Metal, especially of the progressive variety, takes some adjustment. When I was first exposed to the genre, I could not tolerate screaming. Years later, I like to believe that I have found ways to appreciate most of what metal has to offer. However, there are still bands that challenge my understanding of the genre, its comfortable limits, and what it means to interpret this art. Cue Cleric. The experimental metal outfit has been active since 2003, but has only had one previous release with 2010’s Regressions. The Philadelphians have returned nearly eight years later with Retrocausal. Was it worth the wait?
With nine tracks spanning 79 minutes, it truly seems that Cleric are making up for lost time. The album is lengthy, and there is little musical mercy to be found in its run-time. Opener “The treme” is what I described to a friend as ‘What the score of a psychological thriller shot in a jazz club would sound like‘. Jazz beats and rolling pianos dance disjointedly with dissonant guitar lines and unintelligible yowls. Yet, for all the track’s atonal and rhythmic suspense, Cleric understand the importance of musical resolution, providing an eye in an otherwise savage storm with occasional downtuned grooves.
For all the density and relentlessness on display, Cleric clearly used the seven years between albums to their advantage in pacing the nine songs. With a variety of track lengths, and diverse yet minimal instrumentation, this album sustains interest for even listeners like me who are just beginning to digest it. “Lowell” is one of Retrocausal’s shorter numbers, and has some of the album’s more hard-hitting grooves paired with spoken word samples, clean guitar, organ and what sounds like some kind of choral pad for a mixture that is as enigmatic as it is epic.
As disparate as these tracks may be, they often flow seamlessly into one another. Although this may be confusing for those lost in the swathe of sound, it creates a kind of boundlessness for the music that can be nothing short of intentional. Cleric remain calculatedly free of song structure or -length, melody or meter. Infusing grindcore, mathcore, groove, and jazz into their sound, Cleric achieve an ebb and flow in their music; piano interludes and grinding blasts create dynamic contrasts yet never abate the unsettling tone of the record.
It is hard to review an album one does not quite understand, and yet here I am with Retrocausal. Despite all of its chaos, there is a cognizance and consciousness to it that would negate criticisms of flow or pacing. Of course, the production may be rough for some (though apt in my opinion, especially with Colin Marston at the helm), and for others, the sonic density here may be impenetrable or impossible to locate oneself in. But if you are prepared to truly sit with this album, adapt to its edges and explore its corners, Cleric have created a labyrinth that promises treasure at its centre. I just haven’t reached it yet.
Notable Tracks: “The trem”; “Lowell”; “Resumption”
FFO: Botch, The Dillinger Escape Plan, Fantômas, Meshuggah