Cloakroom’s Time Well Is an Otherworldly Blend of Shoegaze Bliss & Metal Riffs (Review)
On paper, the shoegaze and metal genres seem like they have little in common. The former is ethereal, blissed out, and melancholy; the latter is brutish, angry, and eeeeevil. And yet, as genres like blackgaze and artists like Alcest, Deafheaven, and The Angelic Process have shown, there is more than just a passing similarity between the two genres. For starters, both are defined by a fascination with massive, overwhelming, and mind-bending sonics.
Indiana’s Cloakroom exists in a liminal space between shoegaze and metal thanks to the trio’s sludgy-yet-atmospheric guitars and punishing rhythms. But Alcest or Deafheaven they most certainly are not. Indeed, the artist that immediately leaps to mind while listening to Cloakroom’s “stoner emo” (their term, not mine) is Starflyer 59.
Both bands know the value of good, heavy riffage. (The guitar on Time Well highlight “Seedless Star” bears more than a passing similarity to the Black Sabbath-influenced sounds on Starflyer 59’s excellent Gold album.) And they both bring a distinct lack of pretense to their music, which is likely shaped by their members’ working class lives outside of music: Starflyer 59’s Jason Martin runs a trucking company while Cloakroom’s bio describes them as three factory workers.
Sadly, using a term like “working class” to describe a band can seem like a sleight these days — as if the musicians in question aren’t really “artists” but rather, some flyover state rubes who like to riff away on the weekends while knocking back tall boys.
Tall boys (and other substances) notwithstanding, there’s certainly an undeniable artistry to Cloakroom’s sturm und drang. While the basic elements of the trio’s music are straightforward enough — a seemingly endless onslaught of sludgy guitar, super-fuzzed bass, and drums pummeled to within an inch of their lives — Time Well’s songs move in directions that are more interesting than the simple “shoegaze + metal” equation implies.
Frontman Doyle Martin is just as likely to coax delicate atmospherics, shimmering notes, and lonesome slide-work from his guitar as he is grungy power chords, which blend well with his dry, world-weary vocals and lyrics. And though the songs can move with all the power and determination of a glacier, other dynamics are frequently at work, too.
“Big World” is Time Well’s most uptempo number, and recalls everything you loved about heavy alt/college rock in the ’90s (not to mention Relapse labelmates Nothing). “Hymnal” reimagines “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?” as a stoner rock confession that still maintains the original’s soulfulness. And a gorgeous, extended Labradford-esque denouement closes out the album on “The Passenger.”
Matching the band’s as-lovely-as-they-are-heavy sounds are Martin’s lyrics, which tap into ennui and angst while still pointing to the mysterious and cosmic. One minute, he’s spinning cynicism on “Big World” where he ruefully notes that “people never fail to entertain my sour disposition.” The next, he’s sinking into lament on “The Passenger,” bemoaning “I was not myself today or the night before/I’m the passenger/Picking up my tired frame/Crushed beneath its skull… Once I was a conduit/I sang extinction songs with the animals.”
A sense of yearning ultimately pervades such lyrics, and with it, a tension. The trio have expressed a fascination with strange, supernatural phenomena (the album’s title comes from an urban legend about a group of Marines who stumble across a buried alien spaceship that’s stuck in time) — not to mention Magic the Gathering. And in an interview earlier this year, Martin revealed an underlying theme: “finding something… ethereal and mystical in the mundane.”
In light of that, songs like “The Passenger” seem to explore the tension that exists when you yearn for a deeper, more mysterious and wondrous world where both gods and cold fusion exist even as you confront the reality of an every day, humdrum existence. But such is the power of Time Well that the trio’s sludgy riffs — and the beautiful atmospherics lurking between them — can make the mundane a little more bearable, and bring the wondrous a little more manifest.