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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?

Plot: martial artists from all over the world compete in tournament on remote island

There are two kinds of American martial arts movies. Those that came before The Matrix (1999) and those that came after. The former are brutish slogs where the fights more resemble brawls with sluggish choreography and no sense of rhythm and pacing. Often times the fights in these movies tend to be heavily cut and edited because the actors in question have no formal background in martial arts. Even when the performers had a background in the arts (such as Jean-Claude Van Damme, Steven Seagal, or Olivier Gruner) western martial arts movies tend to be rather slow relying far more on blunt power than on technical expertise. The latter more Asian inclined variants are far more elegant, acrobatic, and fast-moving with professional combatants engaging in elaborate hand-to-hand and weapon-based action routines. DOA: Dead Or Alive thankfully leans more towards the Asian variant and is about as ridiculous as it is entertaining.

DOA: Dead Or Alive (hereafter DOA) has something of a bad rep. Undeservedly as far as we’re concerned. As a western, English-language martial arts movie there are far worse offenders. DOA takes the Mortal Kombat (1995) template and adds a healthy dose of Hong Kong action choreography and wire-fu to spice things up. DOA is what Street Fighter (1994) should have been. DOA was produced by Paul W.S. Anderson on an estimated budget of $21 million with Corey Yuen directing and Devon Aoki, Jaime Pressly, Holly Valance, Natassia Malthe, and Sarah Carter starring. Perhaps Anderson was hoping to capture lightning a second time the way he did with his Mortal Kombat (1995) some eleven years earlier. Unfortunately DOA made only around $7.5 million - just over a third of its budget - at the box office; and all intended sequels in the new franchise were summarily scrapped. It wouldn’t be until Tekken (2010) before another fighting game came to the big screen. Alas, Rare/Midway’s cartoonishly over-the-top Killer Instinct from 1994 remains without a much-overdue Hollywood treatment for reasons unknown.

Based on the Japanese video game series created by Tomonobu Itagaki for Tecmo DOA is a more or less faithful recreation of the plot from 1999’s Dead Or Alive 2. It features all the beloved characters in their signature costumes and as a bonus of sorts there’s an extended segment dedicated to its legendary 2003 spinoff Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball for good measure. There couldn’t be anything more typically Japanese than Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball where the player plays and interacts with giggling babes with oversized oppai in miniscule candy-colored bikinis. It’s fanservice taken to the ultimate extreme. It’s a thing that could only come from Japan where the near-transactional adoration and adulation of prepubescent - and adolescent girls as Idols (gravure and otherwise) has spawned a booming and very lucrative (multi-billion yen annually) otaku industry. DOA has the babes, the pastel-colored bikinis, and the volleyball. The oppai on the other hand are rather modest. In fact DOA barely scratches the surface on that end. Otherwise it is a fun martial arts romp with some lovably zany production design.

Four martial artists from different walks of life are invited to partake in a clandestine 4-day tournament somewhere in Asia. Princess Kasumi (Devon Aoki) is a kunoichi that leaves her colony to look for her brother Hayate (Collin Chou Siu-Lung). Following her are Ryu Hayabusa (Kane Kosugi) and her half-sister Ayane (Natassia Malthe), the former as her security detail and the latter on a mission to kill the Princess for disgracing her clan. Tina Armstrong (Jaime Pressly) - whose wardrobe seems to exclusively consist of a Union Jack bikini and a very short pair of blue jeans – sees it as a springboard to prove her legitimacy as a fighter and that she’s not the phony she’s often accused of being. Tagging along is her father Bass Armstrong (Kevin Nash). Christie Allen (Holly Valance) is a British master thief and assassin who not only has her eye on the $10 million price money but also on an alleged treasure hidden somewhere on the island. Along with her partner Maximillian Marsh (Matthew Marsden) the two accept the invitation. Lastly, Helena Douglas (Sarah Carter) is the daughter of the original DOA tournament organiser and the object of affection of DOA tech head Weatherby (Steve Howey). Douglas is distrustful of Dr. Victor Donovan (Eric Roberts) who now runs DOA.

The two American name-stars of DOA are Devon Aoki and Jaime Pressly. Aoki started as a model in music videos from Duran Duran, Primal Scream, Ludacris and Genuwine. Naturally that led Devon to an acting career with semi-memorable turns in 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003), D.E.B.S. (2004) and Sin City (2005). Jaime Pressly also started as a model but soon carved out a career in low-brow comedies, thrillers, and the occassional horror with Poison Ivy: The New Seduction (1997), Can't Hardly Wait (1998), Not Another Teen Movie (2001), and Demon Island (2002). Less known but not any less popular was Australian actress Holly Valance who began her career in the soap opera Neighbours (from whence Kylie Minogue, Jason Donovan, and Natalie Imbruglia came) but didn’t flirt with the mainstream until the new millennium. In 2002 she released the hit single ‘Kiss Kiss’, an English reworking of the 1997 original Tarkan hit single ‘Şımarık’, from her debut album “Footprints”. As far as millennial dance-pop went Valance was a rival for the likes of Rachel Stevens and Gabriella Cilmi.

Compared to her peers Canadian television actress Sarah Carter was a relative nobody with only a supporting part in Final Destination 2 (2003) to her name. Natassia Malthe (one of the many victims of predatory producer Harvey Weinstein) was in Disturbing Behavior (1998), Halloween: Resurrection (2002), Elektra (2005) and via BloodRayne II: Deliverance (2007), Alone in the Dark II (2008) and BloodRayne: The Third Reich (2011) now seems to dwell permanently in direct-to-video, low budget hell. Collin Chou Siu-Lung is primarily known in the Western hemisphere for his roles as Seraph in The Matrix Reloaded (2003) and The Matrix Revolutions (2003) as well as the Jade Warlord in The Forbidden Kingdom (2008). Around these parts he's remembered for the Mainland China action romps Angel Warriors (2013) and Ameera (2014) from the Film Bureau. Eric Roberts, of course, is the old school professional who has been acting since 1964. DOA was shortly before his career revival with Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight (2008) and Sylvester Stallone’s all-star 80s action throwback The Expendables (2010).

There was more than enough fanservice in terms of costumes in the Dead Or Alive series and even moreso in its Xtreme Beach Volleyball parallel franchise. DOA takes its sweet time relishing in all the beautiful women that frequently populate the screen. It’s the kind of fanservice that's never exploitative. The two most obvious instances are the introduction of the four leads and the friendly volleyball match in the second act. Where else are you going to see Holly Valance in nothing but a towel laying waste to some faceless goons before putting her lingerie back on? The original scene had Valance topless when she came out of the shower and fully nude during the actual fight. To secure a PG-13 rating the scene was censored in post-production. Then there’s Jaime Pressly in a tiny bikini meting out punishment to a group of pirates while adrift at sea, the pirate leader who is none other than Robin Shou from Mortal Kombat (1995). The beach volleyball segment contains enough ass – and chest shots to satiate anybody’s cravings while the actual bouncing is fairly minimal. As much as Xtreme Beach Volleyball revolutionized jiggle physics those hoping to see Chinese belles as Zhu Ke Er, Yang Ke, Mavis Pan Shuang-Shuang, Liu Zhimin, Daniella Wang Li Danni, Miki Zhang Yi-Gui, and Pan Chun Chun, or one of their 2006 equivalents, among the volleyball playing extras will be sorely disappointed. None such thing will be forthcoming.

The action direction and choreography from Guo Jian-Yong puts DOA leagues above Street Fighter (1994) and Mortal Kombat (1995). The various duels are hard-hitting, energetic and fast-paced with shorter or longer routines and wire-fu that capitalize maximally on the girls’ elegance and athleticism. Of course it would be folly to expect from Aoki, Pressly, Valance and Carter to match themselves with Angela Mao, Michelle Yeoh, Moon Lee, or Cynthia Khan. Director Corey Yuen was a veteran from the Peking Opera School and one of the members of The Seven Little Fortunes that also included Sammo Hung Kam-Bo, Jackie Chan, and Yuen Biao. Yuen was in the Tsui Hark fantasy wuxia Zu: The Warriors from the Magic Mountain (1983) and made a name for himself in North America through his films with Jet Li. He might not be as well-known in the western hemisphere as Yuen Woo-ping and Ching Siu-tung. Yuen Woo-ping will forever be associated with the Wachowski’s cyberpunk action classic The Matrix (1999) and Ching Siu-tung for his work on A Chinese Ghost Story (1987), Hero (2002), House of Flying Daggers (2004), as well as the Hindi superhero masalas Krrish (2006), and Krrish 3 (2013).

DOA is a guilty pleasure of the purest sort. It’s not the kind of movie you watch for the story in the first place. Holly Valance looks great in lingerie and in a bikini. Devon Aoaki can’t really act and Jaime Pressly is about the worst American stereotype imagineable. Sarah Carter looks really adorable and Eric Roberts visibly enjoys himself chewing scenery while surrounded by beautiful women. The orange-pink-purple production design is a feast to behold and that DOA occassionally mimics its videogame counterpart makes it all the more fun. That’s perhaps DOA’s greatest forté, it never takes itself too seriously. DOA knows that it’s rank pulp and what little plot there was is mere pretext to showcase the four leads in their signature costumes. As far as we’re concerned DOA is the StarCrash (1978) of Hollywood martial arts movies. DOA is all about fun and as a martial arts exercise it’s better than it has any reason to be. DOA’s bad rep is not unfounded but that doesn’t make it any less of an entertaining action romp for a lazy afternoon.