Grindcore isn’t typically about the journey. There’s rarely enough runway to get off the ground, the most potent albums in grindcore maximizing both efficiency and intensity in increments of 90 seconds or less. That doesn’t mean you can’t, or shouldn’t, do more with it, but that baseline of bloodthirsty attack is mandatory for even its most artful savagery. Michigan’s Cloud Rat maintain this balance better than most, their body of work featuring few moments of respite (save for maybe their darkwave record) amid a constant onslaught of instrumental violence. Yet as songwriters, they’re anything but a meat-and-potatoes bunch recklessly bashing away—their razorblade raveups are always stunningly unpredictable, frequently ending up in musical territory that’s a great distance from where they began.
Cloud Rat’s 2019 album Pollinator proved to be a personal best from the group incorporating moments of post-punk melody and soaring climaxes amid their technically precise, virulently potent rippers. Its follow-up, the similarly explosive Threshold, maintains that unrelenting level of speed and aggression while offering a set of songs that never stop moving, both in terms of tempo and how frequently they embrace new musical ideas. Yet there’s a return to a seething rawness here that feels like a slight step back from accessibility into something that feels more ill-tempered and dangerous. Cloud Rat could always do a lot more than kick your ass, but here, the ass-kicking is as brutal as it’s ever been.
Threshold isn’t a back-to-basics album so much as a deeper focus on the more hostile and abrasive elements that comprise Cloud Rat’s sound, the band honing in on riffs that draw blood and rhythms that that fracture bone. The tempo shifts in opening track “Aluminum Branches” alone are a masterclass in proficient brutality, though in its most immediate moments, it’s a corker of a hardcore song as well. They go for the throat with power-chord punch on “Cusp,” breaking momentarily for a brief passage of abstract ambience, embrace a darker, Thou-like sludge-doom majesty on “12-22-09,” fire up the d-beats on “Imaging Order,” and invite some of their gothic influences back in on the majestic “Kaleidoscope.”
Yet even in the most visceral songs there often comes a moment of melodic glory, which occurs halfway through the highlight “Corset,” offering a moment of triumph amid well controlled chaos. It’s in these moments where Cloud Rat offer a contradiction to the idea of grindcore living only in the harrowing moment. These are still the sounds of aural antagonism and catharsis borne of open wounds, but they offer a glimpse beyond the immediate terror and into the pink and purple skies just over the horizon.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.