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Chat Pile – God’s Country Review

Chat Pile – God’s Country Review

Hopelessness is both a universal and a local phenomenon. It is always the same handful of pressures that cause it; resource inaccessibility, environmental/health factors, power held by the unscrupulous, etc., but each place has its own particular aesthetic of hopelessness. Discouragement in, say, Guangzhou, China will look, sound, and feel different than it does in the American Midwest. Sludge/Noise band Chat Arrow calling their debut album God’s country “Oklahoma’s specific brand of misery,” and their name actually comes from the piles of toxic waste left over from an unregulated lead and zinc mining industry that poisoned cities in the Sooner State. I’m not from Oklahoma, but I’m from another fly-over state that is in both the Great Plains and the Bible Belt, so I’m very familiar with the kind of “farm, faith and family” cultural predominance that God’s country stands in stark contrast. Chat Arrow first came to my attention through random Bandcamp scrolling in 2019, when their two EPs This Dungeon Earth and Remove your skin became my favorite card players that year. So what does Central American misery sound like in 2022?

In a word, terrifying. Chat Arrow play strong, choppy noise rock with heavy sludge and occasional death metal influences. Leading the subdued grime is vocalist Raygun Busch, whose spoken-word chants, unbound screams and mental crisis ramblings spit a dystopian reality back in the face of an idealized America. The heaviest moments go towards the sludge domain, as on “Slaughterhouse” and the groove-heavy first half of “grimace_smoking_weed.jpg”, but sharp-elbowed noise rock blasters like “The Mask” pack the most intensity. Speaking of intensity, even in the album’s more subdued cuts like “Pamela” and “I Don’t Care If I Burn” Chat Arrow maintain insanely high tension levels by virtue of the bleak subject matter and the edge of instability constantly present in Busch’s voice. Elsewhere, there’s a sort of early 90s alt-rock/grunge aesthetic, particularly in “Anywhere”, which works to ground the more alienating aspects into something more relatable.

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I’m not one to usually care what metal bands write their songs about. You can only hear “this one’s about a guy with inner demons who goes crazy” or “this one’s about human sacrifice” so many times without rolling your eyes so hard you can see your own brain. Chat Arrow also write about violence, pain and the uglier parts of life, but they do so from a specific perspective rooted in place and time. Ever since “Rainbow Meat” on their first EP, a song about being served between sesame buns at Arby’s after one’s death, the band has had a particular interest in meat as a signifier. Being from American cattle country where the nation’s beef is raised and processed and where vegetarianism is seen as a mental illness, this makes perfect sense. God’s country Opener and first single “Slaughterhouse” is practically Upton Sinclairs The jungle in sonic nightmare form. Busch takes us straight to the killing floor and screams “HAMMER AND GREASE!” over and over, telling us “Everybody’s head is ringing here” and lamenting “… the sad eyes, damn it, and the screaming. There’s more screaming than you think.” Meanwhile, “The Mask” turns violence against people as it tells the story of a 1978 mass shooting at a Sirloin Stockade restaurant in Oklahoma City. Taking the killer’s perspective, Busch commands, “Set up the animals!” in the walk-in freezer, where six people were murdered. The way he growls “Sirloin Stockade” ups the unsettling factor from behind as he shouts “Send my body to Arby’s” with such gusto.

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Spiral instability and repetition play a major role in the thematic and auditory landscapes Chat Arrow build throughout God’s country. Second track “Why” literally refuses to stop asking why people have to be homeless in the richest country on earth. I’ll admit it’s a probably polarizing track for its young kid simplicity and earnestness on an otherwise deeply cynical album. It’s not my favorite, but when Busch dementedly screams, “I’ve never had to push a shopping cart around, have you? Have you ever had ringworm? Scabies?” it certainly affects. Even more engrossing is the nine-minute closer “grimace_smoking_weed.jpg.” It sounds like a wasted song title by a bunch of silly dudes in a college dorm, but as Busch tries to banish the hallucinatory “purple man” from his room, he goes into crisis and threatens self-harm as monstrously heavy slam riffs unravel. him. I read in an interview that the McDonald’s mascot is a stand-in for America, a sort of anti-Uncle Sam. Again, this can get a bit on the nose, but it is difficult to argue with in the sense of late capitalism.

Chat Arrow have said “More than anything, we’re trying to capture the anxiety and fear of watching the world fall apart,” but they do so without separating it from their own corner of the world. Just look at their cover. The brown, nondescript building is a massive federal prison located in the middle of Oklahoma City, notorious for its subhuman conditions and high inmate population. Through God’s country, they manage to access the universal through the small door of the specific, a sign of artistic maturity. It’s an outrageous statement of despair, but one I can’t stop listening to. OOTY Contender.

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Rating: 4.0/5.0
DR: 8 | Format considered: 320 kbps mp3
Label: The flanger
Websites: chatpile.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/chatpileband
Releases worldwide: 29 July 2022

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