Cattle’s debut EP was a short and sharp burst of angular noise rock that really stood out among the many great releases of 2013. With such a forthright approach, their musical arrangements were truly impressive, but best of all was the overriding bass sound, which came with so much overdrive it made JJ Burnel’s efforts sound small and made the Melvins more grinding affairs seem non-committal. Not long after that EP, various band members returned to their co-existing noise-rock outfit Super Luxury…and it seemed that Cattle might have been just a one-off experiment. But what an experiment it was!
Fast forward a few years, via an excellent Super Luxury disc, and Cattle returned in the summer of 2016 with a fleshed out line up; that bass sound now augmented by two drummers. Cattle’s return was cause enough for celebration, but would an even more aggressively taught approach not be overkill? One thing was for certain: pushing play and cranking the volume would ensure getting shouted into oblivion while marvelling at the bass sounds. For those who heard the debut, this would be enough, but ‘Nature’s Champion’ has more. Opener ‘Tanking The Piss’ – aside from sounding like a funky Jesus Lizard experiment – is so distinctively Cattle, but with a twist. Yes, the vocals still belong to a demented man amid a breakdown and, thankfully, Tom’s distorto-bass is high in the mix, but the band really sound like they’ve moved on. In addition to the bass heavy angular noise, there’s a definite groove; part of this is down to extra percussive goodness, but the riffs also have more drive. There’s noise aplenty, but also a defiant feeling of melody within the anger. As always, it’s more about the feel and emotional response than any kind of hook. It might have taken Cattle a long time to return, but judging by this – and more – it was worth the wait. So good to hear them not just churning out the expected and resting on any musical laurels.
‘Caring’, although still abrasive, is surprisingly straight ahead. Beyond an intro that features a hefty discord that pierces through the main riff with all the directness of a rusty nail through a cheek, the bulk of the track concerns itself with a mid paced groove, where the coming together of heavy bass and noise-rock sounds evoke the post-hardcore influence of Fugazi, albeit cranked up immensely. Over this, a simplistic vocal hoarsely shouts and the groove settles somewhere between a slow Mr. Bungle workout and even more Jesus Lizard obsession. It’s the full package, make no mistake, but it’s somehow more accessible than Cattle have been before. Stoking up the funk, the bass work throughout ‘Acrylic’ presents a very well structured melody, while the double drums weave in and out always concerning themselves with percussive structures over mere crashing and noise making. It’s a spacious piece, with lots of that space filled by echo and reverb…until the band can’t hold it in any longer…and then its full pelt with a heavy, thrashing riff followed by a solid groove rock riff, but eschewing the more obvious rock elements for distorted bass and even more reverb and some obtuse funk. With three distinct moods coming together to create something heavy and artistic, this is perhaps Cattle’s finest number to date.
During ‘Fears and Hesitations’, the band creates a fearsome and disturbing sound, appearing to multi-track bass parts against heavy rhythms, before scraping bass strings for extra instrumentation. It’s among the heaviest sounds recorded by the band – or, indeed, any band – in 2016. It’s hard going…tiring, even…but it’s also bloody impressive. Pushing the boundaries of Cattle’s newly found rhythmic attack, ‘Found In a Tract of Land’ drops a fat bass over a pounding rhythm, with the two drum kits given a fantastic stereo split. Building upon that, the vocals yelp and wail before the distorted sounds create a wall of noise and everyone explodes in an utter frenzy. Distortion plays a big part in filling spaces between vocal assaults, but taking even the quietest bits into consideration, the bass crushes everything, making this everything but quiet. The rhythms are tight, though not necessarily as complex as before. In many ways, this is a throwback to the band’s earlier recordings; of course, that doesn’t make it inferior in any way. The intensity isn’t about to step back either, with ‘Red, Again’ working muted and choppy rhythms against electronic noises – like a Cattle dub experiment. Occasional forays into fuller noisier sounds challenge the more melodic edge and the vocal screams like a more frightening tune from the Super Luxury catalogue, while higher registered feedback sounds are used as musical punctuation. Chances are, you’ve experienced Cattle doing something very similar previously, though not often with such force. …And in case you now feel they’re retreading familiar ground, ‘Moon Crawl’ expands Cattle’s spiky sound into more new territories as the dual drums tap into a slow, tribal beat, electronic sounds join the echoing shouts, filling space without diluting any of the edge, and an obtuse saxophone brings honking, squawking sounds at times, while at others, complimenting a superb bassline with pointed, challenging melodies. Moving out of the noise-rock (dis)comfort zone and experimenting with art rock textures serves the Leeds noisemakers well indeed, as if hearing Melvins channelling Pere Ubu. This…is fantastic. Six minutes of arty, angular and sometimes wantonly ugly brilliance.
Even with the passing years, Cattle’s debut EP sounds like a masterpiece; the kind of recording that’s almost impossible to equal. Due to the extended playing time, this full length doesn’t quite have the same feeling of onslaught but with ‘Nature’s Champion’, the band achieves the almost impossible: they’ve lightened up without losing any of their previous intensities and they’ve become more commercial sounding, while simultaneously having almost no commercial potential at all. Somewhere at the more tuneful end of noise rock and the most obtuse end of post rock, Cattle still have plenty of musical guts, with this album displaying a sound that’s wholly theirs…and if you don’t like it, presumably, they still don’t care.