Greetings, welcome and my apologies for the huge delay sending you these questions. My congratulations for that awesome piece of Death Metal that “The Destroyers Of All” is. How are you feeling these days and what are you listening to while answering my questions?
Cheers man! Things are going well for us, more and more people seem to be enjoying what it is that we do. 2012 is going to be great for us in terms of live shows in Europe, US/Canada and Australia, so we’ve got all that to look forward to. I’m actually sitting outside listening to nothing at all while writing this!
Ok, to start with the interview please let us know which are your feelings around your third album now that some time passed and you can see it with some perspective. Was it well received or were there some bad opinions about any progression your music showed from past recordings? How have you felt those opinions on the reaction and reviews to your releases through the years?
I have to say that we’re more or less completely satisfied with the reception of the album. We intentionally pushed the music in a certain direction, so it’s been really interesting to sit back and see what people make of it. It’s really the first time for us that we’ve started to have people compare our past releases (particularly ‘Everything is Fire’) to a new release, and naturally the opinions fall into 2 camps - not as good as ‘Fire’, or a whole lot better than ‘Fire’ haha. But I’ve yet to see any truly negative responses, and this is reflected across the board with all the reviews we’ve read, which have all been really humbling.
The material is now 18 months old so on reflection there’s things here and there that we’re not happy about, but for the most part, I’m really proud of the album.
As I was saying on my review, this was my first exposure to your music and I must say I’m pretty impressed by finding a Death Metal band which still manages to do something more than personal nowadays. I'm not obsessed by originality, but I can definitely say your music is, while still catching some pretty obvious influences. What's your opinion about all this thing and which would be your major musical influences to this day, be them Metal or not?
Yeah I think I’m more or less the same way, I’m all for originality and pushing the boundaries, but it has to maintain a high level of quality, otherwise it’s just vague experimentation. For us it’s always been about developing and furthering the sound step by step, and still making sure that the identity of what we started with is always at the forefront, and hopefully never gets lost. There’s nothing worse as a music listener than having one of your favourite bands pull a complete 180 and put out something that lacks any context or relevance to past efforts.
I think it’s obvious where our influences lie, but we’ve always been very conscious of making this music our own, not just a derivation. Early influences for us as teenagers were Immolation, old Cryptopsy, old Hate Eternal, Gorguts, Angelcorpse, Today is the Day, and a little later on bands like Neurosis, Bohren und der Club of Gore, Sigur Ros, Cult of Luna.
Usually,what we could call “Modern Death Metal bands”, take top-notch productions and high technical capabilities to build something which usually focuses more on “showing” to people how good and brutal they are, while “old-school” bands choose simple compositions, atmosphere and groove (but sometimes forget a bit personality). When it comes to your songs we can find a good balance of both things. Why do you think mentalities are so extreme in both sub genres? What’s Ulcerate’s point of view about this and which is your mentality when writing songs?
Yeah I like to think we straddle that divide as well. Don’t get me wrong, I love furthering myself as much as possible on my instrument, but I really think recordings with this style of music need to leave a little to the imagination. I can’t stand the majority of the ‘modern’ sounding bands you make mention of, the mindset of insanely clean, computerised, soulless recordings is really fucking weak and foreign to me. It forces the nature of the music (loud, aggressive, oppressive) into something it’s not, and the result is a massive gimmick. Which is why it ‘sells’ I guess.
To me it seems pretty clear how things have evolved - take a once extremely underground style of music, develop it over 20 years to the point where it starts to gain traction with a wider audience - and after a while it commodifies just like anything else. And then of course you get a rebellion to all of that, hence the old-school revival. We really try to just not pay any attention to any of this, and in terms of writing music, we write what is interesting to listen to and enjoyable to play for ourselves. At this point, we really haven't taken any external opinions into consideration... Not sure if that’s a good or bad thing, but either way, we all seem to be fucking satisfied playing these songs on a weekly basis.
If you had to describe the kind of atmosphere and vibes your music creates through words to somebody who hasn'st listened to it or even doesn't know what Death Metal is, how would you do it?
I’ve tried this many times in the past, and invariably get the ‘that sounds like it would be horrible to listen to’ response haha. Words I’ve used before to describe the vibe that we’re trying to get across are oppressive, bleak, suffocating, wall of noise, end of the world. But I really think there’s something incredibly motivating and exciting about getting really close to nailing those adjectives with music.
From its title to the lyrics, which seem to have strong ties with mithology, religion, humanity and feelings of freedom, rebelliousness, misanthropy and power, “The Destroyers Of All” is again pretty far from the usual topics, but still has some relation with the dark, violent and anti-conformist roots of this style. Do you consider Ulcerate a orthodox band when it comes to its lyrics and message? What's your opinion about those bands who, through some kind of shocking or supposedly rebel message fall in empty conformist fields or even support oppressing ideals?
Yeah see I don’t really buy into the ‘anti-conformist’ label, because as you said, as soon as you have a handful of people jumping on the bandwagon, shocking no longer becomes non-conforming. Our lyric themes are more a comment on the human condition, but delivered in a very vitriolic, very specific way that invokes the tone of the music (or that’s the aim at least). The ideas that Paul is writing about aren’t trying to be shocking in the slightest, and they certainly not trying to be overly intellectual - they’re poetic narratives that explore ideas that we collectively agree on, that are openly discussed by a lot very well respected thinkers - the lyrics are not ‘underground’ concepts (anti-conformity or anti-establishment etc), they just happen to be delivered in a suitably ruthless manner.
As a Death Metal fan, It always pleases me a lot to find bands who manage to put some evolution and personality into it without losing the feeling and atmosphere which is a part of that style, but this doesn’t seem to be the what most of Death Metal fans like. They prefer to keep listening to the same schemes and ideas over and over again. Are you close minded fans when it comes to Death Metal or do you like those bands that helped it progress in different directions and sounds?
I think it’s pretty clear with how we sound that we want the style to evolve and not stagnate. But I think there are parameters which need to be observed, to maintain a level of purity within the sound. I don’t want to hear any ‘happy’ or intentionally funky/groovy rhythms or melodies in death metal, and as we mentioned before, there needs to be a level of ruthlessness and darkness to the music for me to be interested in it. There’s a million styles of music, you don’t need to try and jam them all into a death metal context! We all have very wide listening tastes, but the bands that still excite me in extreme metal are the ones that capture at least some of the essence of the original sound, more-so than anything else.
Still about the same subject, in the last years there have been some bands appearing with personal and interesting ideas but bringing back the darker side of Death Metal, although not remaining on a classical and rehashed sound. Acts like Portal, Impetuous Ritual, Mitochondrion, Witchrist, Owl, Dead Congregation, Cruciamentum or Antediluvian, among others, are expanding the limits of the style without breaking any compromise with its brutality. Do you like what those bands are doing and how things are turning up, seeing the stagnation of the style just some years ago?
Ah right! This question is more or less answered by my previous answer... I think what these bands are doing is a much need kick in the teeth for the style! They represent a very pure oppressive sound, and never once fall into the infantile themes or production approaches of the ‘modern’ bands we talked about before. The conviction, and attention to detail in all aesthetics is highly intelligent and all the more punishing because of it.
Before listening to your music I already had your name in my mind because of the cover of your previous album, “Everything Is Fire”, and this last album’s surprised me again. Your artworks are far from the usual topics in Death Metal covers and designs. No gore, no Satanism, no monsters, no obvious violence…. And especially no bad taste. They are far more abstract and with a very artistic touch. Is that a part of all the personality of Ulcerate? Is it as important for you to give the right image of the band as the music is?
Totally. We handle everything ourselves in a DIY capacity, there’s no outside influences whatsoever. So everything we produce is 100% considered in totality. So it’s incredibly important for us as a band to offer a very unified aesthetic.
In terms of themes, our lyrics don’t cover those aspects at all, so there’s no reason for the album art to reflect that either. Outside of that though, it really all just comes down to me working on something until I feel that it fully represents the music. Figurative subject matter definitely isn’t the be-all-and-end-all, I really think anything can work if it done tastefully and has some depth to it. At the end of the day, if I think it suits and it works inside my head it’s a go.
One of the major changes since the release of “The Destroyers Of All” is your signature for Relapse Records, which I can imagine is a very big step for the band and its development. How did this happen? Weren't you happy with the work Willowtip was doing with you or was it just a matter of evolution? What opportunities will this bring to the band? It seems Relapse is bringing again some place for Death Metal in its roster since some years ago they broke their relationship with most of the bands from this style they had, like Incantation or Deceased.
Right after ‘Everything is Fire’ was released Relapse got in contact and let us know that they were interested in working with us, so it was just a matter of us fulfilling our contract with Willowtip before we moved on. For us we just need a label where there is a level of mutual respect - respect from our side that the bands they work with are of a certain quality, and that their motives are always as music-orientated as possible, and from the label’s side that we are more-or-less able to be left to our own devices with no interference. Both Willowtip and Relapse in this sense have been a perfect fit with us.
In terms of why we dropped Willowtip - there’s a level of exposure that we just weren’t getting from Willowtip that we can get from a larger label, and so long as we can keep writing and producing music the same way we always have, a label like Relapse is a great move. We actually entertained the idea of going with no label whatsoever, which is certainly a more viable option these days, and something we’re not ruling out for the future. But for now, we’re really happy with how things are going.
You were supposed to be playing Europe this winter together with Immolation and Krisiun, but you've postponed it for next year. And you already played around our lands in the Nile/Krisiun/Grave 2009 tour. How were you treated by the rest of bands and how far did it help you to spread your name and music? Did people already know you and your music around here at that moment?
Not 100% correct, Immolation postponed the tour until May I believe - and we’ll be in the States at that time, which made it impossible unfortunately. As for the 2009 tour, I gotta say it was one of the best experiences of my life. Every single band got on fucking great, spent many nights in the bus blasting 80’s rock and cracking the fuck up. Not one single ego, and we made some truly lifetime friends. Incredibly positive experience.
As for the shows, yeah it was overwhelming a lot of the time the reception we got, it seems we already had a developing fanbase, and a lot of people travelled just to come see us, which was incredibly humbling.
I've seen you're headlining a new tour now across most of Europe (not Spain nor Greece, among other countries, as I have seen) together with Svart Crown. Are you expecting a good reaction to your shows from the good reception your last album had? Did you choose the opening band or was it something promoting agencies or involved labels chose?
We’re really looking forward to it, I think the shows are going to be great - we’ve had a ton of awesome feedback leading up to February, so we’re 100% positive. In terms of Svart Crown, they actually asked us if we’d like to come over and do the shows, and their vocalist/guitarist JB has actually put the whole thing together via his Sons of Underground booking agency. Which is great, I dig Svart Crown and I think it’s a really perfect match of the two bands.
How complicated is it for a band like you (and others from your island) to do a tour across Europe or the USA? I can imagine you had to do pretty strong efforts to be able to be on those tours. Does it give enough results when it comes to promotion, New Zealand wasn't very known for it's (extreme) Metal scene until Dawn Of Azazel and Ulcerate hit the scene, but in the last times other bands like Diocletian, Witchrist, Vassafor and Heresiarch have released very powerful recordings and been praised around the globe for their violent form of music, which brings back some of the well known Oceanic bestiality. Is your local scene becoming stronger thanks to the new blood or is it still not the best place for an extreme Metal band? Is there a good cooperation between all the mentioned bands?
It’s getting a lot easier as our name spreads, we get a lot of offers to come and do shows, and there’s a general awareness that we’re a band that is worth booking. But all this has only come about after the release of ‘Everything is Fire’, before that our networking was pretty limited, and it’s incredibly difficult to sell yourselves as a worthy live act when no-one has actually seen you play live.
In terms of the New Zealand scene, those bands you mentioned are all good friends of ours, our guitarist Mike actually plays live with Vassafor, as well as their main man VK (oddly enough also playing for Blasphemy these days) used to play in Ulcerate in our demo period. So it’s very incestuous. But outside of this pocket of like-minded individuals I don’t really find much over here that is of interest, or that is doing anything of any worth at an international level unfortunately.
We're arriving to the end of the questions, so it would be nice if you could tell us a bit what will happen in Ulcerate's camp in the upcoming future. Have you already started working on your next album? What can we expect from it? Will there be a big evolution from “The Destroyers Of All” way of writing?
After Europe we’ll come back for a little break, then we’re off to the US and Canada for a string of headlining shows, as well as MDF X at the end of the run, and we’ll return to Australia for a similar run, as well as a select number of New Zealand shows. We’ll begin writing the 4th album after Europe, but at this stage I can’t give any solid indication as to where that will take us musically. I know the thinking at the moment between myself and Mike H is that we want to increase the violent, dark aspects and just keep pushing out the boundaries of our sound.
Thanks a lot for your time answering my questions and my best wishes for Ulcerate. I hope to hear more from you very soon. Add anything else you forgot in case you want.
Thanks man, cheers for a great interview!
Gia Thanatos is a webzine dedicated to music for the apocalyptic times. No matter the scene or genre it comes from, and mainly chosen according to its author's taste.