Review: Cloud Rat ‘Pollinator’

The words ‘savage’ and ‘brutal’ are so over-used when referring to grind (and all its variants) that, however much they might apply here, I’m going to discard them. Instead, I will focus on the reflective nature of this record. But firstly, a bit of my own reflectiveness: it seems dubious (and, indeed, unhelpful) to call tracks within this genre ‘songs’. To me, they are a burst, or to think of it visually, angles, fizzing and popping like fireworks before seeping into darkness, leaving in their wake the briefest moments of ‘ooh’ or ‘ah’.

Cloud Rat ‘Pollinator’

Pollinator takes full advantage of this format, as it revs off in peculiar directions like an almost-out-of-control speedboat, allowing you to contemplate each direction in the briefest micro-pauses. And it seems this approach was intended, with guitarist Rorik Brooks explaining ‘The goal was to have the album feel like a story that unfolds as you listen, spiralling deeper but then ebbing and flowing as it goes.’ Indeed, Pollinator is a sophisticated record which, in its complexity, outstrips its predecessor, 2015’s Qliphoth and even the stunning work on 2017’s Moloch split.

It’s also heavy; not just extreme, but heavy heavy, with doomy, blackened elements that frequently drown the listener in a swampy mire, before dragging them out half-alive in a hail of blast beats; from the rattling assault of Losing Weight to the creeping, Sabbath-esque refrains of Night Song; the tail-spinning punk of Biome to bleak post-metal of Perla, this is a multifarious experience. Synths are subtly employed – eerie, but never dominant – and most effective on the ghostly Night Song. But ultimately, it’s the crunching guitars and tireless drums that dominate and make this the white-knuckle experience that it is.

[Madison Marshall] vocals are another of the record’s strong points – still raw and uncompromising, but thick as granite with a warm dose of sludge to compliment the flawless guitar and drum work…

Pollinator’s stark cover art reinforces the idea of a tale or journey, featuring a bloody, Styx-ish river, a key-hole vagina and a hanging root-limbed woman to keep things interesting. But the record is far from a ghost-train of horrors. Lyrically, it is abstract and image-led, with recurring themes of femininity, art, theatre and disguise, but also miscarriage, sickness, grief and decay, as if someone is on a journey to both find and escape themselves. There are clowns, marionettes and, in Al Di La, references to Italian stage glamour and the dark side of performance. There is also a crusty undercurrent of witchcraft and ritual: ‘Sit with me as I hang the toad.’

But Pollinator does not present us with a story as such, at least not in the linear sense. Instead, off-kilter bursts are accompanied by a twisted tapestry of lyrical images that have a deeply personal feel. The overall effect is like being invited into someone else’s nightmare. The lyrics only hit a relative weak spot on the gloomy, down-paced Luminescent Cellar, where the sentiment seems obvious and heavy-handed with lines like ‘fluid gender misunderstood’ and ‘take up space.’

Whilst I’ve never seen Cloud Rat live in person, it’s clear that Madison Marshall’s on-stage vocals are something people love or hate and I totally get why: her back-to-the-audience shrieks can be somewhat dissociative, with a wildness that sets (or tears) them apart from the dense musical backdrop. On this album, however, her vocals are another of the record’s strong points – still raw and uncompromising, but thick as granite with a warm dose of sludge to compliment the flawless guitar and drum work.  

Pollinator is an unsettling explosion of disconnected rhythms that disorientates the listener but never quite loses them. A patchwork of a record that delivers a lot in 31 minutes and more-than-adequately celebrates a decade of Cloud Rat.

Label: Artoffact Records
Band Links: Official | Facebook | Bandcamp | Instagram

Scribed by: Fossil