Cat Pile – God’s Country Review
Despair is both universal and local. It’s always the same handful of pressures that cause it; inaccessibility of resources, environmental/health factors, power wielded by the unscrupulous, etc., but each location has its own particular aesthetic of despair. Discouragement in, say, Guangzhou, China will look, sound and feel different than it does in the American Midwest. Mud/noise band Heap of talk call their debut album God’s country “Oklahoma’s distinctive mark of misery”, and indeed their name itself comes from the piles of toxic waste, left by an unregulated lead and zinc mining industry, poisoning the towns of the Sooner State. I’m not from Oklahoma, but I’m from another flyover state that’s in both the Great Plains and the Bible Belt, so I’m familiar with the ‘farm, faith, and family’ kind of cultural predominance to which God’s country is the opposite. Heap of talk first caught my attention through Bandcamp’s Random Scroll in 2019, when their two EPs This dungeon land and Please take your skin off became my favorite short players of that year. So what does Central America’s misery look like in 2022?
In a word, terrifying. Heap of talk play austere, stuttering noise rock with heavy sludge and occasional death metal influences. Vocalist Raygun Busch presides over the tuned grime, whose spoken vocals, unattached screams and ramblings of sanity crisis spit dystopian reality in the face of an idealized America. The heaviest moments head for sludge doom, like on “Slaughterhouse” and the first half of “grimace_smoking_weed.jpg,” but sharp-elbow noise rock ragers like “The Mask” are the most intense. Speaking of intensity, even in the album’s more understated tracks like “Pamela” and “I Don’t Care If I Burn,” Heap of talk maintain incredibly high levels of tension due to a dark subject matter and the ever-present edge of instability in Busch’s voice. Elsewhere, there’s a sort of early ’90s alt-rock/grunge aesthetic, particularly in “Anywhere”, which works to anchor the more alienating aspects into something more relatable.
I’m not one to worry about what metal bands write their songs about. You can only hear “this one is about a guy with inner demons going crazy” or “this one is about human sacrifice” many times without rolling your eyes so hard you can see your own brain. Heap of talk also write about violence, pain and the ugliest aspects of existence, but they do so from a specific perspective rooted in place and time. Ever since “Rainbow Meat” on their very first EP, a song about being served between sesame-encrusted buns at Arby’s after his death, the band has taken a particular interest in meat as a signifier. Being, as they are, hailing from the country of American ranching where the country’s beef is raised and processed and where vegetarianism is considered a mental disorder, this makes perfect sense. God’s country opener and lead single “Slaughterhouse” is practically Upton Sinclair’s The jungle in the form of an auditory nightmare. Busch takes us straight to the kill floor shouting “HAMMERS AND GREASE!” time and time again, telling us “everyone’s head is ringing here” and lamenting “…sad, damn eyes, and screams. There are more screams than you think. Meanwhile, “The Mask” turns the violence toward humans by recounting a 1978 mass shooting at a Sirloin Stockade restaurant in Oklahoma City. Busch adopts the killer’s point of view and orders, “Line up the animals!” in the freezer, where six people were murdered. The way he growls “Sirloin Stockade” ups the back upset factor when he shouted “Send my body to Arby” with such gusto.
Spiral instability and repetition play a big role in thematic and auditory landscapes Heap of talk build throughout God’s country. The second track “Why” literally refuses to stop asking why people have to be homeless in the richest country on earth. I’ll admit it’s probably a polarizing track for its simplicity and childlike earnestness on an otherwise deeply cynical album. It’s not my favorite, but when Busch screams like a madman, “I never had to put all my shit in a shopping cart, did I? Have you ever had ringworm? Gale?” is certainly affecting. Even more gripping is the nine-minute “grimace_smoking_weed.jpg.” banishing the hallucinated “purple man” from his room, he descends into a fit, threatening to harm himself as monstrously heavy mud riffs roll around him. I read in an interview that McDonald’s mascot is an understudy of America, a sort of anti-Uncle Sam. Again, this might sound a bit off-the-cuff, but it’s hard to argue with the sense of late capitalism.
Heap of talk said “More than anything, we try to capture the anxiety and the fear of seeing the world fall apart”, but they do so without separating it from their own corner of the world. Just look at their cover. This brown, nondescript building is a massive federal prison in the middle of Oklahoma City, infamous for its subhuman conditions and high inmate count. Through God’s country, they manage to access the universal through the small door of the particular, a mark of artistic maturity. It’s a poignant statement of desperation, but I can’t help but listen. AOTY competitor.
DR: 8 | Revised format: 320kbps mp3
Label: The Flenseur
Websites: chatpile.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/chatpileband
Outings in the world: July 29, 2022