Chat Pile – God’s Country Review

Hopelessness is both a universal and local phenomenon. It’s always the same handful of pressures that cause it; resource inaccessibility, environmental/health factors, power held by the unscrupulous, etc, but every place has its own particular aesthetic of hopelessness. Despondency in, say, Guangzhou, China will look, sound and feel different than it does in the American Midwest. Sludge/Noise band Chat Pile call their debut album God’s Country “Oklahoma’s specific brand of misery,” and indeed their name itself comes from the piles of toxic waste, left over from an unregulated lead and zinc extraction industry, poisoning towns in the Sooner State. I’m not from Oklahoma, but I am from another fly-over state that lies in both the Great Plains and the Bible Belt, so I’m well acquainted with the kind of “farm, faith and family” cultural predominance to which God’s Country stands in stark contrast. Chat Pile first came to my attention through random Bandcamp scrolling in 2019, when their two EPs This Dungeon Earth and Remove Your Skin Please became my favorite short players of that year. So what does Middle American misery sound like in 2022?

In a word, terrifying. Chat Pile play stark, stuttering noise rock with heavy sludge and occasional death metal influences. Presiding over the down-tuned grime is vocalist Raygun Busch1 whose spoken word singing, untethered screams and mental health crisis ramblings spit a dystopic reality back into the face of an idealized America. The heaviest moments edge toward sludge doom, as on “Slaughterhouse” and the groove-heavy first half of “grimace_smoking_weed.jpg,” but sharp-elbowed noise rock ragers like “The Mask” pack the most intensity. Speaking of intensity, even in the album’s more subdued cuts like “Pamela” and “I Don’t Care If I Burn,” Chat Pile sustain insanely high levels of tension by virtue of grim subject matter and the edge of instability constantly present in Busch’s voice. Elsewhere, there’s a sort of early 90s alt-rock/grunge aesthetic, especially in “Anywhere,” that works to ground the more alienating aspects into something more relatable.

I’m not one to usually care what metal bands write their songs about. You can only hear “this one’s about a guy with inner demons who goes crazy” or “this one’s about human sacrifice” so many times without rolling your eyes so hard you can see your own brain. Chat Pile also write about violence, pain and the uglier parts of existence, but they do so from a specific perspective rooted in place and time. Ever since “Rainbow Meat” on their first ever EP, a song about being served between sesame encrusted buns at Arby’s after one’s death, the band has had a special interest in meat as a signifier. Being, as they are, from American cattle country where the nation’s beef is raised and processed and where vegetarianism is viewed as a mental disorder, this makes perfect sense. God’s Country opener and first single “Slaughterhouse” is practically Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle in aural nightmare form.2 Busch takes us straight to the killing floor, shrieking “HAMMERS AND GREASE!” over and over, telling us “Everyone’s head rings here” and lamenting “…the sad eyes, goddammit, And the screaming. There’s more screaming than you think.” Meanwhile, “The Mask” turns the violence toward humans as it recounts a 1978 mass shooting in a Sirloin Stockade restaurant in Oklahoma City. Busch takes the killer’s perspective, commanding, “Line up the animals!” in the walk-in freezer, where six people were murdered. The way he growls “Sirloin Stockade” ups the disturbing factor from back when he shouted “Send my body to Arby’s” with such gusto.

Spiraling instability and repetition play a big part in the thematic and auditory landscapes Chat Pile build throughout God’s Country. Second track “Why” literally refuses to stop asking why people have to be homeless in the richest country on Earth. I’ll admit that it’s a likely polarizing track for its young child simplicity and earnestness on an otherwise deeply cynical album. It’s not my favorite, but when Busch dementedly screams, “I’ve never had to push all my shit around in a shopping cart, have you? Have you ever had ringworm? Scabies?” it’s certainly affecting. Even more riveting is the nine minute closer “grimace_smoking_weed.jpg.” It sounds like a throw away song title by a bunch of goofus dudes in a college dorm, but as Busch tries to banish the hallucinated “purple man” from his room, he devolves into crisis, threatening self harm as monstrously heavy sludge riffs unravel around him. I read in an interview that the McDonald’s mascot is a stand-in for America, a kind of anti Uncle Sam. Again, this could come off a little on-the-nose, but it’s hard to argue with in the late capitalism sense.

Chat Pile have said “More than anything, we’re trying to capture the anxiety and fear of seeing the world fall apart,” but they’re doing so without separating it from their own corner of the world. Just look at their cover art. That brown, nondescript building is a massive federal prison located in the middle of Oklahoma City, infamous for its sub-human conditions and high inmate body count. Throughout God’s Country, they manage to access the universal through the tiny door of the specific, a mark of artistic maturity. It’s a harrowing statement of despair, but one I can’t stop listening to. AOTY contender.

Rating: 4.0/5.0
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: The Flenser
Websites: |
Releases Worldwide: July 29th, 2022

Show 2 footnotes

  1. likely not his given name.
  2. I’ve read elsewhere that “Slaughterhouse” is at least partially about the 2014 Vaughn Foods beheading incident at a Moore, Oklahoma meet packing plant, which would track as well.
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