If someone were to force Cloud Rat into pop-culture comparisons, the resulting list would have to include the likes of Deafheaven, Wormrot, Mayhem, and Foo Fighters. That’s a lot to take in, and even more to picture for the uninitiated among you, but don’t click away yet. The Michigan grind trio are entering their tenth year of existence with a third full-length (after about a million splits and EPs), Pollinator, and it’s a whole lot of wild. It ain’t your daddy’s folk music, but it’s just as dark as the heroin under Janis Joplin‘s fingernails. There’s a lot of review below, so this is the end of the introduction.
Most of this review touches on the back end of the record, where the most interesting things happen, but for anyone undecided on whether or not that “blackgrind Oasis” is a good fit for them or not, don’t skip over the first half. It’s dark, devastating, and tasty too. This is black metal for people who want to dodge the make-up and church burning, and grindcore for those who don’t care for denim jackets or obtuse political batterings. The shifting tectonics on “Seven Heads” blend ravaging d-beats with lecherous, swarms of guitar chords dipping in and out of harmony and dissonance, as furious as music comes but with a sweetness that ALMOST shines through in the form of some dreamy, Final Fantasy VII brightness that just about cuts through the mire of “Wonder”. Confusing? Nah. Just a little bit more challenging than every other gaze band trying their hand at heavy.
The kaleidoscope of sounds that Pollinator spirals through – always shifting seamlessly thanks to the subliminal, intricate pulverising of skins by Brandon Hill – will simply be far too much for even the most ardent fans of extreme music. It’s none more apparent than on the perfect halfway marker “Al Di La”, where Cloud Rat cut through the airwaves with detuned, big bending riffs and a cacophonous blast section that dips into one of the swampiest death metal riffs on any record released this year; all of this earning the big finish and the record flip into “Last Leaf”. The latter turning its cheek at the first half of the record and breaking out in crusty punk hives.
The second half of the record really leans into Cloud Rat’s fondness for gaze and post-rock, but still has the forty-five-second hammering fistfuck of “Zula” stuck among the slow jams. Skramz, screamo, whatever compartment fits – “Webspinner” flings even more tempo changes and sudden drops into (almost) melodic hardcore before the inevitable turn towards dissonance and disarray, bleeding effortlessly into Pollinator’s real coup de grace. “Luminescent Cellar” lets Madison Marshall run riot after a lengthy Telecaster and capo introduction – the absolutely unholy sounds uttered over sludge riffs and doom drums could belong on the most twisted black metal record, singing declarations to gods and demons alike. Marshall’s wretched, wretching style paints with coarse black tar over the closest thing to a lighters-in-the-air track the band have ever written – “Marionettes” does what Hivesmasher‘s cover of “Everlong” did about a decade ago. It proves that radio-friendly rock can be turned heavy without adding breakdowns and bass drops ontop of it.
Cloud Rat must be redlining at all times. Running through snapped strings and sticks at a million miles a minute, Pollinator is beautiful and threatening in it’s most panic-inducing moments, while lavish and lurid in its more sickly sweet sections. Earnest, open-hearted music very rarely translates into professionally executed extreme music, but on this occasion, the technicality matches the intensity of the emotive aspect; there’ll be tears of rapturous joy in the pits if the band play “Marionettes” live. Terrifying and beautiful in equal measures, just like your mother always said about you.
Pollinator is available Sept. 13 via Artoffact Records.