Album Review: Ulthar – Anthronomicon / Helionomicon

Album Review: Ulthar - Anthronomicon / Helionomicon
Reviewed by Sam Jones

So, this review is going to be a little different. Seeing as Ulthar, US Blackened Death metal outfit, with members hailing from California, Virginia and Oregon, are prepped to release not one, but, two albums this coming February the first half will be dedicated towards Anthronomicon, a more conventional album release. Whereas the second half shall be towards Helionomicon, a more experimental work it would seem, where it’ll consist of two tracks, each of which are 20 minutes long. The band formed n 2014 and since then have already amassed an impressive reputation for establishing their own spin on Lovecraftian subject matter. Their 2018 debut record Cosmovore was received with rave reception, and their follow up, their 2020 sophomore release, Providence, was even more widely praised. So, another three years following on, Ulthar bless us with two full length records at once. These guys have certainly been busy so let’s take a look at what eldritch machinations Ulthar have conjured for us.

Ulthar get us into the mood of their album very quickly, for Anthronomicon possesses quite the prominent tone throughout the record, both in riffs and the baselines that accompany them. You can hear the bass at all times throughout the record which is frankly a great thing to acknowledge owing to how mental this record presents itself as. As you listen to this, you can’t deny how quickly the songwriting alters itself to keep us on our feet; at no discernible moment do Ulthar have us sliding into realm of understanding, there is no comfortable point where we’ve reached a point of cohesion or see where the band are taking us. Before you know it, the songwriting will veer suddenly left or right into more macabre and misshapen songwriting avenues, or they’ll abandon conventional instrumentation altogether and immerse us within a gathering wall of miasmic noise. It’s very ethereal at times. It’s also bolstered by the rapidity at which the songwriting moves at too. Ulthar don’t hang around for us to stew nicely in the atmosphere they’re crafting for long before the next segment comes up. It’s a breakneck pace that only invigorates us whilst maintaining a momentum through riffing that enables us to hold on to our seats.

The drumming is just as sporadic. Before you get yourself comfortable in what kind of drumming style the band are vying for, you’ll find yourself continuously surprised at the pace of which their approach can altogether change. With a work as extreme as what Ulthar have hitherto displayed, blast beats are a large par for the course but that doesn’t indicate this to be case for the whole record. If I were to place a drum set before their drummer, you can bet that whole kit is getting used, often before a single track is done. In many ways, the band are borderline Progressive with how their songwriting mutates and evolves in a moment’s notice. The vocals also dart back and forth between the scathing delivery and something more guttural, deeper. In this context, Anthronomicon establishes itself as a record that’s akin to diving into a maelstrom; everything swirls round you and you’re fighting for your breath, just enough to keep you going to the next rotation. I appreciated how the ending of the track “Cultus Quadrivium”, utilising an ethereal soundscape bleeds effortlessly into the start of what will become Helionomicon; through this, the band ease you into the more avant-grade nature this dual-release sports.

Album Review: Ulthar - Anthronomicon / Helionomicon
Album Review: Ulthar - Anthronomicon / Helionomicon

Due to what the album of Helionomicon required, with two full tracks being 20 minutes long apiece, Ulthar had to break out some more varied songwriting to keep their audience engaged. There are segments where the music is naturally rather fast, as per the course for the majority of Anthronomicon beforehand. Yet there are numerous sections of this record where the band do slow things down just a touch to render it a different experience from the more conventional record release; it isn’t slow to the point of Doom but slowed enough for us to acknowledge the band are definitely looking to do something different throughout these two songs. What’s more, the songwriting changes itself up in regular intervals so we never receive too much of the same piece of a song for too long before the

band seek to keep us on our toes. Often, tracks like these would be interspersed with ethereal, atmospheric samples to beak up a track’s flow; it makes Helionomicon all the more noteworthy for offering songwriting this elongated, without employing any such extensive techniques to ease us out then back into the band’s primary performance.

The fact that Ulthar can even do songs this long without utilising long passages of ambient elements speaks for the band’s prowess so much more than if they had simply released a conventional double album. By providing fans with a standard release, Anthronomicon, and a more experimental attempt, Helionomicon, Ulthar have managed to release something that fans will find something to enjoy in both records whilst also opening some fans up to that more avant-grade, longer form of songwriting they may otherwise have been hesitant to explore through other bands. The accessibility of Ulthar’s blackened death metal therefore bodes well for fans diving into other bands who may dabble more fluently and often, with extensive displays of songwriting that isn’t just broken up with easy techniques of ambient elements or ethereal atmosphere. Ulthar are playing for 20 minutes at a time here, so establishing a coherent following alongside what they’re playing is no small feat. There are one or two small sections that do include synthesiser work but it never feels placed to break up their flow; if anything, this synthesised element only furthers the band’s identity and thoroughly maintains their momentum so, when the riffs and blast beats return, it feels as if we’ve never left.

In conclusion, this double album release is a truly monstrous and massively scoped endeavour. Gifting us two full records that are as unique as they are stamped with Ulthar’s identity upon their sound, Anthronomicon and Helionomicon offer equally wondrous yet different experiences. Depending what someone may be more comfortable with, they can approach this record differently to someone who may want the more typical of the two records to play first. As Helionomicon plays out lovecraftian speech, alien to our ears and comprehension, it enables us to bask at what Ulthar have created and where their ambitions may take them next. It honestly staggers me how far Ulthar have leapt since Cosmovore just five years ago, perhaps becoming one of the foremost cult bands to typify the alien, blackened death metal sci-fi that doubtlessly possesses a hold over a myriad of fans. To think that this double release is able to maintain our grounded engagement and attention whilst throwing everything they can muster, slowing down for nought a moment to let us catch our breath. Over the course of over ninety minutes altogether, Ulthar offer no reprieve, no mercy as they subject us to every whim and riff and bellowing vocal they can launch at us. It’s the equivalent of that final synapse clinging in to cellular sanity before we’re hurled betwixt a swirling nightmare of bastard aeons, and the last, diminishing refuge of comprehension. True lovecraftian horror wrought in blackened death metal. Fantastic.

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