Ulcerate Credit: Courtesy the artist

I’d never claim to have more than an armchair interest in psychology, but I posit that the chronic pandemic/election/existential-crisis fatigue that Americans are living through in 2020 has resulted in some level of mass anhedonia. So it’s all the more thrilling when you find something that you’re genuinely stoked about.

When New Zealand extreme-metal trio Ulcerate dropped Stare Into Death and Be Still (Debemer Morti) in early spring, the world was still coming to grips with the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the album felt so on the nose that after listening to it a couple times I had to mentally file it away as “something to revisit to when it doesn’t feel like the world is collapsing.” Months later, that anxious tension sure hasn’t passed, but I’ve also given up on the possibility of escapist listening and leaned back into my love of music that feels like it’s fighting from within the fire—whether that fire is out in the world or inside yourself.

Stare Into Death and Be Still more than fits that bill. It’s a sprawling, atmospheric, and highly technical album, teeming with thematic material that deals with death and tragedy as visible, known entities that people have no choice but to face—often with their eyes pried open like Malcom McDowell’s in A Clockwork Orange. Nowhere is that more apparent than on its titanium-strength title track, a hulking, emotive behemoth that stays riveting through every twist and turn of its nearly eight and a half minutes. “Starved of breath and fearing the detachment from all / Submit to unseen tyranny / We have reached the brink of this terminal world,” sings bassist Paul Kelland. This might seem despairing or nihilistic, but you can’t find resiliency without living through some shit; by confronting the worst of life head-on, you can tap into inner strength you didn’t know you had.  v

The Listener is a weekly sampling of music Reader staffers love. Absolutely anything goes, and you can reach us at thelistener@chicagoreader.com.