Chat Pile’s debut LP ends with a nine-minute narrative that sounds outlandish on paper: A man is tormented by a nightmare figure resembling McDonald’s mascot Grimace, to the point of suicide. The surreally macabre premise is heightened all the more by the track’s name: “grimace_smoking_weed.jpeg,” a title calling to mind a tossed-off joke file name or online message to a friend in lieu of an actual image. But the song itself is arguably the most chilling selection on an already-bleak record, in no small part due to vocalist Raygun Busch’s tortured contributions that sound an inch from self-destructive action at a moment’s notice—even before erupting into agonized shrieks in protest of the “purple man” who haunts him. When the track’s back half stretches into a sludgy death march, his lyrics become all the more direct, culminating in Busch crying out, “I don’t wanna be alive anymore / Do you?” The pressure of the track proves to be so suffocating that even Busch’s final scream of Grimace’s name to close the album becomes bloodcurdling, where a more ironic approach would have rendered the whole thing high camp.
“Grimace_smoking_weed.jpeg” is, in microcosm, emblematic of the tricky balance Chat Pile evokes with visceral ugliness throughout God’s Country. The absurdity and paradox of capitalist landscapes are laid bare, depicted with just as much horror as the band believes they ought to merit. Just as characters for fast-food marketing and toys become taunting reminders of the soul-crushing nature of post-industrialization, so, too, does the illogical nature of houselessness in a nation with buildings to spare, and the pursuit of wealth above personal fulfillment.
The oppressive nature of God’s Country makes all the more sense when considering the group’s socioeconomic perspective as a Midwestern death metal band, paying firsthand witness to the scenes they paint and mutate into grotesque, noisy vignettes. Luther Manhole’s densely jagged guitar tones firmly reflect the sound of the most sweltering atmospheres of landlocked states, even before this geography explicitly appears in Chat Pile’s lyricism—where their local Oklahoma locales are rendered from the record’s very beginning as places marked by “hammers and grease.”
Though the first-person stories that dot God’s Country are primarily rooted in the grief and financial strain pressuring its characters into their drastic actions, brief flickers of specific Midwestern scenery permeate the album. A man’s daydreams about oceanic vacation getaways are torn to shreds as he’s stuck in the dehumanizing pursuit of money in Middle America on “Tropical Beaches Inc.” “[Staring] at the lake” breeds both the passive resignation of “waiting to die” following the death of a son and the urge to “spill [others’] blood” as retribution for unjust deaths on “Pamela.”
The most common recurring aspect of God’s Country, however, is the emphasis on the fleshly. Skin is often what Busch returns to in his songwriting, from the weathered body described on “Wicked Puppet Dance” to the desire to wear flesh that better personifies your own monstrous self-perception on “Grimace_Smoking_Weed.jpeg.” In album opener “Slaughterhouse,” Busch even returns to the word in a brief refrain: “And live in different skins / Exist in different skins / And live in different skins / Remove all your skins.” This fixation has long been a staple of Chat Pile’s history, right down to the name of their previous EP, Remove Your Skin Please. But its presence as a central motif of God’s Country is what lends the record its pervasive sense of dread, transforming already-unsettling descriptive passages into the through lines of the larger gnarled mosaic. Even the imagery on “Slaughterhouse” echoes later in the album on “The Mask,” where a robber refers to those he’s taken hostage as “animals” and a “sirloin stockade.” If there is a thread that ties all of God’s Country together, it’s that the cutthroat nature of a laissez-faire economy pits its people against one another, reduced by the system to slabs of meat as they take desperate measures to achieve any sense of personal security.
None of this would be quite so impressive were it not for the band operating as tightly as they do. The four-piece outfit, rounded out by bassist Stin and drummer Captain Ron, never wavers for a moment across God’s Country. Captain Ron’s cavernous percussion on “Slaughterhouse” sets the tone for the album as a replication of the dauntingly colossal and hostile spaces it portrays, right in the record’s opening seconds. Stin and Manhole’s diverging parts on “Why” add to the mounting discord of Busch’s repeated unanswered questions about systemic impoverishment. There’s perhaps no finer example, though, of the quartet operating in unison than the breakdown on “The Mask,” where the already-heavy aggression locks into a chugging riff akin to The Terminator theme to match its compounding brutality.
As much as God’s Country is littered with the hellish sounds expected of noise rock, its uncharacteristic penultimate track is what ultimately proves Chat Pile’s ability to captivate no matter the mode they take. Titled “I Don’t Care If I Burn,” the song foregoes all instrumentation other than evenly paced stomps. Busch’s voice is wearier here than anywhere else on the record, settling into the cadences of an experimental murder ballad, threatening death upon someone with wealth—unaware of the ruination they caused for the narrator. The track ends not with any concrete resolution, but rather with Busch’s harrowing screams. This, ultimately, is what “God’s country” is to Chat Pile: spare, harsh, bloody and unforgiving. God’s Country is as deftly ugly as its namesake, searing in its approach, forcing you to confront the black heart at the core of a rotting nation.
Natalie Marlin is a freelance music and film writer based in Minneapolis who has contributed to sites such as Little White Lies and Bitch Media, and previously wrote as a staff writer at Allston Pudding. She also regularly appears on the Indieheads Podcast. Follow her on Twitter at @NataliesNotInIt.