Album Review: Chat Pile, ‘God’s Country’

“It’s the sound of your world collapsing,” Raygun Busch repeats on the mid-paced ‘Anywhere’, somehow one of the few moments on God’s Country where his voice doesn’t sound incurably unhinged. Dumped right in the middle of all the filth that plagues the debut album from Oklahoma sludge metal trio Chat Pile, it’s a refrain that has no right being this catchy but that offers absolutely no reprieve from the unrelenting chaos the band has built their name on, using its hypnotic power only to drag you back in. This shit is toxic and terrifying and blood-curdlingly good – so raw in its intensity that the words can feel like a threat to the listener rather than a typically brutal depiction of murder. If you didn’t feel compelled to reject the album after the first shriek on opener ‘Slaughterhouse’, by this point your chances of getting out are pretty low.

But such is the scope of Chat Pile’s diatribe that you could easily replace “your world” with “the world.” It would also be in line with the band’s creative ambition, which bassist Stin has said is “to capture the anxiety and fear of seeing the world fall apart.” The sight of it, certainly, but also “the fuckin sound, man.” As much as Chat Pile have understandably earned comparisons to bands like the Jesus Lizard, Eyehategod, and even Korn, no one conjures this mental hellscape quite like them, thanks in large part to the grotesque dynamism of Busch’s vocals. There is a clarity and realism to their approach that renders it mercilessly human, far from the doomful, recycled visions of apocalyptic dystopia that pervade the genre. Take one of the songs I’ve quoted out of context, ‘Slaughterhouse’. While most heavy bands would reduce the immeasurable suffering that occurs in industrialized meat production to a cheap metaphor, Chat Pile are so tormented by the horrors we inflict on other beings that it becomes the song’s central, inescapable image: “The sad eyes, goddamnit/ And the screaming.”

In a twisted way, the simplicity of both the language and the messaging has the effect of amplifying its impact. As sickeningly direct as Busch’s delivery is – propelled by guitarist Luther Manhole’s pulverizing guitars and the poisoned, mechanical rot of Stin and Captain Ron’s rhythm section – it is also uniquely evocative. Plenty of noise acts have learned to sound like they’re playing in an abandoned factory; few portray what’s happening inside it with such ruthless precision. Yet it’s often because of what they leave out of the frame that the songs are so hideously unforgettable. The hopeless atmosphere of ‘Pamela’ is mirrored in its molten melodies, but it’s the ambiguous details of the story that make it so eerie, particularly since Busch’s spoken word delivery is so intimate you couldn’t tune it out if you tried. Musically, too, Chat Pile showcase remarkable restraint, taking the time to suck in all the toxicity that piles up. It’s no surprise the most devastating track on the album is the one in which Busch confesses to “think[ing] about killing you every day” over the crackling sound of fire.

As early as ‘Slaughterhouse’, Busch grounds his theatrical performance with a rare vulnerability that makes the demented perspectives he later embodies all the more harrowing. Not only have Chat Pile managed to refine the qualities that made them stand out on their two EPs, but also effectively utilize the space afforded by a full-length. It’s impossible not to align with Busch’s outlook when he cries out in despair on the first track, and then, addressing the epidemic of houselessness, on ‘Why’: “Why do people have to live outside?” The narrator is all too aware of the heartless exploitation of life that persists under capitalism, eliciting “a kind of rage you just never get used to.” And the more it fills him – the more he turns himself into the villain – the more difficult it is to separate the depravity of his behavior from the corrupt systems that facilitated it. “You weren’t supposed to see this,” Busch howls on the nightmarish nine-minute closing track, ‘grimace_smoking_weed.jpeg’, which could apply to any one of the abominable tragedies that unfold in God’s Country. “But here it is.” It’s too late now to turn a blind eye.