I can't believe it's been a little over two years since Cruelty of the Heavens dished out some new material, not to mention more than three years since their debut album! I think this is the eighth time I've written about the Memphis, TN trio during that stretch—including slots in my Year-End Favorites lists for both 2016 and 2017 (Nothin's Cool will follow suit in 2020)—and they remain my favorite active band. It would be the understatement of the decade to say that I've been eagerly awaiting this material, which primarily consists of four all-new tracks bookending "Anna Graham" from 2017's Somewhere Between Paranoia & Depression EP.
Too many groups of this nature have disappointed me over time by slowing down and getting all meandery and experimental (i.e. boring), so I am abso-fucking-lutely thrilled to report that Cruelty of the Heavens has not lost a single step. Each and every one of these tracks is a keeper, right up there with Grow Up and See in terms of overall excellence in... well... let's get stupid and call it "grunge-gazing alternative post-metal emo-rock"!
Opener "Angeldust" has a boppin' swing to it, with a chorus that's a few handclaps away from being a 10-times-heavier take on something that Weezer might've done in 1994. "Found Missing" is a slightly more sinewy and dissonant—yet still shimmery and bass-driven—take on the band's core sound, kicking into its emphatic chorus within the first minute. As mentioned, smack in the middle is "Anna Graham," which I've previously referred to as "a plodding, bass-centric, emo-tinged shoegaze whirl complete with wonderfully heavy-yet-dreary chorus hooks that even tosses in a bit of a twist by introducing a light twang to some of the surrounding lead melodies." If the vocal slip 'n' slide from clean crooning to throat-shredding grit—a tactic that this outfit has perfected beyond compare—around 2:20 doesn't get you, I don't know what will. I had heard a rough mix of "Poltergeist"—which musically dates back to the Grow Up and See sessions—as far back as late-2018, at which time my initial reaction was that its slower and more spaciously atmospheric tone bore a "non-metal" musical similarity to an almost Katatonia-esque quality at times. "Darling Demon" is a bit of a sleeper hit, opening with a restrained aesthetic that surreptitiously transitions into another monster of a chorus, during which the final line flawlessly harmonizes singing with screaming.
I've already listened to Nothin's Cool like 20+ times. Just can't get enough! I wish record labels would focus on great music instead of how many shows a band has played or how many hollow social media "likes" they've racked up hobnobbing with "the scene," 'cause on the right label with the right exposure, Cruelty of the Heavens could be "underground huge" at the very least. It still blows my mind how few websites have covered this band, too!? People must be fuckin' deaf, because everything they've released to date just trounces so much of what crosses my path. They are the single most overlooked and underrated band of the past five years, without question.
The songwriting, the production, all of the little nuances and atmosphere with no loss of energy or emphasis, sick bass tones and creative runs, heftily hard-hitting percussion, unexpectedly earwormy singalong choruses... what's not to love here?
Digital-only releases break my heart. If there's any shred of justice out there, Cruelty of the Heavens will be granted at least one elaborately beautiful hyper-colored splatter vinyl (or some such) affair—since that's what "the kids" are all about these days—before I shake the cold hand of death...