Interview with Ulcerate drummer Jamie Saint Merat
To be a forward-thinking metal band sometimes means embracing melody. For Ulcerate, New Zealand’s best death metal export, their fifth record felt like the time to be more deliberate. Make no mistake: Shrines of Paralysis—out now via Relapse Records—is just as menacing and chaotic as ever, but the band opted to fine-tune their approach in order to create their most methodical record yet.
While 2013’s Vermis had more of a “wall of sound” production style, Shrines of Paralysis feels more dynamic, with more discernible individual parts. Drummer Jamie Saint Merat agrees, “Vermis was intentionally murky and filth-ridden, with the drums pulled back into the mix. With Shrines [of Paralysis], it’s been about finding the blend between tight, powerful performances and fairly severe tones and making 100 percent sure that things aren’t clean and clear for the sake of it. This music requires a certain level of roughness. The recording process for us was similar to how we’ve worked in the past in that, on every album, we change up amp and drum configurations. This time around, I’m using a Pearl Masters drum setup; guitar amps were a Peavey and Orange blend, and bass amps were an Orange and TC Electronics blend. We seem to have an inescapable collective sound regardless of what gear we use, but this approach provides a lot of nuance between albums that will be heard with multiple listens. We keep it pretty old-school in terms of production techniques and practices: real amps, real drums, no editing of performances.”
Part of what has made Ulcerate particularly unique—and truly awesome—is Saint Merat’s drum work, which acts as an essential part of the band’s sonic maelstrom. It is the engine that runs the Ulcerate machine. His work is truly sublime on Shrines of Paralysis, but it feels more purposeful, targeted. Saint Merat confirms, “My approach to drumming is and has always been to support the music as melodically as possible. I’m not the kind of player that plays everything 100 percent the same every time: there’s a ton of improv both live and in the studio, and I’m always trying to inject subtleties and nuance that might not be audible on first listen. So, possibly more in line with a jazz or fusion approach, where there’s obviously common motifs and ostinatos, but there’s also a lot of room to move around them. I’m always working on developing my playing in other styles and techniques, so I can’t help but bring that with me into metal playing.”
“In terms of melody, it feels like now is the time for us to pull back from dissonance twenty-four-seven and really start making more melodic music,” he continues. “Within our own aesthetic parameters, of course. We just write what we feel and try to keep pushing the sound forward.”
Ulcerate are known for their intellectual, negative-skewing discussions of the human condition, and Shrines of Paralysis continues that trend excellently. Saint Merat explains, “The album title speaks of the inherent apathy and mediocrity of man, the lack of foresight and laziness in dealing with self-imposed catastrophe. The ‘Extinguishing Light’ theme can best be explained by the lines: ‘The narrow tunnel of light further closing in / Enveloping the already dying.’ We’ve all got our own personal philosophies, but the band’s themes are purely cynical [and] negative in keeping with the aural aesthetic: apocalypse worship.”
Saint Merat states that it’s easy to dwell on negativity, but things aren’t necessarily getting worse for mankind. “We just hear about everything now at a micro level due to social media,” he asserts. “Twitter updates now inform us, in real-time and with little bias, of what’s actually happening, so we see things in a much rawer light. The phenomenon of the Facebook live police shootings recently is something we could never have predicted even 10 years ago, so it’s finally bringing abhorrent levels of corruption to light. Stripping power from racist shithead cops is extremely gratifying. The downside is we’re exposed more and more to the negative side of human nature. But, that’s why we play fucking negative music.”
For those Stateside who are excited to catch the band’s patented brand of negative dissonant death metal, Ulcerate will cross the Pacific to tour North America with Zhrine and Phobocosm throughout November. Saint Merat is understandably excited. “Both support bands are deadly and handpicked,” he says, “so, it’s going to be a huge month of shows.”