On paper, Michigan’s Cloud Rat really doesn’t sound all that distinctive – a trio for most of their career, they’re now a four-piece crusty grindcore outfit following the addition of a member credited for “electronics.” Stylistically, they mash up the filth-punk anger of crusty hardcore with the full-on rage of grind, balancing their fury with the occasional dip into an almost post-ish dreaminess that provides a brief relief from the aggression until the hammer drops again.
Still, that musical mixture by itself isn’t innovative. Crust and grind have gone hand-in-hand since the beginning – there are countless bands combining the two to different degrees, and even the post-metal drift is an addition that’s not particularly new, although one that’s certainly more commonplace in hardcore than in grind.
Thematically, Cloud Rat is staunchly DIY and outspokenly sociopolitical, self-described as “anti-oppression, anti-discrimination, pro-vegan,” with lyrical slants that also address women’s rights, self-empowerment, colonialism and globalization, police brutality, depression, religion, LGBTQ issues, and drug abuse.
But then again, that attitude and those topics relate to about 80% of all grindcore and hardcore bands everywhere, always.
Nevertheless, through four full-lengths in five years, Cloud Rat has risen upwards through the pack, and particularly picking up with 2013’s Moksha, they’ve become something like critical darlings. This fourth full-length continues where Moksha left off, even in the religion-inspired naming trend – qliphoth (literally “peels” or “husks”) are Cabalistic devices representative of evil or impure forces, while moksha refers to the Hindu release from samsara, the cycle of birth and death. Compared to Moksha, Qliphoth is more developed, the next step, but it’s not a huge leap, and thus, not a surprise.
So then, why has Cloud Rat emerged from the underground with the light shining on them whilst others peddle similar sounds and remain beneath? I’d say that it comes down to conviction. Not that other grinders aren’t dedicated, but Cloud Rat overwhelmingly exudes emotion and conviction – vocalist Madison Marshall screams and shrieks her poetic ruminations upon anarcho-liberal themes with such infectious youthful passion that it’s simple to get swept up in the feeling. Guitarist Rorik Brooks mostly sticks to punkish chord-based riffs, fast and ragged, or the aforementioned post-rock chiming haze, although late-entry highlight “Bolt Gun” sports some thrashy metallic riffing not present elsewhere on Qliphoth.
Musically, the basis is as described: super-charged punk, with the occasional hints of melody or twist that break out, but overall, the usual wall-of-noise, crustier than some, slower here and faster there, a literal blast. It’s in the push and pull of the parts that Cloud Rat’s finest music emerges – opening track “Seken” ebbs and flows, a grand declaration of anger to start the proceedings, while the mid-tempo ringing trudge of “Raccoon” following the mostly blistering “The Upper World” achieves a massive sense of balanced heaviness.
In all honesty, I’m still not as over-the-moon about Cloud Rat as others seem to be, but I’ve been impressed with their progress, and I continue to be. Qliphoth is the best of their four albums so far, and it’s a strong album in the middle ground between the grind- and hardcores, buoyed further by its palpable sense of sheer emotion – not 2015’s best grind album, but arguably its most heartfelt.
[Author’s note — as part of the DIY ethic, Cloud Rat has all of their albums available on their Bandcamp site as Pay What You Want downloads. Be a good human and toss them some bones, and don’t let the good affordable records pass you by.]