On July 22nd, 2022 the up-and-coming Oklahoma City Sludge Metal group Chat Pile released their debut LP entitled God's Country.
This group has been making a lot of noise since their fantastic entrance to the wider music sphere with twin 2019 EPs, This Dungeon Earth and Remove Your Skin Please. While I love their tar-thick sound and body-shaking riffs, it was the subject matter and its delivery that really stood out to me. It's a very raw and real take on specific life experiences and overall ills that plague many in this country. Specifically, this middle column of the US that both me and the group call home. While many of these experiences are shared by many in this country, I've found that you can see a very unfiltered America here. It's no coincidence that many states in this part of the country rank very high on the list of worst places to live. From healthcare to violence to economic opportunity, it's a pretty dismal sight over the vast amount of land that these places hold. In particular, it's the places that have been left to their own devices, whether through means of abandonment by the corporations and industries that once propped them up, or general degradation of public services, there is a mass swath of dehumanization and pain here. What I've found with the music that Chat Pile makes is that it embodies the pain of inequality and destitution that have been getting worse for years. When a band can combine very meaningful and impactful concepts with incredible music, the resulting piece can have reverberations across the scene.
Now, I don't blame Chat Pile for waiting so long to bring together this project. I had heard whispers that they had been planning on this for a while, but obviously the initial brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic shook everyone up. It comes as no surprise that fulfilling this full length debut after being thrown this curveball could lend for some more time for polish. It's a testament to Chat Pile that those incredible EPs were able to birth and maintain such high expectations three years out. There is a flip side to that though; a failure to maintain momentum or perhaps even losing vision. Of course, the record is out now and I've listened to it an ungodly amount of times, almost punitively. I'm in awe of it, in disgust of it, entirely engaged by it. It's the kind of record that only comes around once in a lifetime, both for the music itself and the level of personal connection I was able to get out of it. God's Country is a definitive record for the times we live in. It's a heavy masterpiece that grinds down to the core of middle American identity but also for the individual experiences our culture has forced onto us.
This debut record covers a surprising amount of ground in its 40 minute runtime, both in the sense of lyrical themes and the progression of their sound since the first EPs. While they still follow in the same footsteps of previous output, the group has added a lot to their toolbox. Take the lead single and opener of the record, "Slaughterhouse". They are no stranger to putting a brutal and great hook to dismal music and this is no exception as the dissonant lead guitar scrapes over the grinding chorus of "hammers and grease". Defined by themes of desperately hoping for a way to break free from a terrible place where "God is always watching" and "all heads ring...", the track dispenses a palpable sense of despair. While this feeling is undoubtedly lent to by the dissonant and rhythmic instrumental backing, it's the vocalist, Raygun Busch, that makes it a reality. Busch is absolutely beside himself with both the more spoken word passages as to the growled and yelled vocals. He projects a vision of someone battling internal demons, which based on later songs on the tracklist is not a far-fetched assumption. Something done in both respects on the next track and single released after "Slaughterhouse", "Why". This track has not only great thick riffs but also one of the best straight talks about the injustices in our country. I think the outro, led on by air raid sirens and a stellar riff change, put it optimally:
Real American horror story
And it's a fuckin' tragedy
People have to live outside
I really need to sell the delivery here, because he shows the feeling of being so lost for words that a solvable problem is being ignored, that we ask "why?". This sense of anger and disillusionment is a major theme of God's Country, and I really appreciate how everything comes together to show that. The next track "Pamela", focuses on a much more personal tragedy. The song describes the apparent drowning of a kid and the self-destructive nature that takes hold of the narrator under the resulting grief. This depressing song describes the feeling of wanting to turn back time to alleviate the self-blame of events outside our control. The mental demons march during the chorus of "waiting to die" with a disgusting guitar melody on top of it. While dwelling on tragedy is the focal point, another theme I find in this continuing throughout the record is revenge. Revenge against those who have done wrong, even the self.
Anger exudes from this record for the life that many live in our country's backwaters. "Wicked Puppet Dance" describes an interaction with a meth dealer and their acquaintance in their house. A really disturbing scene unfolds, with cockroaches being birthed in the walls and the dealer's skin being fucked up. The track's fast-paced and chaotic instrumentation lends itself to the prescribed sensation of IV meth. A small touch I really love on this track is the little rest before the second uttering of "a wicked puppet". I got goosebumps from how it increases the tension and drops into the second half of the song. The next track "Anywhere" is my favorite track. This track is about being present during a shooting scenario, describing the grim details of worlds being shattered as bodily fluids are expelled on the speaker. Again, the feeling of desperation and despair is exuded as their reality catches up to the situation at hand. I love the soaring guitar during chorus and the switch to the dark bass forward post-chorus. It is a great way to break away from the group's bass-leaning style. This is funnily their lightest sounding track considering the subject-matter, but I think again this can be attributed to these songwriting switchups. In a weird way it is a very Grunge influenced kind of track. Outside of some of the heaviness present, this wouldn't be too out of place of Alice in Chains' catalog.
From here, we lie on the firm back half of this LP. With four songs it actually comes with a nice clean divide. First up is "Tropical Beaches, Inc." and "The Mask". The former, "Tropical Beaches, Inc" is a play on the inability for most to attain the economic opportunities found through the internet or TV by grifters. I really appreciated the subtle ocean aspect put into the songs. Both in the light surf instrumentation in the verses and the metaphor of economic opportunity being literally on some beach across the ocean, very far away from this landlocked part of the country. The next track, "The Mask", is really ugly, in a good way. I think the state of mind that best describe it is "absolutely demented". This description of a robbery from the perspective of a tweaked out individual is complemented perfectly by Raygun's delivery. The added effects of sniffling and spitting that is picked up on the mic really sells how unstable this situation is. I love the sludgy power chord riff onslaught during the chorus. While I like both “Tropical Beaches, Inc” and “The Mask” quite a lot, it's a hard task to stand out from what comes next.
The last two tracks are an odd pair. They are both super dark but about very different things, utilizing completely different instrumentation, and with very mismatched length. Where the former lies at just under 3 minutes and the latter is a 9 minute behemoth. This former track, "I Don't Care If I Burn" is much more of a dark tune accompanied by low presence kick drum and all manner of scrapes, crunches, and other assortments of sounds. I don't think I've heard a song so hell-bent on destruction that has such a low profile. That's outside the screaming at the end of course, which caught me off guard for sure. "Just looking for some peace" Raygun continually says as the track ends, a real hope to close out some very terrible happenings in his life. This dark personal hatred is something you get from a lot of Chat Pile's catalog.I think that this track, even though not one you'll put on the aux in the car, serves a really great purpose on the album. It sets up that thought, "Just looking for some peace". That's where the revenge comes from, it's where the overarching and existential problems drill into your brain. We're not built to be stressed 24/7, we reach a breaking point. Unfortunately that breaking point can lead to some very bad decisions, killing the people that have done you wrong being among them. The final track though, is the embodiment of the final worst decision you can make.
To say "grimace_smoking_weed.jpeg" is a track about suicide would be an understatment. It's an odd thing to say given the title at first glance. Hell, even when I saw the tracklist for the first time I thought I was gonna get some really clever songs along the lines of "Mystery Meat". As the album progressed, it was becoming clear how odd of a thematic switch that would be for a closer. I was very right in that sense. To quickly describe the throws of this track, it is essentially describing all the phases of suicide. Very vividly in fact. Stuff that I've been through, many have been through. The visualization of that picture of "purple man smoking weed in my bedroom" taking over the mind of the Raygun until that picture embodies who he wants to be. "I am purple man, too", Raygun says as the picture becomes quite clear that this image is not of the McDonalds mascot but of a fantasy of his dead self. As the track goes on, so too do the phases of grief. The vivid culmination of this psychotic breakdown as this final decision bears on his soul will stick with me forever. This whole track is scraping a raw nerve of undoing oneself. Even when the attempt is found out by a family member, he is beside himself. He's not happy he was saved, he is sad that he got found. That he couldn't end it on his terms, only to have to further scar those who love him. It's a heartbreaking track, one of the most affecting songs I've ever listened to. The instrumentation is orchestrated so well to pair with such themes. With bass-led heavy riffs and feedback drones, Raygun's stressed delivery becomes a visualization of a downward mental spiral. At the end of the day, it's a masterpiece.
God's Country embodies so much of the ills of our society. The pain that we as a collective feel under the watchful eye and hold of capitalism. The inability for our government, even ourselves, to properly regulate and to fix issues that are plainly solvable. The enduring culture of individualism that plagues our souls, leading to not only an inability to help or get help from others but to also go in headfirst to the system. It all sums up everything so perfectly and not in a preachy way; it's a raw and real take. This record really has been sticking with me. I feel I've barely touched on the instrumentation but it's hard to describe how perfect their toolbox is. The songs are varied but they are all still extremely Chat Pile. That thick bass combined with the common transitions of grungy distorted rhythm guitar to dissonant soaring lead is a really cool feat. The drums are killer, not super technical by any means but do their job well with how big and pounding they are. I guess it's sort of what drums do but their power here really holds a leadership position. The rhythmic and sludgy instrumentation is essential to the group's addictive sound, but the key to all of this are the vocals. It might turn some people off with how much he embraces the anti-vocalist approach, but the way he can project hurt through his intonation is unmatched. I'm not saying that other Sludge Metal acts don't wear their emotion on their sleeves, it's just that Chat Pile was able to tap into a much darker and more raw psyche. Their whole image comes off much more sincere and that made this record really stick in my mind. With that all being said, it's hard to come out the other side of this record without saying it's phenomenal. A near perfect package. I loved everything on here, granted not all the same level but I can't think of any real criticisms. Chat Pile have now firmly defined their sound and planted their flag in the music landscape with God's Country. If there is literally one full LP that you listen to this year, I highly recommend this record. It's heavy and chaotic music for sure but it doesn't dare fall into tropes or half-commit to its messages. It's one of the most real records I've ever listened to.