Hardcore will never die, but you will. Through four decades of angst and anarchy, surviving one regressive regime after another and various costume changes—from basketball jerseys to fetish wear—hardcore has maintained a constant presence as the de facto outlet for those in need of an aggressive outlet for disillusion and disenfranchisement. It can be conceptual and cerebral, personal and introspective, and never stops evolving. But as long as young people—and not-so-young people—are in need of some explosive catharsis, hardcore will thrive.
Michigan’s Cloud Rat are a spectacular case in point. Since the release of their 2010 self-titled debut, they’ve carved a niche for themselves by finding the mark where grindcore and crust-punk intersect. Their speed is relentless, their technical skill undeniable, but at their core is a central focus on dark melodicism and a poetic kind of social consciousness. They’re a political band, though in the way that a band like former tourmates Thou are a political band—their blistering anthems vessels for self-examination and working through conflict rather than declaring a victor.
On fourth album Pollinator, Cloud Rat offer a complementary sampling of some of their most visceral and most nuanced material alike. To say such a thing might sound contradictory, even oxymoronic in light of an opener like “Losing Weight,” which makes its presence known like a Louisville Slugger right to the jaw. Yet it takes only a few minutes before the subtler pieces of the band’s intricate musical framework come into focus. In the dissonant and dark opening to “Night Song,” the band slacken their pace to let the harrowing atmosphere linger just long enough for the eventual grind eruption to catch the listener off guard. And “Wonder” is triumphant in its gothic gallop, drawing as much from the best of contemporary black metal as it is from hardcore.
Pollinator is an album that excites and invigorates, but it’s often a harrowing experience while doing so. The band are far from rote in their interpretation of grindcore, instead offering various opportunities to subvert ideas of formula or genre trope. Yet the overall experience is intense both sonically and emotionally. Vocalist Madison Marshall’s lyrics are about “traumas and memories, relationships and communication problems, as well as the brutality of our society and the world in general,” according to a statement from guitarist Rorik Brooks, and the venom that drips from her pen is both lethal and poignant. The stunning arpeggios that open “Webspinner” underscore an abstract and seething indictment of predatory behavior: “You see only me: Obsession in a burning fire/ Make a wife/ Sick fuck.” The circle-pit churn of “Seven Heads” similarly finds revenge against the violence behind the male gaze: “His stare says it’s obsession, friendship perverted over and over again…Sisters puncture the replica doll, to save me from the tannin.”
While Pollinator is certainly not meant to be an easy listen, either in terms of its abrasive sound or its reflections of a truly fucked-up society, it is a rewarding one. And the arc of the album is such that it curves more directly toward accessibility and immediacy toward the end. “Webspinner” is the opening of a sequence of four of the album’s strongest and most melodic tracks, all lined up to carry it out on as high a note as possible, through the atmospheric doom of “Luminescent Cellar,” the post-hardcore shimmer of “Marionettes” and the punk rock dynamism of “Perla.” As much pain as this album both harbors and returns, it’s a bracing and necessary listen, and a high-water mark for an already great year for hardcore.