Published Jun 11, 2020Ulthar are like a Frankenstein's monster of extreme metal genres. Their 2018 debut, Cosmovore, is a witch's brew bubbling with the rotted flesh of death metal, the icy chill of black metal, and the hard steel of thrash. In the years since then, the Oakland, CA, trio have grown no less obsessed with those elements, subjecting them to even more explosive experiments on their sophomore work, Providence.
While the layers of interdimensional dissonance on their debut sounded dense and unyielding, the sound of Providence is much more volatile. The album's aggression is apparent from the opening salvo of "Churn," but the true scope of its savagery is revealed in the following song, "Undying Spear," which also marks the return of the ambient interludes heard on Cosmovore. There's shades of Immortal in Ulthar's grim blast beats, but they also allude to the arcane abandon of a band like Emperor in the darkly fantastical "Through Downward Dynasties.'' But what makes Providence stand out is its unpredictability. The band keep us guessing at their next move through dissonance and off-kilter riffs, reminding us how little we truly know of our unfathomable cosmos.
The album makes it apparent it's entered its second act with "Cudgel," an inexorable headbanger with an angular Morbid Angel-esque pummeller, followed by a galloping riff that throws around its weight like a lumbering troll. From here on, the riffs get heavier, as Ulthar focuse more on their death metal side, like on "Furnace Hibernation." With the vocal duo of guitarist Shelby Lermo (Vastum) and bassist Steve Peacock (Pandiscordian Necrogenesis), the band delivers both screams and guttural death growls to suit the music. There's also more divergent sounds of death, such as the dissonant Gorguts-tinged breakdown in "Narcissus Drowning," and even a severely syncopated Demilich style riff lurking in "Humanoid Knot".
On Providence, Ulthar becomes the kind of formless and dangerous Lovecraftian horror they're fascinated by. You can play this album on repeat and find something new to appreciate every time. The only issue is that it lacks a song like "Dunwich Whore," the epic closer from their debut, which could have taken this album to the next level. It's less of a mistake and more of a missed opportunity, and doesn't significantly slight an album this extreme and uncompromising. (20 Buck Spin)