Philadelphia’s Cleric have produced one of the most mind-boggling, unabashedly weird extreme metal releases of the year with Retrocausal.
From the eclectic metalcore of 2003’s The Underling, to the Botch-meets-Mr. Bungle zaniness of 2010’s Regressions, Cleric have always been a band that sidesteps genre cliches and chooses to carve out their own singular, oddball path within the scenes. Call it experimental metal. Call it avant-garde metal. Listeners can label it whatever they choose, but they should know that Cleric will find a way to avoid being pigeonholed, that much is for certain.
Seven long years after the release of the Bazaar of Weirdo Metal that was Regressions comes the bleak and cerebral sci-fi opus that is Retrocausal. The nearly 80-minute sonic behemoth picks up where its predecessor left off and delivers nine tracks of the most complex, frantic and bizarre extreme music in recent memory. Its genre-defying, constantly moving and shape-shifting songs coupled with its bulky runtime will prove to be too much for the average listener. Even those accustomed to highly experimental, forward-thinking metal may be overwhelmed by the hellacious and unbridled insanity of this record. And therein lies part of the record’s charm. The fact that Retrocausal is so intense, so strange and so alienating makes it all the more compelling.
With the exception of four tracks, the compositions on Retrocausal clock-in at over nine minutes in length each and are always in a constant state of motion. From beginning to end, chaos ensues across all of these tracks and the instrumentation is in a constant state of flux. Rhythmically-jarring math metal onslaughts evolve into, or even just collide into, free jazz dirges and layers of unorthodox instrumentation. Angular doom-esque crawls, rife with hellish dissonance, are absorbed by wavering ambiance and then sucked into black holes of cacophonous noise. Every song is unpredictable and it is easy to fall down the rabbit holes of riffs that these virtuosos conjure. It’s an enthralling spectacle, no doubt.
“The Treme” sets everything in motion, but is only the tip of the iceberg as the record gets progressively more bonkers as it progresses. The track immediately assaults the listener’s senses with a barrage of jangly, serpentine guitar riffs that are infiltrated by discordant piano lines and jazzy breaks. The song soon becomes a manic, stop-and-start blitz of off-kilter grooves, ambient interludes and thunderous, volatile riffs that morph into different varieties of disfigured shapes with ease, always keep the listener on their toes.
Shorter tracks like “Lunger” condense a lot of the bludgeoning math metal, pseudo jazz, and the billion other idiosyncrasies the album possesses into four-to-seven-minute bombardments of lunacy. Tracks such as “Soroboruo” and “Grey Lodge” are special cases, however. The former is an avant-noise piece full of earsplitting, vertigo-inducing sound shifts and guitar-generated haberdashery. The latter is a complete mindfuck of a track in which the band’s brand of aural hell crashes into the discombobulating saxophone of the legendary John Zorn, resulting in a brutal end to a brutal recording.
The trio of leviathanic compositions that make up the bulk of the record’s second half are really where the band’s kooky metal stylings pay off. “Resumption”, “The Spiraling Abyss” and “Triskaidekaphobe” each clock-in at well over 10 minutes in length and feature some of the most mind-melting, claustrophobic and psychologically distressing moments on the record. From their lengthy, seemingly improvised sections of ambient, inharmonious jazz, to their endless flurries of spiraling licks and thrashing carnival mathcore, these monstrous tunes feature the best of what this band have to offer. There’s simply too many moving parts in these tracks to properly dissect without writing a Homer-esque epic on the matter.
The same can be said about the album as a whole. The record is extremely dense and constantly changing, ensuring that no review would be able to properly describe its sheer sonic psychosis, not even this poor attempt. Cleric have done something truly polarizing and truly special with Retrocausal. Not everyone will get it, but those that do will be completely enamored.
Release Date: December 8, 2017
Label: Web of Mimicry
Favorite Tracks: “The Treme”, “Lunger” and “Resumption”