Photo Credit: Bayley Hanes
Inspired by recent events – the Trump Presidency, Brexit, the pandemic, the climate crisis – many a rock band has tried to put to words the frightening reality of living in the modern world. Black Midi gave into chaos on the madness-inducing, disillusionment anthem “Welcome To Hell,” while Viagra Boys so adeptly parodied anti-vax, Pizzagate-believing conspiracy theorists on last year’s “Creepy Crawlers” that they inadvertently got the song banned from YouTube.
But if you had to capture the anxiety and confusion of the 21st century in its most succinct and unvarnished form, you would probably end up channeling a similar sentiment to that of Oklahoma metal-rockers Chat Pile – repeated, visceral screams of “WHY?!” The track from which that phrase originates, aptly titled “Why” is a bruising condemnation of government inaction on homelessness, but its very first moments demonstrate that the band is utterly eluded by answers. “Why do people have to live outside? When there are buildings all around us // With heat on and no one inside?” they ask; exposing the simple, unavoidable injustice at the heart of the issue.
Meanwhile, the dad-rock chord progressions at the very start of the opener “Slaughterhouse” conceal what soon turns out to be one of the most brutal, bruising pieces of music ever recorded. A condemnation of the meat industry, it offers an examination of cruelty so specific, so loud and so unvarnished, it’s hard to look straight at and even harder to look away from. “There’s more screaming than you’d think…you never forget their eyes,” cries lead singer Raygun Busch, embedding a terrifying sense of claustrophobia and helpless remorse into the song. Perhaps the most fitting description of the song came from a top-voted YouTube comment underneath it, remarking that “this is what it sounds like to wake up at 4:00 in the morning in a cold sweat.”
The album’s most effective condemnation of life in the 2020s, however, comes in the form of the hilariously titled, 9-minute closer “grimace_smoking_weed.jpeg” – a bizarre re-telling of a hallucinatory episode centered around the titular “purple man.” “Normal night // It should be // Just trying to live a normal life / OK?” cries Busch at the start of the song, pausing between each line to take a breath – sounding utterly exhausted in the process. Across the following nine minutes, various strange images are laid out (none more bizarre though than that of the “Purple man // Smoking weed in my bedroom”) as a panic-ridden Busch demands in vain that the voices in his head “Shut up!” At times the song is objectively hilarious – in its final moments, Busch declares “here it is” before offering an extended cry of “GRIMACE!” – and at others, it is deathly serious – during the song’s middle section, Busch vividly lays out the narrator’s imminent plans of suicide.
Even given the intensity of the preceding half-an-hour, it’s hard not to be taken aback by the immensity and horror of “grimace.” Yet, in many ways, the song is the only logical conclusion to an album such as this – an admission that the natural, inevitable, result of our current system of injustices is a slow descent into madness.