It’s fair to say that if you aren’t angry about the state of things then you aren’t paying attention. The incessant vicissitudes of late-stage capitalism, war profiteering, soaring energy prices coupled with soaring profits for energy companies, the climate change denial of mainstream media platforms that threatens the very existence of humanity, the overturning of “Roe v. Wade” in AmeriKKKa – there’s plenty to get your teeth into if you give half a shit. The lower social orders (that’s us by the way, folks) are discarded, burnt-out and marginalised. We’re disconnected to one another’s needs, divided by the messages from above that vilify hardworking individuals for asking for more money while simultaneously maintaining the hagiographic discourse about those with extreme wealth. There’s no such thing as a benevolent billionaire, people – deal with that fact. Do you ever feel like you’ve been cheated?
It doesn’t take long to fall in love with God’s Country, the debut album from degenerate Oklahoma noise merchants Chat Pile. I’d place it at around the 13-second mark of album opener “Slaughterhouse” for people with any degree of taste. After a spluttering industrial drum pattern there’s a howl and a wall of guitars that summon up the spirit of Converge and The Jesus Lizard, and it’s thrilling. The guttural scream from singer Raygun Busch is both alarming and enticing, while Luther Manhole’s guitar bludgeons the listener in the most delightful of ways. Stin (bass) and Cap’n Ron (drums) are the calm lynchpins of the band, menacingly stoic yet brutal in their precision. The lyrics focus on death and pain, and hammers and grease. Whether it’s an emotive call to stop eating meat (c’mon, you can do it!) or a metaphor for the American way of life in the 21st century, the lyrics “And the sad eyes, goddmamnit / And the screaming / More screaming than you’d think” read a number of ways. Abattoirs or mass shootings – what’s really the difference?
On “Why” (which frustratingly doesn’t have a question mark – the only negative point I’ll make in this whole review) the focus is on how we can allow homelessness to exist. Over a glorious sludge metal racket, Busch asks “Why do people have to live outside?/ When there are buildings all around us with heat on and no one inside/ Why?” The answer is that poverty is an economic choice, a decision made by those with power in how they relate to others (or, in true terms, how a bunch of wealthy psychopaths maintain their societal position by keeping the rest of us in a constant state of threat that things could get worse). Homelessness is the thin end of the wedge that everyone reading this is vulnerable to – living hand to mouth, month to month is an economic reality constructed by the elite as a means of sustaining a fearful and therefore productive workforce in place. Remember, “corporate profits” is just another way of saying “unpaid wages” in a more culturally acceptable semantic twist that somehow we applaud like the cattle to the slaughterhouse we can often be. As the lyrics make clear, “We have the resources / We have the means.”
“Pamela” has a Bauhaus style gothic tinge to it, highlighting the range of influences at play on God’s Country and how Chat Pile create meaning through forms of postmodern bricolage. Busch’s spoken word, almost slurred, delivery belies some of the phrases uttered, notably “I can’t control the rage inside of me” which is said in a blasé manner which suggest a sense of ennui at the torrent of emotional upheaval felt by the narrator who “almost killed your mother.” There’s a resignation of inevitable violence, a repellent character trait that’s only just below the surface at any given moment – the sign of genuine danger.
Where God’s Country smashes it out of the park is in the juxtaposition between tracks. After the disquiet of “Pamela” there’s the delirious onslaught of “Wicked Puppet Dance”, which sees Busch going full David Yow on us. The uncanny and eerie bleeding into righteous fury exacerbates the intense emotions at play on the record as a whole, and the unstable nature of the human condition in general. The subject matter of the songs is persistently intense but there are shifts in sonic palette from the eviscerating “Tropical Beaches Inc.” (about the grind of capitalist stooges) and “The Mask” (about a violent hold-up in a store) to the more mid-paced yet still brutal “Anytime” (about a victim of gun violence) which is essentially the most twisted and nefarious pop song imaginable.
“I Don’t Care if I Burn” may well be the creepiest song since Tom Waits’ “What’s He Building in There?” (incidentally, there’s a reference to “What’s He Building…” in the lyrics of “Slaughterhouse”). While Waits brings a sinister theatricality to his spoken-word opus of weird, here Raygun Busch is altogether unhinged over the sound of a crackling fire that threatens to engulf us at any moment. The song is cinematic, not in the sense of widescreen spectacle, but in its ability to conjure alarming visual images of intense moments. Think of the flames licking the supposed witch in Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal or of the closing scenes of Carl T. Dreyer’s masterpiece of silent cinema The Passion of Joan of Arc – the fact that both films use extensive use of close-ups in these scenes relays the degree of turmoil and intimacy felt by the characters and a sense of alignment between spectator and character is achieved, a fact not lost on Chat Pile as they manage to reproduce such intensity with the emptiness of the track enforcing an uncomfortable proximity between us and the song’s protagonist who is out for vengeance on his sleeping victims. It’s genuinely disturbing, and unnerving, and brilliant.
A ‘chat pile’ is a vernacular term for the waste from lead mining, and huge hills of this toxic bile can be seen in a number of American towns like symbolic tombstones of former industry. They’re the perfect visual metaphor for capitalism’s short-term aims and disregard for its long-term harm, and Chat Pile the band are your new favourite sludge metal/power grunge/noise rock social commentators that you didn’t know you needed. As Busch hollers on album closer “grimace_smoking_weed.jpeg”, “You weren’t supposed to see this / But here it is” – and that just about sums up the record’s themes as a whole.
God’s Country is a truly wonderful, twisted record. About halfway through you start thinking it’s maybe the best debut album of the year, and by the end of the first play you start thinking it’s possibly the album of the year. It’s intimate, expansive, political and deeply personal, unsettling, upsetting and life affirming. Chat Pile are essentially a bunch of metal-loving righteous Loraxes who have come to tell us where we are going wrong while regaling us with the darkest stories from the underbelly of society. Best pay attention, then, folks. An instant classic.