Review: Cloud Rat – Pollinator

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With a groan that seems to last forever, a giant crashes through the canopy and lies still on the forest floor. Communities disappear in the upheaval, and the survivors scatter through mazes of fallen branches. Before long, hulking machines arrive, gouging the landscape, clamping onto the fallen tree like jaws on the throat of prey. While conflict has always been present in nature, the scale of human violence—toward ourselves and the world around us—has created an imbalance that only continues to grow, manifesting as barrens tracts in the heart of our planet’s ecosystems.

If you can read the symbols making up this review, congratulations (or condolences), you’re a human. That is to say, a nervous ape who was born into this perplexing stretch of time when so many things seem to be spinning out of control. Cloud Rat captures our cacophonous moment, plunging listeners into the absurdity of modern life with their new album, Pollinator.

The opening salvo of “Losing Weight” and “Delayed Grief//Farmhouse Red” checks most of grindcore’s rickety boxes: punk riffs flicker quicker than dying street lamps, d-beats and blasts make the kit ask what it did to deserve this, and maniacal vocals mirror the commotion of a fast-paced society. However, even when playing within the confines of a single genre, the band’s attention to detail sets them apart from the pack; the crisp production ensures that Brandon’s rapid drumming never loses clarity (note the cymbal choke embellishments at the end of “Losing Weight”) despite the thick tone of the guitars, and every song, no matter how minute, quickly establishes its own personality.

Grind and songwriting usually go together like pickles and peanut butter, but nearly a decade as a band has taught them a thing or two about penning memorable tunes. With “Night Song,” the cross-pollination of genres that defines the record is set in motion; Madison wails above eerie doom riffs (conjuring thoughts of stalking predators) before death metal tremolos raise the tempo once more. These eldritch sections (which crop up elsewhere, most notably in “Last Leaf” and “Luminescent Cellar”) bring discomfort even as they flirt with post-metal’s yearning emotions—sort of like a hyperactive Yellow Eyes.

It’s not until later tracks like “Wonder” and “Al Di La” that a bittersweet nectar begins dripping from the pedals. Lush, crackling synths underscore much of the former, coating the song in layers of melody that stir up nostalgia—for the easy fascination of a child’s worldview, for a time when we could meet strangers without instantly doubting their intentions. Madison’s vocals are appropriately infantile throughout (particularly in moments of “Wonder”), channeling naked emotions that are simple, pure and effective. Whether paired with Rorik’s extended-range sludge in “Luminescent Cellar” or the major-key meltdown that is “Perla,” her voice brings both vulnerability and aggressive defiance to the foreground. And what is grind if not a tantrum against something?

With songs titled “Biome,” “Webspinner” and “Last Leaf,” there’s a consistent environmental theme to the album, but the arcane lyrics prevent the message from becoming preachy. Right from the start, nature permeates these compositions; just before a wave of blastbeats crashes in “Losing Weight,” Madison belts out “Belt of sand / Ocean’s strength” as a noise effect mimics the sound of a shoreline. Further along, “Al Di La” tackles pollution with an outburst of “Why are you collecting plastic? Why all the trash?” The ambiguity of the narrator’s question (is it the stomach of an ocean bird that’s being questioned? Humans? The planet itself?) allows the audience to come to their own conclusions, and the wide range of topics discussed throughout, from vulturine dudes (“Seven Heads”) to the roots of toxic families (“The Mad”) ensures that anyone can form a personal connection to the music.

Pollinator is the product of a whirlwind of influences—the beauty of Earth, the speed of change, the absolute, overwhelming dread of the evening news. It’s difficult to take all of these facets of life and combine them into anything resembling a coherent statement, but Cloud Rat has succeeded, leaving us with an album that’s at once a call to action (whatever that may entail) and a bloom of creativity in the field of extreme music.

4/5 Flaming Toilets ov Hell

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