One of the accidental benefits to waiting just a beat or two before finishing off a critical piece on a record is getting confirmation of a hunch or supposition in an interview. Recently, one of the members of Chat Pile mentioned that Korn was their favorite band, one much weirder than people who instinctively thumb their noses at the nu-metal juggernauts tend to understand (which is true, by the way) and likewise has a fitting energy to the noise rock punk-driven pummel that drives this group typically. These are all, incidentally, notes I had jotted down in my notepad while cycling through listens of this record in the weeks before its release. While it’s tempting to mention names like The Jesus Lizard or more modern greats like KEN Mode when describing Chat Pile’s sound, what comes to mind most often is a group like Helmet or perhaps Prong. These are bands who themselves bridged that gap between mathy hardcore, noise rock and burgeoning nu-metal, before it was co-opted by radio rock single impulse via major label pressure (not to mention the lowered bar of entry granting access to, um, some frankly terrible bands). The group’s “Tropical Beaches, Inc.” exemplifies this marriage of methodologies best, sporting not just a series of pummeling Korn riffs but even an exhortation to “jump da fuck up” before unleashing an abrasive hardcore breakdown.
Chat Pile’s political impulse here remains a sturdy firebrand, one thing it is certainly to our benefit that they did not heavily tweak from their EP days. Songs like “Why,” which directly attack the very notion of houselessness under capitalism which has produced so much in the way of available housing, marries its righteous fury against riffs which tumble like sledgehammers against the skull before spontaneously unfurling into dreamy soundscape work. These elements are at heart what justify the inclusion of what might be considered lowbrow genre work like nu-metal. Without beating a dead horse or reopening an old can of rotten worms, it’s a genre with a certain class relation, at least on its surface, and achieved its sound initially by fusing the various urban and lower class music styles of its birthing environments into one cross-racial sound. And while music doesn’t need to tie to specific cultural or political intent to justify its existence, for certain sounds that were thrifted again and again by major label grifters, a fierce connection to those motivating pulses goes a long way to reanimating the corpse. It is precisely Chat Pile’s resolute political stances that make those musical dalliances into nu-metal feel sincere, not like put-ons chasing the high of recent genre revivals, and that sincerity bleeds through into the quality of the work itself.
Shockingly, the level of malice on Chat Pile’s debut LP is markedly lower than that of their EPs. Granted, when those releases have titles such as Remove Your Skin Please and This Dungeon Earth, it’s hard to retain that same level of primal, gory fury. This comes down in part to a similar level of transformation that eventually overtook The Killers much to that band’s benefit: a sharper focus on the reality of working class life in America. The band’s reliance on metal cliches (cool as they might be) largely seemed to come, as with all developing groups, with a sense of searching for the precise voice of their vision. God’s Country meanwhile feels like the Nebraska to their Born to Run, not so much musically but in terms of sharpening the portraiture to the closer shape of reality. The difference feels at times like the mood of listening to a fellow sludge group like Dragged Into Sunlight versus a group like Eyehategod. Both modes produce powerful work, but there’s something intensely scourging about work that more strikingly represents the despair of the real.
Perhaps the most exciting element of God’s Country is not just the fluidity and power the band is able to produce but also how they don’t feel even close to a spent creative unit. Their debut is, fittingly, both a consolidation of elements that worked on their EPs as well as dalliances in new territories, detours which work and excite. It’s easy to see this band growing over time to incorporate ever more musical concepts, both weirder and more avant-garde as well as more mainstream and accessible. Recent groups like Ithaca and Rolo Tomassi have shown the fertility of this mode of current punk-infused metal to take on mainstream and progressive elements without sacrificing the force of either and it’s not a wild statement to say Chat Pile presents a formidable and comparable sense of capacity. Surreal album closer “grimace_smoking_weed.jpg” points the way forward for this group. The three-year wait between the EP era and this debut produced a fitting reward.
Label: The Flenser
Langdon Hickman is listening to progressive rock and death metal. He currently resides in Virginia with his partner and their two pets.