Cloud Rat live / photo by Adam de Gross
The first time I saw Cloud Rat, it was in a dingy bar in South London, crammed in assholes-to-elbows with a bunch of British punks and a few stray metalheads. I was clutching a copy of the Detroit grind trio's then-latest album, Moksha, under my sweaty armpit, and had fought my way up to the very front. Even though I've seen more bands that I can count more times than I'd care to mention, I just knew that this one was going to be different.
As anyone else who's been lucky enough to catch this now-quartet live already knows, I was right. Cloud Rat is one of those rare bands whose music connects instantly, painfully—you feel the words, the the riffs, and the all-consuming cacophony deep within the marrow of your bones, vibrating out into a hostile world. Their molten grindcore hybrid cherry-picks from doom, crust, noise, and even pastoral folk, as in the case of their devastating cover of "
The Needle and the Damage Done,
" and offers compositions that are nothing short of grandiose in scope. Live, they command attention; on record, they require immersion. They
nestle between the crossroads of grindcore—a genre known for its minute-or-less aesthetic and sociopolitical banner-waving—and epic-minded, emotionally-potent doom metal, culling the finest aspects of each. On top of that, t
he combination of Madison's vocal range, the band's willingness to experiment with tempo and atmosphere, and the earnest ferocity in the lyrics create something of a perfect storm.
The band's new album, Qliphoth, is a further revelation, one that features the talents of fourth member, Brandon (handling electronics) and an incredible step up from what many considered to be a new pinnacle for extreme music. Listen to the album in its stunning entirety here, and preorder the album from Halo of Flies if it hits you as hard as I think it will:
Noisey asked vocalist and lyricist Madison a few questions about the new album, and as it always seems to happen, things got a bit dark. We talked about negativity, Detroit, and why you won't catch Cloud Rat singing about pizza anytime soon.
Noisey: The cover image for Qliphoth is delicate and ethereal; it seems to represent one aspect of your sound beautifully while obscuring the uglier, heavier truths that fuel the rest. Can you tell me a bit about the art?
Madison: The cover was created by our good friend Fernando (celldeth.com). His work is fantastic and painstakingly detailed. The woman chained to the chrysanthemum underwater, to me, represents all of the beauty and freedom in your life, tethered to the weight of whatever current situations you find yourself living in. 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. It relates to the album aesthetically and lyrically in multiple ways, especially (as you mentioned) the duality of pretty, light flowers and floating, with the heavy, dark thoughts of being tethered underwater and the mysterious black hole for a face.
Qliphoth is a weighty word, one with roots in Gnostic mysticism and the Hermetic Qabalah. Your lyrics tend to focus on more earthly, visceral matters, so it's interesting to see you reach for such an esoteric word to symbolize the album as a whole—but then again, you did the same with Moksha. "Moksha" symbolizes liberation and self-knowledge, while "Qliphoth" is connected to evil spirits; is this new album an attempt to exorcise your demons? What changed between the two albums to land you here?
I'd say yes, somewhat an attempt to exorcise some demons, although I think quite a few might still remain… There was a long spell of bad luck and challenging experiences over the past year for all of us, and we are still kind of in the throes of that. For me personally, without elaborating, a lot of buried, dormant feelings and issues have boiled over, causing me to take charge of my life in a way I've never really experienced before. Some fucked up and scary experiences, other more positive, actually. But at this point, I feel like I'm almost at my wit's end, which seems to be a mutual feeling among us. Sounds a bit cartoonishly grim, but it's the truth.
Cloud Rat has carved out a unique niche within the greater grind/extreme music pantheon, and this new album ees you pushing even further past grind's short-fast-loud borders. What was your headspace like while you were writing these songs?
Technically and sonically, I think we just wanted to create something powerful and relevant, that builds on past works while expanding into new territory. Also, having Brandon on board for these recording sessions really opened up a new side to our sound' we're very happy with his input. Headspace though? 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.
Your lyrics are poetically vague, obviously personal, but sprinkled with flashes of blunt prose (like "Bigots always saying sorry/While they’re standing over the body") that hit like a shotgun blast. They take some time to sink in. What are you hoping that people get out of your words?
When I write, it's usually spur of the moment, on whatever scrap piece of paper I can find. Typically inspiration comes from a specific incident, and each song is often about a real moment in my life. I write primarily for myself, and don't really want to interpret the exact meanings to people, as a lot of it is extremely personal. That all being said, I am very glad when people can relate to or feel empowered by my lyrics. They are purposefully written to be interpreted in your own way. Like in "The Boar's Snout," like you mentioned, certain lines leap out and tell you that it's referencing police brutality or whatever, and then there are other lines that are left up to you. Take what you will.
The quote “Arson is a form of self-expression in a place where you can’t express yourself" from Burn: One Year on the Front Lines of the Battle to Save Detroit director Renna Sanchez stuck with me, too. Detroit has made its presence known in many of your songs, either explicitly or otherwise. Have things gotten better for the city's residents and the art/music scene since Sanchez's film was released in 2012?
Honestly, Detroit is fairly artist-friendly as far as finding spaces to host gigs and whatnot. The real struggles here are more grievous, such as finding a good school for your children, wanting to be able to just go for a walk and not be afraid for your safety, trying to find a sustainable job, etc. I don't know if things in the scene have gotten better per se, as there is a long history of amazing music coming out of this city, even though it is often overlooked by current touring bands and everyone else in general. I like that it feels different in a way from other larger cities in that there aren't as many expectations to sound or look a certain way, no "cool" buzz shit surrounding everything always.
Cloud Rat describes itself as a band with "strong DIY/vegan/feminist/queer/anti-fascist ethics and politics" something that's common within punk and grind circles, but an outlook that still meets with resistance from some—not all—metal fans. Do you, as a band and as individuals, experience any pushback from music fans who hold opposing views?
Yes, absolutely, we experience pushback. Even within our own social circles. People can be so fucking cruel and quick to shut off their brains, it's ridiculous. I wish I could blow up the internet.
How did you come to hold these views so tightly, and what made you want to express them with Cloud Rat? So many bands cling to apolitical or oblivious approaches, and it's so gratifying when someone refuses to stay silent.
I came to hold these views through punk, basically. And (ironically, yet obviously) the internet helps to become and stay informed. When we started this band, I was barely 19 years old. It was the first time that I was able to unabashedly share a lot of views that I held where it seemed to make a difference, or at least not fall on deaf ears. As the band has progressed, it only makes logical sense that since we have the privilege of this platform and medium, that we share our views. That doesn't mean preaching (gods know that we don't have all, or many, of the answers), but it also doesn't mean hiding under an obscured mysterious veil either. I have other bands where I can write about bubblegum and boogers and pizza, ha! It's a challenge though, as I'm by no means a public speaker or and I'm not always the most articulate when in a live setting. So at this point, I think it's better to share our general views and then be able to talk about stuff later with people, and hopefully show that it's very possible to still have fun and be free and punk while still holding strong to radical beliefs.
What do you think is an effective way that bands and musicians can have a positive impact on the social problems plaguing our country right now?
Be kind and respectful to everyone. Try to become active in your local community and get to know your neighbors, tell folks about things you are involved in, hopefully turning other people on to more inclusive modes of thought, giving people access to new ideas and ways of communicating them. Less internet shit-talking social politics, more listening to what marginalized people have to say.
What other releases are you working on?
We just finished our split with Drugs of Faith, the art and everything is done, so expect that soon! Other than that, we have a couple extra songs from the Qliphoth recording session that we will probably be using for some compilations or something. We actually probably won't be back in the studio for quite a while unfortunately, unless we have some giant burst of inspiration soon. We always have a lot of ideas bubbling up, and there are a ton of amazing bands that we would love to do a split with, but we don't want to just release some half-assed stuff. Every recording session is important and stressful and takes a lot out of us.
Why did you decide to work with so many labels ( Halo of Flies, LFB Records, React With Protest, Moment of Collapse, Deadtank, and 7degrees) for this release? Do you have any ambition to sign to a bigger label in the future, or are you happy where you are?
While there are unique challenges in working with multiple labels, it makes a lot more sense to include a lot of folks, financially and ethically speaking. Since the first pressing is rather large, it helps to ease the burden with multiple folks involved, and it helps us initially get more copies for tour. Every label involved is a close friend and has a say in how it's distributed and what not. So it means a lot to us. As for bigger label stuff, no plans for that at the moment. We are all quite busy enough. I understand why people do though; this band has become a second job, that pays much less than minimum wage when all is said and done. With a big label behind you, booking, merch, and all that would probably be easier to do, with more resources available, but I have heard a lot of horror stories from friends as well. One thing I don't understand, is how people get so bent out of shape when bands do sign to larger labels. There are far more important things to worry about and discuss than a band staying "true" to some non-existent esoteric book of DIY commandments.
Will you be hitting the road in North America to get Qliphoth out in front of people? Please say yes!
Yes! However, not sure when. We have had to cancel our little tour in August around Dead Fest, as Rorik's new baby is due shortly after that weekend. So, after a break, we are planning to do short bursts of USA tours, little weekends or like a week here and there. We are still doing some West Coast stuff in October, so pretty much everyone can expect us to be in their area over the course of the next year after that.
'Qliphoth' is out May 29 via Halo of Flies, LFB Records, React With Protest, Moment of Collapse, Deadtank, and 7degrees. Kim Kelly is a huge Cloud Rat fangirl, and is going to be blabbing about them on Twitter all day.