Ulthar – Helionomicon (20 Buck Spin)

Wednesday, 22nd February 2023
Rating: 8.5 / 10

Note: If you’re looking for the review for Anthronomicon, click here.

If you didn’t read our writeup on the noted Anthronomicon, let’s review: death metallers Ulthar are releasing two full-length albums on the same day, titled Anthronomicon and Helionomicon respectively. We’ll be focusing on Helionomicon in this review, which features the band delving into much more experimental territory than they have in their history. If you want to check out our thoughts on Anthronomicon, which is framed as the more traditional to the band’s style of the two full-lengths, you can do so here. Each album contains 1/2 of the overall artwork, and when placed side-by-side, you’ll see the full artwork as one large piece.

Both of these albums are intrinsically linked, but as mentioned previously, with this being the riskier of the pair. Helionomicon is a departure from the familiar for Ulthar, embracing long-form songwriting consisting of both tracks being in excess of 20 minutes in length, along with a more expansive and occasionally ambient sound that brings more differentiation.

The title track is the first half, beginning with a fleshed out and dirty riff that muscles through the first few minutes, moving towards a grime-laden blackened death metal appeal that is reminiscent of Sulphur Aeon. The melodies provided by guitarist Shelby Lermo are infectious and keep morphing into something different without the transitions being awkward or clumsy. Proceedings briefly move closer to the technical at the 5-6 minute mark, before slowing slightly to a filthy old school death metal riff that dominates to the song’s midpoint. Imagine a much more refined Incantation vibe. This scribe would be remiss if we didn’t call out the range and precision of the twin vocal attack of Steve Peacock and Shelby Lermo (get well soon – fuck cancer), as their combined performances – from low-end death growls to mid-range bellows and blackened screams – make this record truly dynamic. A clean guitar passage serves as a well-placed interlude to the final punishing 6 minutes, which can be described as an absolute aural assault. The composition transitions from blackened thrash to a memorable finger tapped lead, finishing with a cinematic horror-influenced synth that is a delightful end to a memorable song.

Moving on to the second half with “Anthronomicon” – not to be confused with the album of the same name – begins with a full-on blackened assault, gradually allowing the massive guitar riffs room to breathe. We then get a poignant ambient section, before delving into progressive death/black metal territory with varying time signatures amongst the crazy amount of percussive madness, courtesy of Justin Ennis. There are a number of thrashy moments present, and the transitions between styles continue to feel nearly effortless, while in reality are extremely difficult to do right. Hell, there’s even a doom-inspired monstrosity that stands out magnificently, finished off by an atmospheric and dissonant outro.

Ulthar have achieved their most prolific output thus far in terms of creativity and balance on Helionomicon. The trio has given the music the space to fully bloom, with passages that transition more holistically than on its counterpart, Anthronomicon. Comparing the two, this is the one that this writer will revisit more regularly, as the dynamism and immersive songwriting place this as Ulthar’s most comprehensive work thus far. When the band begin formulating a follow up, hopefully they take this more expansive route and continue down that avant-garde road, as this is where their combined talents have shined brightest – or darkest.

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