Prepare your anuses for probing, as the alien-obsessed Rings of Saturn have returned once more to obliterate your eardrums. The undeniable kings of extreme metal’s most extraterrestrial of sub-genres, aliencore, are back with their fourth full-length album: Ulta Ulla. The Californian quartet have once again brought the slamming guitars and high-pitched screams which fans have grown to expect from their music, yet have managed to still remain fresh, infusing new elements in to Ulta Ulla which allows the album to stand apart, not simply a rehash or retreading of previous releases.
Opening with “Servant Of This Sentience”, the album begins with a crisp and clear high pitched guitar riff which swiftly grows louder before continuing to repeat itself, while an intensely heavy combination of guitar and bass form a wave of noise to which you cannot help but submit. If this initial bombardment of metal weighty enough to put a black hole to shame doesn’t crush you immediately, then the breakdown surely will. Appearing around halfway through the track, the song abruptly breaks down into a slower, sludgier pace, the band uniting as one to unleash an inhuman barrage of extreme metal, led by singer Iain Bearer, whose screaming vocals are ferocious enough to make the Sarlacc crawl back into its pit and whimper. Despite all of this, “Servant Of This Sentience” manages to end in major key, a surprising and stark contrast to everything played before it, and perhaps a subtle message to fans that Ulta Ulla is not a simple, by-the-book death metal album, yet something entirely different.
This is something which the listener experiences clearly throughout Ulta Ulla, as many of the tracks, while still following the same thematic format, manage to present themselves in different styles. For example, penultimate track “Prognosis Confirmed” is perhaps one of the most crushingly heavy tracks I have ever heard in my entire life, something which is noticeable from the offset of the track. Opening with an insane onslaught of high-pitched, atonal guitar notes, inaudible screams, furious drums, all undercut with an angry blast of bass guitar, it is difficult not to be blown away by this full-band assault on the eardrums. This level of intensity fails to let up, continuing throughout the track, yet occasionally, an entirely different style of music will be interjected in to the track, almost as if Rings of Saturn are trying to keep their fans on their toes.
Before the one minute mark, there is a synth solo, something which is not uncommon to hear throughout Ulta Ulla, yet the solo itself could almost be described as cheerful, veering close to what you might hear at a funfair. A similar style to this circus-esque synth is found in the intro to “Harvest” which continues periodically throughout the track and, in combination to the eerie and ominous song title, truly sets the listener on edge.
Countering these undeniably barbaric examples of what the true extent of extreme metal is, is the calm, relaxing, and altogether comforting track “Unhallowed”; an instrumental which seems to follow a South American style of play. This guitar-orientated track acts as a break between the unforgiving brutality which both precedes and follows it, yet is not the only time that this style appears throughout the album. Both “The Macrocosm”, and final track “Inadequate” begin with a similar, solo guitar before falling in to a traditional death metal style, yet still managing to echo the initial melody laid out by the solo guitar in the intro.
What could be taken from Ulta Ulla is that it is a far more in-depth, intricate, and overall more mature effort from Rings of Saturn. This is, of course, not to diminish their previous work, yet more to say instead that their music is continuing to progress and become something new, improving on their prior releases. And, as I round off this review, it’s time for one last space-related pun: Ulta Ulla really is out of this world. Puns are great.
Ulta Ulla is out now and available here.