When Cloud Rat's furious debut was unveiled to the world at large via Grindcore Karaoke a few years ago, their intense, emotionally charged interpretation of grindcore felt like a welcome breath of fresh air. Whilst keen eared listeners may have picked up on subtle crust punk and early screamo influences in their sound, there really is no other band that sounds like Cloud Rat - their subtle melodic sensibilities didn't come at the expense of outright brutality at all. The splits that followed were equally as awesome, meaning their sophomore album 'Moksha' had the pesky burden of expectation resting on it. Would the three-piece be able to maintain that same hair raising fervency?
The inevitable good news is that, yes, all those things that
made you fall in love with this band first time round haven't been dulled
whatsoever; Rorik still shreds out those piercing, gut-wrenchingly visceral riffs,
Adrian still blasts like a video of Rob Proctor in fast-forward and Madison
still sounds as though every tortured lyric is her farewell to a cruel world.
The even better news is that, incredibly, they now sound even more exhilarating.
All of this is confirmed within seconds of ferocious opener 'Inkblot', as Madison reasserts herself as one of the most impassioned vocalists in grind today. There are moments throughout this record where her bitter, seething screams bring to mind Khanate's Alan Dubin in terms of sheer pant-shitting intensity, and indeed, the cryptic, hugely personal and darkly sinister poetry she's penned here easily puts her in the same league as the likes of the aforementioned Dubin and Pig Destroyer's J.R. Hayes. Of course, the two dudes behind her are no slouches either, as Rorik's riffs switch on a dime from aggressive bombast to heart-rending pathos in tracks like the massive 'Corner Space'. He also gets a chance to showcase some truly baffling fretboard acrobatics on tracks like the furious 'Caisse'. Adrian shines through on pieces like the stop-start 'Olympia', kicking out tightly controlled blasts in measures that would give your friendly neighborhood prog nerd a serious headache, as well as fist-pounding d-beats and tom rolls that'll have mohawks rocking back and forth like pendulums. Of course, Cloud Rat is more than the sum of its parts, and this trio coalesce in the most glorious way. When they're on fire, they're untouchable; just marvel at how much apocalyptic album highlight 'Vigil' genuinely sounds like the end of the world if you need proof.
There's a number of surprises here too, the first of which being the frankly beautiful 'Infinity Chasm', with sumptuous male/female vocal harmonies that are strangely reminiscent of indie minimalists Low. The staggering depth is enough to stop you in tracks, so much so that when the band do eventually kick back into grind mode it's rendered all the more devastating in context. We also get a tasteful cover of Neil Young's 'The
Needle And The Damage Done', which fits perfectly with the record's aesthetic,
and even manages to be one of its most haunting peaks. Finally, there's a sombre ambient outro (courtesy of Adrian's side project Found Letters), which closes the record on an introspective note, drifting off into pools of delicate, reverb splashed fuzz.
Unlike the pure aggression of many of their contemporaries, Cloud Rat invoke a myriad of different emotions (not that there's anything wrong with that approach, but variety is the spice of life, y'know?), and nowhere is that more apparent than on 'Moksha', which paints with a much broader palette than they've ever used before. In addition to the expected anger and hostility, there's moments of cathartic sadness, bittersweet nostalgia and even desperate optimism (most notably on the triumphant 'Inimitable Sea'). Cloud Rat really are a unique band, (seriously, how many grind bands could you name that could
cover Neil Young and resist the urge to turn it into a flat-out Anal Cunt style
parody? I know I couldn't!) and 'Moksha' is perhaps their most powerful statement thus far. Regardless of genre, this is certainly one of 2013's most essential records, and deserves a place in any music lover's collection. - Kez Whelan