Cleric is a band that once inspired a journalist to compare their sound to the sensory overload of a David Lynch film. It's fitting since the Philadelphia-based outfit's music incorporates everything from metal to jazz to post-rock, and really, everything and anything that exists within those genre parameters. Formed in 2003, Cleric's latest album, Retrocasual, finds the quartet delivering the anarchic aural mayhem they're known for, but there's a focus to the material that keeps you engaged throughout it all, not something other bands within Cleric's stylistic wheelhouse can say the same about.
As you can hear above, Cleric clearly have some offbeat musical influences, so it's only fitting that they sent No Echo a list of their Top 5 Musical Mindfucks.
Fantômas, "Page 1" from Book 1
There is no shortage of insanity on any of the Fantômas records, but so much of it is so loud and overt that it becomes par for the lunatic course. This section 13 seconds into their first record, though, is a special kind of fuckery, the kind that holds no regard for the listener’s comfort with or enjoyment of the music. The song picks up with Patton doing typically bizarre Pattonesque vocalization over distorted bass accents before quickly hitting a wall of when the drums and guitar enter. However, what sounds like a classic “we’re about to start the song now” entrance for the band dissipates into nearly a minute of cymbals. There’s a point in the middle when it already feels significantly too long, and then there’s thirty more seconds before a guitar seems to tune in from the distance and the riff you probably expected at about 0:28 actually starts. Of course, nothing that follows this absolutely insane and discomfiting introduction can be considered normal or expected, but the cymbals reign supreme.
The Impossible Solo:
I strikes me as the last time Meshuggah really went out of their way to make the most challenging and abusive metal in existence. They’ve done tons of cool shit since, but this record, partially due to it being their first (I think?) prolonged attempt at building around the drum machine, is just abusively and punishingly heavy and inconsiderate, and contains many of their most insane moments on record. One such moment hits at around the 6-minute mark and is perfectly positioned to completely annihilate the listener. After a very Meshuggah groove section that shifts from soaring guitar lead to classic rhythmic vocal assault, they return to a variation of the opening riff with added breaks and continue it with vocals in what seems like a continuation of the vibe set by the previous section. Then, at 5:40, after the riff seems to have settled in with the vocals another break hits and we’re launched into a guitar solo that feels like it’s traveling at eight thousand miles an hour. The drums accelerate by about a million percent and the shredding is just a completely consistent series of 32nd notes with no aberration in rhythm short of where the accents in the seemingly random note patterns line up. Totally impossible.
Monster on the Shelf in the Room:
Infidel?/Castro!, "Bedsores (For G.W.B)" from Bioentropic Damage Fractal: Cancer: Decay
Infidel?/Castro! is the kind of band that most people (its members included) would probably write off as being kind of a ridiculous joke. The truth, however, is that they’re the purveyors of some of the most brilliant and unrelentingly mind-warping music on the planet, and maybe the single biggest influence on the Cleric brand of confusion. In short, nearly every second of their catalog could be included on this list (and I considered it), but the way they open Disc 2 of the non-stop lucid nightmare that is Bioentropic Damage Fractal perfectly encapsulates why they’re so great. The track seems to appear from the cosmos by way of a tiny alien synth crescendo, then immediately hits you with a breathy all-encompassing growl in short bursts. In headphones especially, the sound fills the entire space as if there’s no room for anything else. But four breaths in a small wooden sound cuts in during the silence and your entire perspective is destroyed. They take the entire experience from “hey that sound is pretty thick” to “holy shit, I’m literally tiptoeing past a fucking spacebeast and these god damn floorboards WON’T STOP CREAKING, I’M GONNA FUCKING DIE!” The section crescendoes to what sounds like that inevitable death in the form of a sustained collage of terror sounds with the initial roar at its center, and then the track is over. It’s so small, but sometimes that’s the best kind of trick, because it puts the audience in a place where they don’t feel comfortable thinking they have any idea what’s going to happen at any time. It’s gold, Jerry.
Carcass, "Blind Bleeding the Blind" from Heartwork
The high-quality of Carcass' seminal album Heartwork is well-documented. Simply put, It's one of the most "musical" examples in the entire metal genre- somehow managing catchy, sing-able guitar melodies devoid of cheese, backed up by one of the tightest, chuggiest, heaviest rhythm sections of the era. The album is incredibly satisfying- already an A+. It didn't need to do this... so why on earth, during the later cut "Blind Bleeding the Blind," did they decide to break into a lone measure of brain-twisting avant-skronk just before before the last chorus? This moment lasts literally two seconds (4:18-4:20), bears no resemblance to the rest of the album, and succeeds in giving the listener the feeling that they've just broken through something- and indeed, Carcass does breaks through. The moment shines against all the context of an earlier thirty full minutes of pure satisfaction; and the preceding thirty minutes of thrash (to say nothing of the final two cuts that follow "Bleeding") are most definitely made far stronger by way of this broken fourth wall. This moment says: Whether we satisfy or stupefy, we don't have to be here- But we choose to be.
Change the Channel:
Secret Chiefs 3, "On the Wings of the Haoma" from Book of Horizons
This entire track could easily qualify as a mindfuck moment, alongside the full output of The Electromagnetic Azoth, one of the many internal sub-bands of mastermind Trey Spruance and Secret Chiefs 3. His ability to fully realize entire genres and atmospheres in seconds-long bursts is beyond any other, and that skill is on display to the highest degree for about a minute between 1:13 and 2:33 of this one. After a disorientingly rhythmic percussion-driven adventure over the course of the first minute, the chaotic layers empty out into what, if you didn’t know better, could be the beginning of a significantly more accessible piece of music, a soundtracky guitar line over a bed of drones with simple accents that cycles just short of enough times to feel complete, then vanishes and gives way to a momentary symphonic swell, all but swallowing a remnant of the previous section’s hand drum rhythms. Before you have half a second to process this delirious outburst, you’re transported to the exterior of some Eastern European church-turned vampire dance club or just trapped in a locked groove inside an old amp with the reverb up.
To say the ensuing escape comes across as jarring would be an understatement as large as the range of Spruance’s creative language. Clean, broken percussion rhythms snap into a place and accelerate in and out of time as the tape changes speeds before a lone drum breaks out as if it had been thumping its rhythm for ages, just waiting for someone to notice. Then, even that gets stuck in a loop and flurries of an early swell climb on top, vying for space in the listener’s ear. The whole thing powers down with a soft windy space and the distinct sound of huge wings beating in the distance, before a computerized voice makes a brief and mysterious proclamation and the sound of plucked strings pitch shifting out of the silence break the calm. If that seems like a lot to happen in a minute, try the other five minutes of this track and then the further incarnations of The Electromagnetic Azoth and then the rest of SC3’s catalog, then everything Trey Spruance-related. You won’t find a dull moment.
Cleric's newest album, Retrocasual, is available now via Web of Mimicry Records.