Stare into Death and Be Still is different while being exactly the same. This time I actually made contact with the ball and even managed to avoid a ridiculous Scott Norwood shank. It’s not pretty, and I hit the post, but dammit I put three points on the board!
What makes this different from other seminal works of theirs that I never managed to care about like Everything is Fire or Shrines of Paralysis is pretty difficult to pinpoint, because this really isn’t all that different. It’s still an unrelenting deluge of cataclysmic percussion and dissonant guitars that don’t really riff as much as they whir and clang. Maybe the guitar tone is a bit beefier and less scratchy? Maybe the songs themselves are simply more well constructed? Their approach to songwriting is just as non-euclidian as ever but the flow feels a bit more natural to me this time around. Ulcerate always had a strange Uncanny Valley feel to them, where their songs always yawned and swayed like organic creations but felt lifeless and stiff at the same time, like saltwater frying a fish’s nerves and causing it to flop and spasm long after it dies. Stare into Death and Be Still simply managed to catch a live one, I think. Like always, this is much more about overarching atmosphere than riffs or hooks, and as a result the whole experience tends to feel like one long song instead of a collection of them.
And if you’ll allow me to mix my sports metaphors, I think the reason this isn’t quite a home run despite some solid contact is exactly this. There are tons of twists and surprises within the riffs themselves, but rarely within the wider context of a song or the album. 58 solid minutes of this suffocating atmosphere is just that, suffocating. That absolutely works at times but around the second act of this behemoth it goes from exhilarating to tedious. It’s like the coaster I built in Rollercoaster Tycoon when I was 9 that had like fifty inversions and took twelve minutes to finish. Sure there are subtle variations in tempo and approach on Stare into Death and Be Still, but ultimately you’re just doing the same loop-de-loops over and over again on the same track for an uncomfortably long time. Each successive Ulcerate album has been a few minutes longer than the one preceding it, and that trend continues here, and I really think it’s to the album’s detriment. Despite all eight tracks basically feeling like the same long song, it’s still quite noticeable that only two of them run for less than seven minutes. This wouldn’t be a problem if it felt like the songs were actually leading somewhere, but after repeated listens the only time I can truly pick out a song with a climax is “Drawn into the Next Void”. The rest of it sounds like sonic flash rust, standing still and deteriorating before my eyes despite the immaculate craftsmanship put into the initial product. Every Ulcerate album tends to spin its wheels to some degree, and admittedly Stare into Death and Be Still manages to get a good amount of traction and actually move forward, but a lesser degree of the same problem is still the same problem.