• Adam DeGross
  • Cloud Rat

Despite my fondness for loud, obnoxious music, I often have a hard time warming up to grindcore—usually because I can’t hear enough of what’s happening. Combine hyperactive distorted guitars with frenzied, pistoning drums, and in most cases the shape and direction of the riffs ends up lost. It’s like listening to a busy construction site—all you can make out is churning, percussive noise and shouting. Some bands make that work by expertly modulating the density and speed of the barrage—Wormrot come to mind—but I tend to prefer the ones that build in a little breathing room instead.

Hence this post on Cloud Rat. Even when these Michigan punks blitz at warp nine, their riffs maintain a human-scale metabolism that preserves their emotional weight—they can feel not only urgent and enraged (easy to do at top speed) but also triumphal, melancholy, or despairing. Some songs border on doom metal, with spacious, contemplative, and even lyrical passages, not just the obligatory half-time breakdowns.

Cloud Rat formed in 2010 as a trio—vocalist Madison, guitarist Rorik, and drummer Adrian—and recently became a four-piece with a guy named Brandon on electronics. Their politics fall somewhere to the left of Chomsky, though they’ve got a sense of humor about it: on Facebook they list their interests as “veganism, radical feminism, anarchism, paganism, GISM, and other relevant -isms.”

The band’s new album, Qliphoth, comes out May 29 on Milwaukee label Halo of Flies (in collaboration with Florida’s IFB Records and German imprints React With Protest, Moment of Collapse, and 7Degrees). The Internet tells me that “Qliphoth” refers to a representation of spiritual evil or impurity in hermetic and cabalistic Judeo-Christian tradition. In a recent Noisey interview with occasional Reader contributor “Grim” Kim Kelly, Madison elaborated: “Not necessarily bad or evil things, but maybe something that gives you comfort, safety, and security, even though it is holding you back from the growth you actually need.” She described her head space during the making of the record as “Awful hell. Blood, sweat, and tears, literally. The end goal is really just for cathartic therapy, as it’s hard to express yourself in public. You can’t beat up your boss, you can’t stop the clock, etc. So we need this outlet to survive at this point.”

Madison’s lyrics are frequently impressionistic, held together by subterranean private associations, and as you’ll see when you listen to the stream below, her delivery is so ragged that even reading the words (somebody has posted them at Encyclopaedia Metallum) won’t always help you tell where she is in any given line.

That’s not to say it’s never possible to extract their significance, though. “Botched” describes a failed execution by lethal injection. In “Rusting Belt” a few spoken phrases stand out: “Arson is a form of self-expression / In a place where you can’t express yourself.” “Rouge Park” is about an incident in Detroit last winter: dozens of dead dogs, some apparently bred for fighting, were dumped in that park and found only as the snow thawed in March. And “The Boar’s Snout” addresses the brutality and racism of the police, always an infuriatingly timely subject but perhaps more so than usual this week: “Bigots always saying sorry / While they’re standing over the body / Somehow, somebody’s face is missing.”

Cloud Rat play in town tonight, and in keeping with their anarchist and anticapitalist ideals, they prefer underground spaces. When I e-mailed Rorik last week, he didn’t even know where the gig would be. But I managed to find out, and I’m a 43-year-old square. If you give a shit about leftist grindcore, I’m sure you already have a pretty good idea where to look.

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.