Interview: Ulthar (2023) | From The Bowels Of Perdition

Conversation with

Ulthar

Are Anthronomicon and Helionomicon two albums or a double album? Is it even important to make that distinction?

Shelby Lermo: They are technically two separate albums, being released simultaneously. The artwork for both albums is one single piece, sliced down the middle, so they are aesthetically similar, but I think the ideas present on each record firmly establish them as their own distinct entities.

With all the ungodly, dreadful creatures descending from the skies, does that artwork have any other meaning and significance, apart from the aesthetic one?

Shelby Lermo: Not really. This cover art is the first time we actually commissioned a new piece of art from Ian Miller ˗ his art on the covers of Cosmovore, Providence, and our recent demo re-release Nightgaunts MMXVI were all pre-existing pieces we licensed ˗ but outside of just asking him for something cosmic horrory, and suggesting a few things about the color palette, we just let him do his thing. It’s sort of serendipitous that his art fits so well with our music ˗ while I think that each piece of his art that landed on the cover of an Ulthar album fits perfectly, I also think there are several others in his portfolio that would’ve worked just as well. If there is any deeper meaning to the art on these, or any other of our albums, you’d have to ask him.

Would you say that the contemplative, immersive mood of Helionomicon and the straightforward attitude of Anthronomicon work well together? Is there anything about these two albums that makes them complementary?

Shelby Lermo: I think Anthronomicon works as a doorway to Helionomicon, if that makes sense. Like, if you enjoy what you hear on the former, and the music makes sense to you, the latter presents an even deeper, weirder maze to explore. It’s sort of a challenge we are presenting to our listeners.

What did you want to accomplish with these albums, were you looking to reflect on some particular experience or aspect of your personality through them?

Shelby Lermo: I think any album is a natural reflection of the artist’s state of mind during its creation, but no, there wasn’t any particular aspect of myself I was explicitly trying to express with them. All of the music was written during the early days of the pandemic, while we were all unemployed, sitting at home. I think that fact is reflected in the material, the sheer amount of it, the time we were able to put into it.

Ulthar Interview 2023 (Anthronomicon)

Was your entire career up to this point merely an extended period of soul-searching that eventually led to these two albums?

Shelby Lermo: I don’t think so. They definitely feel like an important milestone for us as a band, but we will continue to progress and evolve after their release. And I think that both of our earlier albums, Cosmovore and Providence, hold their own next to this new material as well. It’s all part of our evolution, pieces in the puzzle.

When it comes to Cosmovore and Providence, how would you compare them, which one feels better in hindsight?

Shelby Lermo: I wouldn’t really say either album is better or worse than the other. I think there are certain aspects of each album that work better or worse than the other, but all in all, we’re happy with both of them, and they both represent important parts of our journey as Ulthar. For example, I think Cosmovore has better slow, sludgy, heavy riffs than Providence, and that Providence was played tighter and cleaner. But to me, these aren’t good or bad things, just differences I notice.

Speaking of Cosmovore and Providence, do you think their forthright attitude may somewhat undermine the complexity of Helionomicon and perhaps discourage the more casual audience from reaching the bottom of it, considering how much more time, patience, and focus it demands from a listener?

Shelby Lermo: I suspect that will be the case for some listeners, and I’m not really worried about it. At the end of the day, we did exactly what we set out to do, and we are very happy with how it came out. If the album was meant as a challenge, some people won’t be up to the challenge, and that doesn’t bother me. Ulthar doesn’t necessarily write music to please fans or critics. We write music that we in the band think is cool and unique, first and foremost. If people like it, great. If not, that’s fine too.

Did these new songs go through multiple stages of incubation before getting their final form?

Shelby Lermo: There was very little editing between initial composition and recording, much less than on our previous albums ˗ partially due to the fact that the three band members live in three different states now, so it’s very rare for us to be together, working on music in the same room. The songwriting was split right down the middle between myself and Steve this time around, we both wrote four songs on Anthronomicon and one song for Helionomicon. So, we recorded demos of each of our songs, and eventually flew out to California to work through them with our drummer Justin. That was the only time we tweaked the songs at all, while recording the drum demos, but even then we altered them very little. I think this works to our advantage though, there’s an urgency in the songs that survived the whole process.

Ulthar Interview 2023 (Helionomicon)

Which ones were the easiest and hardest to write?

Shelby Lermo: Of the songs I wrote for Anthronomicon, Cultus Quadrivium was probably the easiest to arrange and came together the fastest. Anthronomicon, the song on side B of Helionomicon, was definitely the most difficult. I’d never attempted to write an actual black/death metal song that length before, so it was tough, but it was also a lot of fun, having that much space to connect ideas to each other and indulge strange objectives.

Considering that the band is constantly growing and progressing in all areas, would you say that songwriting is where you have excelled the most on these two albums?

Shelby Lermo: I think we have progressed collectively since the last album. I don’t know if songwriting is where we have progressed the most, but these albums are definitely a step up. And while I feel Providence was a step up from Cosmovore as well, like I said before, there are ideas on each album that we are very proud of. I’ve actually been working on notating several songs from our back catalog this week, and going through those older songs with a more critical eye has been very rewarding.

Do you see these two records, Helionomicon especially, as an equivalent to plunging into a deep dream state that is constantly on the precipice of becoming a nightmare, due to the layer of suspense in music?

Shelby Lermo: I think our music is the nightmare. There are suspenseful passages in between songs ˗ synth and electronic drones recorded by all three of us in the band ˗ which helps to heighten tension, but the music of Ulthar is 90% attack and chaos, 10% suspense.

When it comes to the feeling of suspense in music, generally speaking, is there such a thing as too much of it?

Shelby Lermo: I don’t really think there’s too much of anything, when talking about art or music. Excess can be a vital part of the product. I love the music of Penderecki and Shostakovitch, those are the true masters of suspense.

Would you subscribe to the notion that your music is an open palette of metal’s various extremes, is that a fair thing to say?

Shelby Lermo: We take pride in our ability to dip in and out of different subgenres, while still maintaining our core sound. I think it’s just a reflection of what we listen to. All three of us are fans of all different types of music, metal or otherwise. These interests are reflected in what you hear on our albums.

Ulthar Interview 2023 (Promo)

Have you ever learned anything important about yourself that you didn’t know before while navigating through the process of making music?

Shelby Lermo: I don’t necessarily think I learn about myself through the act of making music. I think it works the other way ˗ that you grow, progress, and learn about yourself, and then the things you find end up in your music.

Is there anything about making music and being in a band that you don’t particularly enjoy?

Shelby Lermo: I don’t enjoy the social aspects. The weird popularity contests, the social media posturing, that kind of shit. It’s stupid and has nothing to do with the music.

Do you believe that bands and human relationships in general have a limited life span?

Shelby Lermo: Not necessarily. I think you can have friendships that last your entire life, if you’re lucky enough to find one. And while I think most bands have a shelf life of relevancy that will expire at some point, not every band does. Look at The Rolling Stones or ZZ Topp. I’m not saying I’m going to go out and buy their new albums or anything, but their respective fan bases are still finding their music relevant, over half a century into their career.

Have you ever developed an unpleasant emotional addiction to a certain band’s music, in the sense that the buzz you were getting from it seemed too overwhelming at times?

Shelby Lermo: I don’t think so. Ever since I first got deeply obsessed with music, I always wanted to listen to everything. The sheer amount of artists and bands was, and is, always so inspirational to me. So there were definitely artists I obsessed over, but it was always cut with a bunch of other stuff to keep it fresh.

How often do you come across young metal bands whose anger feels authentic and honest rather than forced and superficial?

Shelby Lermo: I am largely out of touch with modern music. I’ve become somewhat frustrated with the constant stream of new bands just rehashing the same ideas that keep getting warmed over for decades. I have friends who know me well, who will send me new music that they know I’ll like. That’s about enough for me, I don’t really go out of my way to look for a lot of new music, since it’s mostly disappointing.

Is having a derivative sound intrinsically a downfall, even when there’s the ability to tell the same story twice without making it boring? Isn’t that impressive recycling ability sometimes even more praise-worthy than coming up with a new story?

Shelby Lermo: I don’t find it particularly inspiring when a new band sounds exactly like an old band. I would rather just go listen to the band who did it first. I’m 43 years old now, I feel like I’ve heard bands copy bands who were copying bands who were copying bands… I’m not interested in that. I want to hear something conceptually new. But hey, if you can get money being the ten thousandth version of Incantation, good for you.

Ulthar Interview 2023 (Band)

Should death metal be raw, ugly, and primitive, or sophisticated and intellectually stimulating? Or should it be all of those things simultaneously, regardless of how mutually exclusive some of them may seem?

Shelby Lermo: I don’t think any type of music should be anything. That’s the beauty of music, and art in general. You can make it whatever the fuck you want. I appreciate music with all the mentioned descriptors, and no, they don’t have to be mutually exclusive. But I would much rather listen to something with no regard for rules whatsoever.

Could you name five death metal albums that you feel are way more memorable than what one would normally expect from something that is just regularly memorable?

Shelby Lermo: Suffocation’s Effigy Of The Forgotten, Pavor’s A Pale Debilitating Autumn, Dead Congregation’s Graves Of The Archangels, Fixation On Suffering’s Confined In Obscurity, Defeated Sanity’s Chapters Of Repugnance.

When you are at home, alone, in need of something to relax, please, or amuse you, how often would you play a death metal record?

Shelby Lermo: Hardly ever. Death metal functions much better for me as a soundtrack to something active ˗ physical exercise, working, something like that. If I’m looking to relax, I’ll put on some ambient, classical, krautrock, something more in that vein.

It seems that everything people consume these days by putting it on or in their bodies is sold to them disguised as a shortcut to happiness, that needs to be attained at all costs. On the flip side, one could argue that people have never been more miserable and alienated than at this particular moment in history. How do you feel about this contradiction?

Shelby Lermo: I think people have always been this alienated and miserable, now we just have the means of communication to be aware of it. The difference is that now, in modern times, people are growing farther and farther apart, experiencing life and each other through screens or devices, rather than connecting on a personal level. Misery is rampant, as always, but empathy is all but extinct. And the same technology giving us that means of communication/isolation is also giving us instant access to everything we want materially, all the time, for cheaper and cheaper. People are glued to their devices, partaking in ultra-capitalist algorithms that offer them ultimate convenience in exchange for the sacrifice of privacy and dignity. We are in a very dangerous place, and I can’t help but think about it constantly. We are killing ourselves to be happy.

 

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