• Courtesy of the artist

In April 2010, when Cleric released what’s still their only full-length album, Regressions, I abused my privileges as music editor to publish a 1,300-word review I’d written, even though I was pretty sure nobody in Chicago had heard of the band. (They’re not to be confused with the Dallas death-metal outfit of the same name, who were broken up at the time anyway.)

“The music this Philadelphia four-piece plays is a kind of metal the way Lost Highway is a kind of movie,” I wrote. “It’s an elastic tissue of creepy electronic noise and barely human screaming, impregnated with patches of riff-salad grind and hypercube mathcore.”

Today’s 12 O’Clock Track, “Allotriophagy” (the word refers to the pathological desire to eat unnatural or improper things), is the first “song” on Regressions. A lot happens in its 19 minutes and change. As I said in 2010, “It opens with knotting and unraveling chugga-chugga, which slows and dilates into sandstorm ambience that’s in turn overtaken by spidery Middle Eastern exotica; sometimes it sounds like two bands overlapping. For its last seven minutes the song has no fixed tempo and only rarely a pulse, maintaining suspense by continually suggesting a resolution that never arrives.”

When I wrote about Cleric, they were planning a tour that would’ve brought them to Chicago. I was very keen to see them execute this intricate, fluid, borderline incomprehensible music onstage, but the tour never happened: in August 2010 the band’s gear was stolen from their van in Philadelphia after a show in Brooklyn, and then their practice space was robbed.

  • Courtesy of the artist
  • Drummer Larry Kwartowitz and guitarist Matt Hollenberg model the new Cleric T-shirts.

Those blows might’ve finished Cleric off without any help, but it got worse: According to vocalist and keyboardist Nick Shellenberger, one of his bandmates (I’d rather not say which one) suffered a devastating death in the family and went through a detox and breakdown that required him to rebuild his personality practically from scratch. And when the group at last began to recover its momentum, more than two years later, it underwent a painful lineup change, replacing bassist James Lynch with a friend of a friend named Daniel Kennedy.

Those tribulations notwithstanding, Cleric have returned to the studio with Regressions producer Colin Marston to work on a compilation of music they’ve written for films over the past three years. They’re in preproduction on a new album, and material from it has already appeared in their live set. They’re also finally hitting the road: tonight at the Empty Bottle, Cleric play their first Chicago show since 2008 (to the best of Shellenberger’s recollection) on their first proper tour in almost ten years. Because they’re opening for Yamantaka//Sonic Titan and Electric Hawk on a Tuesday night, they go on early, at 9:30 PM. No fooling.

You can stream “Allotriophagy” below. By the end of the track, you may curious to see what listening to 76 minutes of Cleric all at once will do to your brain. Just let the music run, and the whole album will play.

Philip Montoro

Philip Montoro has been an editorial employee of the Reader since 1996 and its music editor since 2004. Pieces he has edited have appeared in Da Capo’s annual Best Music Writing anthologies in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, and 2011. He shared two Lisagor Awards in 2019 for a story on gospel pioneer Lou Della Evans-Reid, and he’s also split two national awards from the Association of Alternative Newsmedia: one for multimedia in 2019 for his work on the TRiiBE collaboration the Block Beat, and one in in 2020 for editing the music writing of Reader staffer Leor Galil. Philip has played scrap metal in Lozenge, drummed with the Disasters, the Afflictions, and Brilliant Pebbles, and sung for the White Outs. He wrote the column Beer and Metal from 2012 till 2015, and hopes to do so again one day. You can also follow him on Twitter.