Sunday, May 11, 2014

Ulcerate, Inter Arma @ Saint Vitus, 05.10.2014

It's a rare and heartless city that makes you choose between death metal shows on a Saturday night. At the same time Ulcerate were playing Saint Vitus in Brooklyn, hometown heroes Suffocation were doing a show at Blackthorn 51 in Queens. Not that it was a hard choice for me: Though I love classic Suffocation, their last album was a dog and Ulcerate's Vermis was one of the most important records of 2013. Why wallow in lazy nostalgia for death's past when given a chance to see a glimpse of the genre as it's yet to be?

I looked forward to checking out Inter Arma - mostly to see if they were the band I heard on a Relapse podcast a few years back that I sort of really liked (it's hard to tell since there have been a been a great many sludgy doom bands on Relapse between then and now). By unceremoniously dropping trou and changing into his shorts onstage, drummer T.J. Childers ensured the audience would have one memorable moment at least (or maybe the line to the bathroom at Saint Vitus was just that long). Inter Arma were at their best when their songs threatened to go on forever, like one long cosmic Hawkwind jam topped with their singer's bug eyed intensity, black metal screeches, and Celtic Frost grunts. After a while, the repetition became hypnotic. At the end of their set, Childers swung around a giant tree branch - a visual metaphor for his caveman presence that worked on multiple levels.

Teddy Roosevelt had an aphorism about big sticks, but in my experience true power rarely has to advertise itself so shamelessly. Though both Inter Arma and the night's headliner are bands driven by alpha drummers, the former was all raging id, whilst Ulcerate were cold, calculated, and meticulous in their destruction. As random and chaotic as their records might seem, seeing the band in action illustrated that nothing they do is by accident - songs from Vermis, Destroyers of All and Everything is Fire were performed with precision, curated by drummer Jamie Saint Merat from behind his impressive array of cymbals. It's no wonder that he's already being talked about in the same reverential tone as John Longstreth and Pete Sandoval. Anyone who felt qualms over missing Suffocation need not have worried: Ulcerate is the real deal. The future of death metal is here, and it doesn't have to carry a big stick to make waves.