Ulcerate vs. Setentia: The Battle for the New Zealand Crown of Dissonant Death
After years of silence, Ulcerate, the uncontested heavyweight champion of New Zealand dissonant death is back with a brand new album. Oppressively heavy and disorientingly complex, Shrines of Paralysis is poised to keep the champ at the top of bracket, but it looks like a new dark horse contender is gunning for the title. Setentia is a hungry and vicious new fighter that wants a shot at glory and has been steadily leaving a trail of broken bones and bruised egos in the wake of its upcoming release Darkness Transcend. Today we pit the grizzled king against the virulent usurper. Only one will stand.
Welcome to the Toilet ov Hell in a Cell Championship Match. Two bands enter, but only one band leaves.
The rules for a Toilet ov Hell in a Cell match are simple. The two opponents will trade blows round after round until one falls. Should there be a dual-knockout, judges will select the winner based on a series of metrics: riffs, performance, atmosphere, variety, flow, production, and standout track.
Alright, the contestants are in their respective corners, mean-mugging each other and chomping at the bit. Lllllllllllllllettttt’s get rrrrrrrreadddyyyyyyy to rrrrrrrrrrrrummmmbllllllllllllee!
Round 1: Riffs
Announcer Comments: This round should be an interesting one. Both bands trade in the style of melodic dissonance perfected by veteran fighter Deathspell Omega, leaping intervals between minor ninths and sixths while maintaining a steady stream of consonance. This lends both an odd bit of harmony while still maintaining an alien feel. Ulcerate’s riffs are just a bit on the heavier end, firing out more rapidly and connecting with the soft tissue to do real damage. Setentia’s approach varies slightly, injecting more tangible melody with the lead fist and preferring an odd bit of harmony within the dissonance.
Setentia takes a number of leading swings, even mixing things up with the offhand black metal-style tremolo riff delivered by the south paw, but none of the blows combine with the jaw-shattering roughness of Ulcerate’s fast, precise, and devastating blows. Ulcerate slow things down after a series of blinding tracks and hit with a solid, mid-paced crunch that sends Setentia reeling.
Round 2: Performance
Announcer Comments: If the force of the riffs delivered were all that mattered, Ulcerate would easily knock Setentia out in the first round. However, there are a number of different factors that make a band the champ, and perhaps the most important element is the combined performance of all of the moving parts. A true champion wants to achieve a synergy between his rhythm, his pace, his aggression, his defense, his riffs, his snarls, everything. Ulcerate is supremely technical, even clinical, in its approach, but there’s an X-factor of feeling that can give hungry competitors like Setentia the edge.
Ulcerate, as a survivor of countless past attempts to seize the title belt, has the performance of each part down to a perfect precision. There is no wasted movement here. The syncopated drum rhythms veer from relentless blasts to slow loops around the opponent, disorienting contestants enough to land blow after blow while the vocals roar and bellow with little variation in tone or nuance. Setentia has clearly studied footage, though, because the contender is prepared with its own interchanges between death and doom rhtythms to match Ulcerate’s typically baffling technicality. The slight melody from the leads take their effect though, catching Ulcerate (and the crowd by extension) unaware with a surprise attack of deftness, leading to an unexpected solid contact that sends the champ reading. Ulcerate may be the more technically efficient and tighter band, but Setentia, put more feel and nuance into the performance, seizing the upperhand with an unespectedly emotional assault.
Round 3: Atmosphere
Announcer Comments: An often overlooked factor in these matches is how the combatant can work the crowd to create a conducive atmosphere to victory. Ulcerate has had years of experience terrorizing opponents by lulling all viewers into a reverent frenzy. Setentia’s approach is subtly different; though the young contender is also most at home in the gloom, its key here is to unnerve the emotions of the opponent to create a moment of vulnerability. Ultimately, this one will come down to who can frighten the other the most.
After countless fights across a long career, Ulcerate’s vision has become almost blindingly singular. Ulcerate deals in psychological warfare, using the constant dissonance and elastic riffs to beat opponents into perpetual submission. With its flurry of minor-key blows, Ulcerate is undeniably making it hard for Setentia to see the light. Fortunately for Setentia, the darkness and oppressive gloom is where it feels most at home, and the contender returns blow for blow with a blinding hypnotism that entrances all witnesses. The surprisingly prominent melodies even open up emotional holes for Setentia to exploit, and both bands end up delivering exhausting performances that leave no clear victor standing.
Round 4: Variety
Announcer Comments: This round is where the true victors start to shine. As a veteran, Ulcerate has become surprisingly singular; there’s little alteration in the pace and vocal delivery, so it would be easy for an opponent to gain the upper hand. There’s a reason that Ulcerate is the champ, though, and it would be too soon to count out mix-ups like the recursive and absurdly heavy bass riffs at the end of “Bow to Spite.” On the other hand, Setentia is a wild card. The young fighter draws from a large disciplinary background, using a mix of vocal taunts, pitches, and even riff styles to open up weaknesses. Dissonant death contenders are often broken during this round, so it will be fascinating to see how it plays out.
From the first bell ring, Ulcerate opens with a predictable attack style: fast-paced blasting and pliable riffs that hammer-blow the opponent with deadly technicality. Surprisingly, though, the champ varies the approach in the middle of the round during “There Are No Saviours”, trading out the million-notes-a-minute approach for an almost doom-based assault and glacial riffs that burn with a cold fire. Setentia prepared for this, though, injecting a microcosm of variety into each track and hitting with different riffs at different speeds. Setentia is drawing from tremolo riffs, Deathspell-style dissonance, harmonic leads, and even the same mammoth doom of Ulcerate. It’s a bewildering performance that is easy to get lost in but utterly fascinating throughout, and it sends the champ to his knees for a few seconds.
Round 5: Flow
Announcer Comments: Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. Every fan knows that you have to maintain a rhtyhm to your songs and a balanced flow in order to not completely throw off the momentum of your final performance. Matches have been lost entirely because bands dropped the ball in the last round with an utterly baffling track placement decision. Ulcerate likely won’t fall into the trap after honing its craft for years, but Setentia is an unknown quantity.
Ulcerate predictably delivers the blows in a flowing stream of magma. Blast-blast-slow left-blast-blast. The momentum is utterly predictable, but the tracking is pulled off with such a professional execution that it’s nearly impossible to see the movements between each subsequent riff and kick. Surprisingly, this is Setentia’s opening chance for a crippling kidney shot, though, as Ulcerate loses itself a bit in its own flow and forgets its surroundings. Setentia makes no mistake, deftly weaving evasive intros and outros into each track in order to more agilely move into the next flurry of body blows. Setentia’s punches here are spliced with clever transitions, such as the cold opening of “Darkness Transcend” that keeps Ulcerate guessing throughout. AND ULCERATE IS DOWN AGAIN!
Round 6: Production
Announcer Comments: The production is the glue that holds all of the fighter’s techniques together in one cohesive package; it is the weight and heft that adds force or precision to the jabs and kicks a band throws. I’ve seen the strongest riffs neutered by an anemic weight and the heaviest kicks stifled by a plastic contact. Ulcerate should have no problem here as the veteran with an established regimen and strategy. Setentia is punching a bit above its weight class by taking on the champ, though, so let’s see if it can go pound for pound.
During Ulcerate’s last title match, the champ came out a bit too heavy after too much Vermis and almost lost the belt completely. You won’t find the same mistake here. While the musculature of Shrines of Paralysis is just as dense as before, the champ trimmed some fat on the edges, adding more clarity and precision to the production job. This clarity actually allows the riffs to connect with the intended weight and speed rather than looking like a sloppy mush. It’s as deadly as expected and should win back fans who felt alienated by the flabby wall of sound seen previously. Setentia, though competently produced, is just a bit thinner. There’s a clarity, but many of the blows just don’t hit as hard because the bottom end lacks some of that girth. Setentia is definitely feeling the blows right now and looks a bit dazed.
Round 7: Standout Track
Announcer Comments: Alright folks, this looks like it will be our final round. Both bands are exhausted and willing to put it all on the line with one final shot at completely knocking out the opponent. Will Ulcerate hit with a surprise left jab that sends Setentia to the mat, or will the newcomer dismantle the champ with a truly exceptional performance?
Surprisingly, it is Ulcerate’s slower track “Shrines of Paralysis” that delivers the most damage. It’s an impressive deviation from the norm that injects just enough melody and feeling into the blinding technicality to truly surprise watchers and connect with more force than the typically lightning flurries of most songs in its arsenal. Setentia definitely looks wounded from that brain-rattling, bottom heavy kick! But the contender is returning the blow with an audacious start-and-stop riff nested in a heartfelt bit of melody in the one-two punch of the “Seeds of Death” suite. SETENTIA CAUGHT THE CHAMP UNAWARE AND DELIVERED PULVERIZING PNEUMATIC HAMMER RIFFS RIGHT TO THE HEART! THE CHAMP IS DOWN!
Final Decision: Setentia by Knockout
Ulcerate’s new album Shrines of Paralysis put up quite the fight, but the champion has abdicated the throne of New Zealand dissonant death metal to Setentia’s Darkness Transcend. Although Ulcerate brought the riffs and weight, it was ultimately Setentia’s sense of nuance, varied range, and passion that won over.
All hail thew new champion.
You can pick up Ulcerate‘s Shrines of Paralysis tomorrow via Relapse Records. Stream it in full right here! You can pre-order Setentia‘s Darkness Transcend now via Blood Music. That album will be out November 11th. Go congratulate both bands on the fine effort at their respective Facebook pages.