Three years between albums is not an eternity, but I was beginning to wonder if Ventura would deliver a follow-up to their mammoth 2010 LP We Recruit. Being an ocean away from the Swiss trio’s tour dates, I was left to dwell on their last proper release, a heartily recommended seven-inch released later in 2010 with David Yow on The Jesus Lizard on vocals. When a considerable part of your aesthetic is founded upon ’90s Touch and Go guitar rock (i.e., aggressive, tight, and bullshit-free), teaming with Yow is a potentially dangerous form of wish-fulfillment. I was ignoring the flipside of that coin: Yow was equally fortunate in the team-up, jumping from the Jesus Lizard’s reunion tour into a European vacation with a younger group with something left to prove. The lingering question remained, however: did they already prove it through this dalliance with a noise rock hall of famer?
Apparently not. Ultima Necat is not the product of a band resting on its laurels—it’s a significant step forward from the already impressive We Recruit. Few bands achieve the tonal consistency displayed here: its gravitational pull locks you into a seriously heavy and downright serious forty-two minutes. In true Touch and Go spirit, nothing gets in the way of the songwriting. The production is bruising but clean, delivering its monstrous heft without collapsing underneath it.
Extend that ethic to the lyrical approach, too. We Recruit had moments of gallows humor, but Ultima Necat never cheats its focus. Case in point: I initially anticipated that the album’s epic centerpiece, the nearly twelve-minute “Amputee,” would undercut its wailing refrain “I feel like an amputee / I want my legs back” with a smirk like We Recruit’s “Twenty-Four Thousand People” did, but Phillipe Henchoz instead goes deeper, repeating “I’d like to dance again” and “If that dance could be with you,” his voice breaking down as the riffs lock in. There’s a fearless honesty to it, like Brian McMahan’s wounded vocals on Spiderland: if someone laughs at the vulnerability displayed, they’re the idiot (who will get caught in the crossfire of the seven minutes of escalating riff warfare that follows).
Ultima Necat draws from other pairings of heaviness and vulnerability. The chord progressions of “Little Wolf” echo Hum’s Electra 2000, but its outro dives down to Mastodon’s hull-crushing depths. Henchoz revisits Come’s chord battles with the twangs of “Body Language.” “Intruder” starts out like a malicious version of Codeine, but abandons John Engle’s starker arrangements in favor of layers of back-masked guitars. “Very Elephant Man” head-fakes at the math-rock of Don Caballero’s For Respect before ascending into the territory of Sunny Day Real Estate’s LP2 (h/t Shallow Rewards). Closer “Exquisite and Subtle” floats Herchoz’s vocals and blurred, shoegaze-inflected guitar far above the rhythm section. It’s heavy, yes, but the tractor beam of the preceding eight tracks has been lifted, letting you drift out of orbit.
Even with near-twelve minutes consumed by “Amputee,” Ultima Necat still clocks with a perfect forty-two-minute runtime. Such economy proves essential; the album’s unblinking focus could have turned suffocating with the addition of a few more songs. Instead, I ride out the muscular plateau of “Exquisite and Subtle” and gladly start back at the top with the aptly titled “About to Despair.” Consider Ultima Necat written in pen in the upper echelons of my 2013 year-end list.
Ultima Necat is available digitally though Bandcamp, Amazon, and iTunes. However, it’s well worth importing a physical copy of the vinyl from Africantape or an American distributor for the gatefold sleeve alone.