform, complete and seeming endless channels of riff and rhythmic play await the extensive and practiced attention span. These are experiential pieces meant to captivate and mystify the listener into an unheard-of state of chthonic blissdom.

Helionomicon‘ is the canonical fourth full-length album from Ulthar, a cosmic horror themed group of folks now spread all around the United States which includes guitarist/vocalist Shelby Lermo (VastumHuman Corpse Abuse), bassist/vocalist Steve Peacock (MasterySpirit Possession) and drummer Justin Ennis (Vale, ex-Mutilation Rites) and while it arrives sharing one half of a grand cover image (once again via Ian Miller) it is not a double LP proper, instead each record is considered standalone beyond their paired release date and time of recording, noted as ~April 2022 by way of Kevin Bernsten @ Developing Nations and both albums were mastered by Adam Tucker @ Signaturetone. Each record features their own sound design befitting of their entirely different modii yet they each enjoy equitant quality in terms of render, detailed curation and craft. ‘Anthronomicon’ is a blackened ‘old school’ flavored technical death metal which furthers the agenda of ‘Providence‘ in a fantastical way whereas ‘Helionomicon‘ manages a completely different tone as a decidedly still riffed-at but atmospheric by design blackened death metal record split into two of its own essential modes. The only logical way to approach this album is with some well-studied interest in Ulthar‘s previous four releases, including their demo thanks to what it adds to the provenance up ’til this point.

Anthronomicon‘ is the logical step forward for the band’s own signature mastery as it continues to develop weirding yet classicist interest, and naturally when its more traditional notions are paired with the more immediate, non-traditional circumstances of ‘Helionomicon‘ this second halfling reads as the irrational and far more blackened twin, seemingly calling upon Peacock‘s thrashing yet bigger-pictured sense of composition as it applies to longform pieces. The pairing of these two albums is nearly unjust, but also perfectly fitting as we gain this huge leap in our understanding of the Ulthar mind palace. I say unjust because many listeners will find the concurrent appearance of two entirely different new albums from these brilliant folks a lot to take in at once. I say perfectly fitting because we see two sides of their conceptual prism engaged and come out of the experience of knowing each LP in a state of enrichment and bewilderment.

The sense that ‘Anthronomicon‘ might feel formalist after having absorbed ‘Helionomicon‘ is absurd, but not without some merit. Both albums are groove-laden, whittling away at a dissention between black metal’s thrashed-at voicing and the death-thrashing quick turns available to ‘old school’ tech-death yet the entire rhythmic station of the band is rethought into painterly, momentum-based expanse as we approach “Helionomicon” (the song) and the riffs which begin shotgunning away stab at the avant-garde death organelle of the band in warbling, finger-aching trills and blackened voicing worthy of the harried fuss of ‘Abzu‘ as the piece’s first couple of minutes unfold. The looser forms of these developments stride on in a way which is syncopated, harmonized in its curious motion yet completely different from anything we’ve heard from Ulthar to date as the ‘epic’ itself adventures on. This blackened-thrashing alien sentience reaches its cresting moment around the downturn ~6:36 minutes in but doesn’t come full circle back to the starting point until ~8:10 seconds when the thought resolves and the main riff/motif of the first half of the song repeats in a glorious moment. “Helionomicon” ends with a Jack Wall circa the original Mass Effect OST meets Klaus Schulze-worthy spaced synth outro, foreboding eerie and wonderment which pairs squarely with the greater Krallice-esque modular effect of the piece. A piece like this repeatedly suggests there are familiar horrors around every corner but the joy of their larger performance is in this extended piece’s design which only spurns on exploration.

I’d leaned in, hovered over the statuesque gnarl of ‘Anthronomicon‘ to get a whiff of every tiniest detail during my review of that album whereas I’d found “Helionomicon” allowed me to lean back, take in the awe of the decidedly less knotted rhythmic trip of the piece without the algebra of wholly active listening engaged. It was clear that I’d ultimately enjoy album #3 rather than #4 overall based on Side A of ‘Helionomicon‘ but that didn’t tarnish the effective spectacle of it being an unexpected feat which fits well within their canon thus far. As I’d approached Side B, “Anthronomicon”, the complete experience began to make more sense and the brilliant change of pacing, arrangement and structure in general began to more clearly serve its virtues. The Voivod-esque riffs which begin to insert into the verses of the song most clearly around ~3:18 minutes in (and particularly around ~3:49 minutes in) as the opening crawl of the piece develops serve a set up a series of erratic phrases which are generally more to my taste. Backwards draining ambiance, obscured alien tongues, and surreal buzz break off this first and most frantic act with a segue that leads into the second at the ~7:30 minute mark. This is where the album hits its best pocket of rhythm guitar interest, the deepest kicks into death metal brutality and some freaked out yet driving black metal rhythms which go fully in that direction for effect. If you’re grabbing both albums yet find easier interest in ‘Anthronomicon‘ I’d suggest there is a world within a world created in “Anthronomicon” (the song) which finds some parity in terms of that detail and intensity without losing the steadier, searching groove which characterizes ‘Helionomicon‘.

Helionomicon‘ is a grower, a set of rhythms which read quickly and steadily in their elongated threads which are meant to be enjoyed in a different state of altered mind than the album it comes conjoined with. In many ways Ulthar have exaggerated their sound and approach here in simple yet bold ways on this album which is unheard-of in their discography thus far, the flow of each side is no less valuable than the jagged, mulling stabs of ‘Anthronomicon‘. With some consideration for spacious sound design, the extension of an atmospheric death metal sound, and the longer whorls of space ambient spacing makes for what I’d walk away from considering less a “next” album so much as an alternate reality posited by the trio, a different world built from the obliterated carbon forms of the last. It will undoubtedly attract a different listener in terms of where ones fealty lies in the mercurial lakes of black/death metal sub-genrefication but shouldn’t prove unacceptable to the ‘ready Ulthar-initiated in its glorious self-hybridized alien form. A very high recommendation.


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