I remember seeing Cloud Rat’s first album on Grindcore Karaoke back in 2011, right when the label was starting out; in fact, it was among the first twenty or so albums they released. I don’t remember if I ever downloaded and listened to it or not. I wish I had, because I’d now be in the position to say ‘I told you so,’ because with the well-deserved buzz surrounding their latest album Moshka, these guys (and gal) are about to go big time, or whatever the equivalent to big time is in the grind world.
Hailing from Mt. Pleasant, MI (which I’ve only heard of because an aunt and uncle of mine used to own several McDonald’s there), Cloud Rat is one of those rare grind bands that absolutely demand your attention from the album’s very first note. I listen to (and end up writing about) a lot of grind, and as much as I love it, it’s really easy for all of the songs on even really good albums to all kind of blur together and become a pleasant sort of background buzzing noise. Not so with Cloud Rat. There are a couple of reasons for this. The first is that Moshka is really well produced, and I’m not even going to add the ‘for a grindcore album’ qualifier to it. The album sounds fantastic–each instrument is very distinct in the mix, the vocals are very cleanly recorded and high enough in the mix that not only are they clearly audible, it’s usually pretty easy to pick out exactly what vocalist Madison Marshall is screaming about. And scream she can—I’ve mentioned before that I’m a sucker for female grind vocalists, and Marshall gives Kat Katz a run for her money in the female grind vocalist department.
But it isn’t just Marshall’s screaming that sets her apart—she’s a phenomenal lyricist to boot. Grind isn’t really a genre known for its lyrics; they’re either of the gore/sex/sex-gore variety or vaguely political/socially conscious, but usually so low in the mix and/or screamed in such a way that you can’t tell what they’re about, anyway. What grind lyrics generally aren’t is emotional, and that’s where Cloud Rat really separates themselves from their grind peers; Marshall’s lyrics (all of which you can find on the band’s site) are emotional and even downright poetic at times. From the very first lyric to the album’s opener “Inkblot” (“Dresses dancing against a boundless breeze) to the last lines of the album’s final vocal track, “Vigil” (“All of the sudden, Earth/My chest feels heaven”), the album is an emotional rollercoaster, with the music occasionally mellowing out, like on the first part of “Infinity Chasm,” which sounds vaguely like a lost Blake Babies track with it’s clean vocal harmonizing (!!), to allow the lyrics (which seem to be about a watching a child grow up) to take center stage.
The album does have one odd moment, though, and one misstep. The odd moment is the cover of Neil Young’s “The Needle and the Damage Done.” Quick aside: my mom would play Neil Young’s Harvest over and over when I was a kid, so “Needle” is one of my earliest musical memories and a very special song to me. And they manage to be somehow both faithful to the original and grind the song up in such a way that it totally works—it sounds completely organic, and I was prepared to hate it when I saw it on the track list. The misstep is the album’s closing track, “Moksha,” which is a nearly 7-minute soft, droning instrumental piano track. At some point the long closing drone track seems to have become a trend with power/grind albums, and I hate it. I’d rather have an album that’s only 20 solid, face-fucking minutes long than one that’s 30 minutes long but ends on a seemingly endless drone track.
Overall, though, this is a stellar album and I see a lot of year-end accolades in this band’s future. And score another win here for Halo of Flies Records, who are quickly becoming one of the best small labels out there. If you aren’t hip to them yet, now’s your chance. And you can read my interview with the label’s main man here before heading over to the HoF site to grab this thing on vinyl.
Final Grade: A- (but only because the drone track–take that off and this is an easy A+)