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City Of Caterpillar
Mystic Sisters Alex Deller , October 4th, 2022 07:59

Twenty years after their debut, the Richmond, Virgina, group return angrier and hungrier than ever, finds Alex Deller

During their initial run, City Of Caterpillar capped off their otherwise slight recorded output with a single magnificent LP. While many of their contemporaries in the small but fertile screamo scene were hewing to a short, fast, loud template that looked to the likes of Honeywell, Mohinder and Union Of Uranus for inspiration, their spin on the sub-subgenre was altogether different.

Released in 2002, it landed like a hornets’ nest shaken from a tree into the middle of a children’s picnic, combining the sinewy snap of Drive Like Jehu with the orchestrated chaos of Angel Hair while folding in the lofty cinematic expanse of Godspeed You! Black Emperor. That these worlds should collide was perhaps inevitable, and while the album was little-remarked beyond the confines of a small, insular, incestuous scene it nevertheless lit the touchpaper for any number of young men and women seeking to craft punk rock that was urgent, fraught and chest-tighteningly grandiose.

The band reconvened in 2016 and have been semi-regulars on the gigging circuit since, the legend that had grown in their absence affording them opportunities and audiences that weren’t available on their first go-around. While reunions have been part of the hardcore scene for almost as long as the genre itself, the recorded results of such resuscitations have tended to be rather a mixed bag. After all, a corporate gym membership can help combat middle-age spread for a tour’s worth of nostalgia-driven high kicks and stage dives, but writing new songs with the same raw, febrile energy you possessed in your early twenties is an entirely different matter.

To this latter point, Mystic Sisters is as aberrant and trend-bucking as the band’s self-titled album: it’s a weird, wild, thrilling ride, and one that serves as both a logical continuation and a vital statement in its own right.

That’s not to say something as trite and mealy-mouthed as ‘the last twenty years might as well not have happened’, however. This is a band for whom the last two decades have most definitely happened, because while the spirit and sonic references remain intact you can also feel how life’s weight has frayed edges and chewed holes in psychic foundations. Dark, dense and more baroque than ever, each song might be driven by a strong dynamic and melodic sense, but the more you listen the more you realise the many jarring, jangling parts that have been marshalled into place to forge them.

‘Manchester’, for example, seems to have been woven with filaments of burning wire, while ‘In The Birth Of A Fawn’ is driven by an atypical drum stumble and a series of carefully-channelled screeches. Guitar necks are wrung out of shape, harmonics chirrup and dissonant half-chords are artfully fused together, while the obstreperous vocals are by turns spluttered, gnashed, howled and blearily tuneful – sometimes over the course of a single song, as with the explosive ‘Decider’.

From first note to last it’s a startling release, and one that sees City Of Caterpillar splicing each metamorphic stage of their sound – hungry, stumpy-legged forward-motion; quiet pupation and gracefully haphazard flight – into something that is deliciously surprising and vitally, desperately alive.