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Of the great American female-fronted intersectional powerviolence/grindcore surge of the 2010s only California’s Maladjusted, Iowa’s Closet Witch, and Michigan trio Cloud Rat have survived the purging of the subsequent soon-to-be decade. Internationally, German unit Svffer is still going strong and so is Riposte from Paris, France for that matter. In the nine years since explosive domestic - and international acts as Bastard Deceiver, Buried At Birth, Curmudgeon, Deathrats, Necklacing, Sacridose, Idiots Parade, and Rape Revenge all came to an end. In the four years since the superb "Qliphoth" Cloud Rat traveled the world playing shows, released a number of different splits, and later compiled them on the "Clipped Beaks // Silk Panic MMXVIII" double-album. With “Pollinator” Mount Pleasant’s most celebrated export returns in grand form in what is easily their most incendiary since 2013’s “Moksha”. The "Do Not Let Me off the Cliff" companion EP was released simultaneously, compiling all of the more eclectic material written and recorded during the “Pollinator” sessions.

Not a lot has changed in the Cloud Rat camp since they started out in 2009. Stability is what has allowed Cloud Rat to become the force of nature they are today. The only significant change is co-founder/drummer Adrian Lee Manges bading his farewell after "Qliphoth". The then-quartet was reduced back to its original trio format with electronics man Brandon Hill switching to drums. In recent years the trio have taken to recording with J.C. Griffin at Lakebottom Recording House in Toledo, Ohio. In the past they’ve worked with Brian Uhl, Fernando Pena, and Jonia Whitney for artworks, but more recently they’ve taken a liking to the drawings of Renata Rojo. What hasn’t changed (and probably never will) is that Cloud Rat understands the simple principle that “less is more”. Their recordings are utilitarian and minimalist. Not in the sense that they are underproduced, but that they are plain, honest representations of their sound. Overproduction is the bane of underground metal, especially in grindcore/powerviolence.

“Pollinator” very much dispenses with any and all pleasantries and cuts straight to the chase. Cloud Rat hasn’t been able to survive this long and remain this prolific for no reason. Their self-titled debut from 2011 was legendary in underground circles. Infamous even, if you will. In the tradition of the best Napalm Death and Nasum records it fired off 11 songs in 18 very short minutes. Every pressing ever sold out in record time. After two records of straight-up grindcore Cloud Rat stretched their legs and experimented a bit on "Qliphoth". Grungy guitars, ambient electronics, post-metal melodies, and a more pronounced hardcore-punk bend have been part of the Cloud Rat arsenal arguably since “Moksha”. "Qliphoth" built thereupon but never betrayed the band’s primal grind/hardcore past. Madison and her men will probably never pen something as misguided as “Fear, Emptiness, Despair”, “Darker Days Ahead”, or “Head Cage”. Which won’t stop them from throwing in a bit of experimentation, mostly by covering the unexpected non-genre song here and there. “Moksha” had the Neil Young cover ‘The Needle and the Damage Done’, “Clipped Beaks” had ‘Fish In A Pool’ from Electric Deads, and Cloud Rat takes on the popular evergreen ‘Al Di Là’ as sung by crooners Emilio Pericoli, Betty Curtis, Jerry Vale, Sergio Franchi, and Al Martino here. The only somewhat experimental cut is ‘Luminiscent Cellar’ that starts out as a dreamy shoegaze song before turning into a black as pitch semi-sludgy droning doom cut that could have come from Burning Witch. ‘Perla’ is a truly phenomenal closer to a record that recombines everything of past albums.

Speak of intense. After a decade in the studio and on the road Madison Marshall still sounds as fiendishly pissed off as ever. What a voice and range this woman has. If we were to compare Marshall to anybody it would be J.R. Hayes from Pig Destroyer, late Nasum frontman Mieszko Talarczyk, and Benümb’s Pete Ponitkoff. Madison combines the thousand voices of Hayes with the intensity of Talarczyk, and the percussive guttural delivery of Ponitkoff. Which was pretty much anything and everything she did on the first two records. That never stopped her from integrating spoken word as far back as the 2011 self-titled. From “Moksha” onward, and on "Qliphoth" in particular, Marshall really came into her own and impressed thoroughly. It almost makes you hope she’d invite Veronica Mars (Buried At Birth), Christine Cunniff (Deathrats), Jaydee Perales (Sacridose), Petra from Idiots Parade, or the Closet Witch herself, Mollie Piatetsky, to provide some growls and screams on whatever they commit to tape in the next few years. Madison is on fire on this album, and a decade hasn’t dulled her in the slightest. She sounds absolutely friggin’ livid. Can you really blame her? Stupid White Men are pillaging the nation. America has become a backwards banana republic and the laughingstock of the civilised world. She has every right to be freaking indignant.

In 2009 Cloud Rat was just another newcomer in a counterculture scene bursting at the seams with young talent. Today the Michiganders are experienced veterans and an institution in their own right. They are slightly more poetic, sophisticated in ways that many of their peers are not; but above all else, they put their money exactly where their mouth is. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and in times of rampant anti-intellectualism, the cult of 45, the erosion of civil rights, and deliberate ignorance and increased backwardness borne from religious fervor and imagined persecution a band like Cloud Rat is needed now more than ever. In these dark Orwellian times where Nineteen Eighty-Four is no longer a work of fiction but our shared reality; when terms as “post-truth” and “alternative facts” are used unironically by elected officials with such alarming frequency that they’ve become commonplace. Facism has reared its ugly face in your favorite colors red, white, and blue; and it carries a Bible in one hand, and a gun in the other. Promises to “drain the swamp” have become an open invitation to join the scalping. Charlatans, grifters, con men, and swindlers man just about every position of power. The One-Percenters are rewriting legislation on the books. As Queensrÿche asked in 1988, “who can you trust when everybody’s a crook?



The first Fear Factory album stands in stark contrast to the rest of its catalog. Mostly sounding as a groovier inclined version of Napalm Death circa “Utopia Banished” and “Harmony Corruption”, it is catchy and aggressive in equal measure. The dichotomy between extremity and mainstream accessibility is already present here. Yet on “Soul Of A New Machine” the rough edges are still present making it very different from the band’s later groove metal material. That Fear Factory was a one-trick pony is abundantly clear from the onset, although arguably this record is one of its more diverse offerings. That it is often ignored for its more readily accessible material only makes it more interesting, even though the record is horribly paced, and confused sounding.

Fear Factory was founded in 1989 in Los Angeles, California by Mexican transplant Dino Cazares (rhythm guitars) and noted video game fanatic Raymond Herrera (drums). The early version of the band was rounded by a trio of forgotten bassists, of which only Andrew Shives made it onto the production credits of the band’s debut, and frontman Burton C. Bell. Initially the band went under the more death metal sounding moniker Ulceration before switching to Fear the Factory, and not much later the abbreviated (and more memorable) Fear Factory in 1990. After an unsatisfactory demo recording session at Blackie Lawless’ Fort Apache Studio in Hollywood, California with producer Ross Robinson, the band relocated to a different studio with Colin Richardson overseeing the mix. Instrumental in getting the band its new record deal after Ross Robinson won the court case against his former clients was Brazilian national Max Cavalera (from South American genre hopefuls Sepultura), who brokered a contract for the band with Roadrunner Records, a label imprint that at this point was fully supporting the international death metal movement, only to acrimoniously abandon it a decade later.


Even at its heaviest Fear Factory was a decidedly hook oriented outfit, which wasn’t uncommon for the style itself but lend itself for cross-genre appeal. It seems that for every heavy or blast section there’s a sugary clean section, or a stomping groove part. The duality between extremity and accessibility is what reduces the middle section of the record to a test of patience. The first three songs (and ‘Scumgrief’ a bit later) are exceptional in the way they combine clean vocal hooks with bludgeoning death metal. Even though Fear Factory was obviously commercially inclined with its thick grooves and (sometimes contrived) clean-harsh vocal dichotomy the band’s sound is only partially formed on its debut. The repetitive riffing, and mechanical rhythm sections are in place, but Dino Cazares’ staccato, rhythm-only playing is still shrouded in early UK/US death metal stylings and techniques. The album is notably bass-heavier than anything that would succeed it. The bass guitar has that thick, murky sound one associates with Napalm Death circa “Utopia Banished” and “Harmony Corruption”. The bass guitar itself is also integral to many of the songs as in various spots it gets a solo break, or two.

fear-factory1It is not until ‘Scumgrief’, and the instrumental percussion track ‘Natividad’, which was dedicated to the memory of Cazares’ mother, that the record picks up pace again. “Soul Of A New Machine” continues with a number of meddling, directionless and confused sounding cuts until at long last arriving at the final third of the tracklist. The last third of the album is the most conventionally death metal sounding, and the least adventurous in terms of composition. Deriving most of its sound from Napalm Death these cuts operate at a breakneck pace, and spent little time on nuance and subtlety. It is the kind of consistency that the rest of the record lacks. Had the entire middle half been left on the studiofloor, and recombined with the earlier mentioned four signature tracks (along with the instrumental interlude) of the record’s first third, it would have been far more concise and memorable in the long run. Now the album is just long with no payoff.

The album is supposedly a loosely conceptual record about man’s creation of a machine that either could be technological, or governmental. The lyrics haven’t yet zoned in on and fleshed out the man vs machine concept that would come to define the band’s prime era material, although the rough outlines are already accounted for. There are variety of subjects tackled on this album including personal relationships (‘Martyr’, ‘Leechmaster’, ‘Scumgrief’), introspection (‘W.O.E.’), animal lab testings (‘Crash Test’), socio-political dismay (‘Arise Above Oppression’, ‘Escape Confusion’, ‘Manipulation’), global conflict (‘Crisis’), faults of the criminal justice system (‘Scapegoat’, ‘Flesh Hold’) and religious hypocrisy (‘Lifeblind’, ‘Big God/Raped Souls’, ‘Self Immolation’). The industrial component of the band’s sound comes mostly from the mechanical rhythms, and the usage of samples (including “Full Metal Jacket”, “Blade Runner” and “Apocalypse Now”) along with the sparse use of studio effects. Much of it reads like a work-in-progress.

Burton C. Bell’s hoarse grunt is a commendable Mark ‘Barney’ Greenway approximation, but his clean vocals are terrible at best – even though the combination of both was novel at the time, and would later be famously adopted by Robb Flynn (Machine Head) and the metalcore scene at large. Being the last of its kind Bell would trade in his grunt for a harsh shout, and he would increasingly put more focus on the clean vocal hooks that first surfaced here. In totality this is Fear Factory’s most aggressive, and heavy release – and it is the culmination of its first phase after the aborted “Concrete” sessions of which the majority of material (albeit rewritten) is lifted. The core trio is in its designated place, yet the bass guitarist slot had yet to be permanently manned. Due to this rhythm guitarist Dino Cazares played bass guitar during the recording, despite Andrew Shives being credited as bass guitarist in the production notes. Andrew Shives was a glorified live member at best, as he doesn’t appear to have had any significant input in the writing of any of these songs, all of which were written by the Cazares-Herrera axis.

“Soul Of A New Machine” was recorded at Grand Master in Hollywood, California with producer Colin Richardson manning the console. It is a rather typical production for the time with thick, crunchy guitars, murky reverb-laden bass guitar tones and an earthy drum production that squarely focuses on bottom-end heaviness. For its debut the band worked with graphic designer Karl Kotas. “Soul Of A New Machine” is dedicated to the memory of Dino Cazares’ parents. In totality “Soul Of A New Machine” is a worthwhile effort for a young band still finding its sound and identity. It certainly isn’t the best of its kind (Napalm Death just did this sound earlier, and well, better), and it is a pity the band didn’t explore this direction on future output. Given some trimming, and more focus Fear Factory could have been an interesting death metal band. Afterwards the band would opt for a direction change while keeping its base elements in place. At least Fear Factory would be able to write its signature album, and a worthy follow-up. Its career path afterward is somewhat bumpy due to industry pressure, interpersonal conflicts and the want to recapture a thing that wasn’t exactly stellar to begin with.