Before reviewing Cloak of Altering’s new album, let’s just take a quick look at some other noise albums that have come out this year. I usually like the genre, but nothing stood out so far. There seems to be two trends that put me off. The first consists of bands that just make a pop album, and then layer a bunch of noise over it to call it art.
Maybe some people fall for this indie band trick, but I’m kind of shocked to see it get so much metal coverage. For example, I was excited about Have a Nice Life’s The Unnatural World because of the coverage in Decibel and a 9/10 at American Aftermath. I found the album unlistenable, because it fell in this first category. Pop plus noise does not negate the pop.
The other category is the other extreme. I like experimental music, but there is a line that can be crossed from avant garde to chaotic, disorganized, random sounds. This type of music has potential, because maybe I’m just not spending enough time with the album to understand the complicated underlying patterns. My guess is that there isn’t actually something there, though. I saw rave reviews for White Suns’ Totem, but found it to be unlistenable for that reason.
Then I found Cloak of Altering’s Plague Beasts. Cloak of Altering is a Dutch one-man project: Maurice de Jong. He’s been involved in a lot of extreme music projects, including another one-man project, Gnaw Their Tongues. This is Cloak of Altering’s third full-length release. Rather than call this noise, maybe it should be classified as industrial electronica with noise elements.
I’ll admit up front that I don’t love this album, but it at least encapsulates what originally drew me to the noise genre. First, there are some really great sounds on this album. The potential for interesting, new sounds definitely keeps me coming back to noise.
I understand these sounds are produced by just playing around with electronics, so there’s nothing too deep about it. But at least there’s something original happening. Isn’t the whole point to produce original sounds? The two pitfalls above only think about using harsh white noise.
The next thing Cloak of Altering does well is maintain some semblance of being music. There’s structure, beat, melody, and harmony. Most of the time it is buried, complicated, chaotic, and extreme. But it is still there. To me, this is far more interesting and impressive. If you want pure chaos, why listen to albums? Just go sit next to a construction site. I understand that when you experiment on pushing boundaries, sometimes you go too far. It is part of the process. This album is the result of understanding where the lines seem to be and producing a more balanced album.
All that being said, I think there are some down sides to this release. Sometimes the sound can get a bit cheesy in a few ways. The keyboard synth sound goes for a retro, eerie atmosphere in some songs, but there are moments where the time period that it conjures is a bit too vivid. I hear drum machine and 80’s synth which gives off a cheap dance sound. These moments are extremely rare, but really pull me out of the experience when they happen.
The other main cheesy bit is when the drum machine is used to produce a more standard sounding loop than the chaos and noise effect it is mostly used for. He makes use of the technology in innovative ways most of the time, but those few traditional uses feel out of place.
Overall, I really like the album and think this type of balance is what noise music should strive for, but it isn’t great. I give it a 7.5/10. Here’s a sample: