There’s something of a 21st-century riot grrl scene in grindcore and punk rock that’s been going on the past several years. Bands such as Appalachian Terror Unit and Fuck the Facts1 are fronted by women and typically feature feminist and intersectional whose ferociousness is complemented by the genre’s musical brutality. The trans community has formed a particularly vibrant niche in punk rock, with some high-profile artists include Marissa Matinez of Cretin and Laura Jane Grace of Against Me!, not to mention newcomers GLOSS, whose demo was featured by Stereogum2 and Punknews.org.3
Michigan grindcore group Cloud Rat has promoted female-empowerment and women’s rights since 2010. Blind River is a twelve-track, sixteen-minute compilation of various tracks released through splits and EPs from 2012 to 2014. The song structures are simple: rarely does the band play more than three or four chords per song,4 but Cloud Rat’s appeal isn’t in the instrumentation, it’s in Madison Marshall’s passionate, defiant lyrics that rail against the patriarchy and the social/political disenfranchisement of women.
There is a lot of destructive imagery in Blind River; it is not uncommon for trans and feminist punk/grindcore bands to use imagery of burning and cutting to metaphorically describe visceral feelings of dysmorphia, body-image issues, and confinement to social norms. Marshall contrasts this symbolism with sexuality, creating scenes of violent domination or submission. For example, “Skin Flowers” features the lyrics “looking at your entrails / I bite my tongue” as Marshall “sink[s] into the end of the couch. “Childcraft” has a subtler one but equally powerful juxtaposition in the line “I like pulling out your baby teeth,” with an audible pause between “out” and “your” that serves as a double entendre on child-bearing and coitus interruptus.5 Finally, the track “Keba” contains the lines “His body, a bone casket / Can you keep me company, Keba / Because I can’t sleep with knives anymore.”
As with many feminist rock bands, Cloud Rat features themes of identity, strangerhood, and frustration with the self. “Burning Doe” is most direct in this sense, as Marshall screams at the top of her lung “I’m so sick / So fucking sick of being human.” She inveighs against the virgin-whore complex in “A Stench of Sage,” proclaiming that she is “the mixed menace / … the half-bred whore.” Closing track “Astronomy” contains a line to which all may relate, especially Millennials: “Dealing / I’m always just dealing.” The effect of such personally engaging lyrics is a release at once wrathful and identifiable.
Despite her vociferous anger, Marshall allows a moment of simple yet strikingly moving moment of tenderness with a low-fidelity recording of a stanza of “Gloomy Sunday.” Also known as the Hungarian Suicide Song, the lyrics by poet László Jávor describe the protagonist driven to suicide out of despair for his or her lover’s death. It’s a curious addition to Blind River, but fits well in context of the album and demonstrates that, yes, feminism does have room for love – the ending notwithstanding. It’s a significant moment of softness within the context of Blind River.
Blind River is a captivating grindcore album that is perfect for first-time listeners to Cloud Rat before moving onto the challenging but equally rewarding full-length releases Qliphoth and Moksha, not to mention those interested in feminist and trans- punk.
1. Six Mile – (0:55) – ★★★★☆
2. Skin Flower – (1:35) – ★★★★★
3. Trial by Water – (0:05) – ★★★★☆
4. Childcraft – (2:43) – ★★★★★
5. Fingerprint v2 – (1:03) – ★★★★☆
6. Burning Doe – (2:05) – ★★★★☆
7. Parachute – (0:51) – ★★★☆☆
8. A Stench of Sage – (1:04) – ★★★★★
9. Gloomy Sunday – (0:43) – ★★★★☆
10. Keba – (1:38) – ★★★★☆
11. Moving Mouths – (1:01) – ★★★★★
12. Astronomy – (2:41) – ★★★☆☆
1I guess you could throw Agoraphobic Nosebleed in there, as Katherine Katz has been on vocals since 2007, but the band is still very much Scott Hull’s project.
2“G.L.O.S.S. – “G.L.O.S.S. (We’re from the Future)” – Stereogum,” Stereogum (SpinMedia), accessed 25 October 2015, http://www.stereogum.com/1786810/g-l-o-s-s-g-l-o-s-s-were-from-the-future/mp3s/
3“G.L.O.S.S. – Demo | Punknews.org,” Punknews.org, accessed 25 October 2015, http://www.punknews.org/review/13191/gloss-demo
4“Childcraft” is a notable exception, and a wonderful one at that.
5Pulling out does NOT count as proper birth control.