Cloud Rat Qliphoth

[Halo of Flies; 2015]

Styles: blackened grindcore
Others: Curmudgeon, Maladjusted

It’s common knowledge that hardcore and metal have quickly become some of the most rigidly codified forms of music around, and it’s also common knowledge that that fact is somewhat at odds with the chaotic expressions of rage those musics have centered around. At worst, and all too often, attempts to actively “expand the scope” of metal traditions leads to self-conscious formalist exercises — here’s looking at you, Liturgy’s Ark Work — and thus fail to achieve the perversely community-oriented cry embedded in the physical urgencies of punk and metal traditions.

Mount Pleasant, Michigan’s Cloud Rat understand the power of tradition and its ability to tap into reservoirs of etched feelings, and, more crucially, they understand the ability of those feelings to call an oppositional community into being through the materially-oriented, gut-shaking surge at the heart of grindcore. Short, fast, brutal, and absolutely shattering on both sides of the fast-melting division between the technical assault of grindcore and the heart-on-sleeve univocality of hardcore, Qliphoth is a clear mastery of form, but there’s a torque to it that puts the band in a beautiful position among the strange blossoms that are emerging from the endlessly simmering ground of punk and metal traditions. In what might be termed an aestheticization of emotional politics, the group translates boilerplate radical punk ethos — anti-classism, anti-capitalism, feminism, etc. — into what would be called a poetics if it weren’t so fiercely direct in its ultimate expression. What’s crucial about this turn is that it’s one of affect more so than of approach or structure, rather than an identifiable stylistic choice, and the result is an open sense of unselfconsciousness. There’s nothing new about the politics, but Cloud Rat’s approach revitalizes them with an affect that adds a personally specific emotional hue.

Fittingly, their approach is rather circumspect, with abrupt dives into pools of shoegaze guitar twinkles and patches of ambient electronic drone that remain at once impenetrable and strangely human in their analogue-processed textures, with stop/start mechanics that feel more like a breath than metal’s technical showboating, with vocals that move from the droning insistences of black metal to a suddenly intelligible and heart-stompingly human phrase. It’s a record that’s constantly in a state of emergence, a transmitted eruption of pain rising from the fabric of punk’s consistency in ways that seem primed to act directly on the chest cavity. Like another recent release, it never fails to wrench tears from my eyes, but those tears are given a political, personal source and trajectory, even as it’s one that shifts furiously in tandem with the incessant and irrational arrival of images of oppression through our hosts of daily medias.

When a looped sample intoning “arson is a form of self-expression in a place where you can’t express yourself” appears, it comes as a political statement tied to both the political environment of Detroit and the berserk internal inconsistencies of neoliberalism that leads to water shut-off. But it also comes as an aesthetic outburst of a community-to-be, from a music that embodies its own landscape of dread and fear and tradition as a birthplace for renewed fury and resistance.

It’s difficult to precisely describe these arcs, especially without over-simplifying them by emphasizing its simplicity and blunt expression, but there’s something here that resembles grindcore as water, moving fluidly between states of being along crests of martial drumbeats, sudden breakdowns, and shredded throats. But what emerges in these moments, the shifts and contours that Cloud Rat traces, is a brief fleeting glimpse of a community. These moments of shoegaze and drone don’t read as genre experimentation, but instead bring the emotional community embedded within those genres into play as a moment of another imagined community. This is grindcore, of course, and that community is one centered around frontwoman Madison’s viscerally affecting and nuanced shrieks of agony, but it point toward a refocusing of punk’s community ethos in important ways. This isn’t the grafting of radical politics onto a masculinist circle pit, but it takes the violence and (homo)social bonding tied up in that circle pit and turns it toward imaginative ends.

If the future is bound to be one of liminality, endlessly delayed collapse, and continued erosion of non-economic ties, Cloud Rat’s place in the long tradition of folk musics that punk has joined puts them in a crucial position, gesturing toward a community built from shared norms and shared history while emphasizing both the fragility of the bonds from which its built and the cycle of productive destruction and resistance to which its tied.

Links: Cloud Rat - Halo of Flies

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