The latest in a series of difficult, daring, frenetic hybrids of metal, harsh noise, smooth jazz and, yes, vaporwave from Marcloid under her Fire-Toolz moniker.
On the morning I began writing this review, I cleaned out the cabinet cluttered with pill bottles, medicines and syringes left over from the period during which we cared for our cat during his cancerous decline. It has been five months since he left, but there was still enormous grief in this task – an absence that had grown numb felt acutely once again. The problem is that the experience of loss is common. It is hard to say anything interesting or worthwhile about it. The sadness that lingers from the death of a pet can feel embarrassing and insignificant given the daily horrors of our world. And unlike the death of a person – whose life inevitably comes into contact with so many other lives forming a web of grief, a structure one might turn to in the event of death – the death of a pet is a nearly-private affair, the grief shared with only a few others, at best.
The title of the new Fire-Toolz album, Rainbow Bridge, references a folk belief surrounding the death of a pet. If you have ever experienced this, you’ll know that the rainbow bridge is meant to represent the place where pets cross from this life to what lies beyond and wait for their companions. It’s from an anonymous poem and you might receive a little card with the poem printed on it along with your pet’s ashes. This union of kitsch and metaphysics shouldn’t work as comfort, but anguish performs a strange alchemy on the brain. The elongation of time caused by grief, the uncertainty inserted into daily routine by absence, these experiences demand sense-making as a counter-balance. For the experimental musician behind Fire-Toolz – Angel Marcloid – this mythology found its expression in Rainbow Bridge, an album-length elegy to her departed cat, Breakfast in which she struggles – and succeeds – to make meaning out of this experience of loss.
Rainbow Bridge is the latest in a series of difficult, daring, frenetic hybrids of metal, harsh noise, smooth jazz and, yes, vaporwave from Marcloid under her Fire-Toolz moniker. Though the record is defiantly not any one of these things, transcending the boxes the algorithm loves to place things in – “if you like x, try y.” It is dynamic, never settling into one of these grooves long enough to become stagnant, just long enough to leave you wanting more. The moods within individual tracks range from anger to anxiety to love to joy without ever coming apart at the seams. On top of all this are Marcloid’s deftly mixed screams/vocals. This element never overwhelms the others, but it is likely to be the deciding factor on whether or not one can enter into the world of Fire-Toolz wholeheartedly. The vocals are essential, however, not just to the sonic palette of Fire-Toolz, but because they convey the unexpected poetry of Marcloid’s lyrics.
The first track, “Gnosis .•o°Ozing,” begins with a distorted voice asking “This unchanging stillness. Isn’t that what I am?” before the song launches into heavy guitars and blast beats. As the percussion escalates, Marcloid sings “And now I lay listening to nothing/ I feel my organs locking up.” Then, over the punishing crunch of drums and guitar, a synth melody – like the kind played in a celestial elevator – swoops in, lifting the track briefly out of darkness. But the melody sours into dissonance as grief subsumes the track sonically and lyrically. “Layers in grief not unlike stages of passing/ There are many,” Marcloid sings before offering a corrective: “Not too many/ Not so much.” On the title track, Marcloid begs for understanding from her departed companion: “Please don’t be mad that I cut your cord/ Fear lodged in my gums/ Pressing into my face with finger-like force.” Glittering synths that ought to clash with the harsh vocals instead elevate the sentiment of the song. When Marcloid screams the name of her departed cat, it isn’t corny, but cathartic.
Elsewhere, instrumental tracks show the wide sonic palette of Fire-Toolz. The six-minute “angel (Of Death)” wouldn’t be out of place on a release by vaporwave artist Telepath, but Marcloid extends the bouncy muzak of the track’s first movement into an ambient space over which looping mbiras blur the line between creepy and calming. “ER = EPR ~ EoE (EP ∆ P = ER)” slows and pitches down over its runtime, while layering different sonic elements, forming a rich, distorted soup by the end. Album closer “Screamographic Memory” is a stately and beautiful ascension of melodic and heavenly synths that fuzz at the edges just enough to blur the picture of the afterworld that forms in the listeners head.
On “觀音 Prayer For The Abuser (abridged),” the final track on the album that contains vocals, the two extremes of Fire-Toolz are on display. It opens with a slow synth motif that is eventually overlaid with machine-gun beats and Marcloid’s distinctive vocals. It’s a track that wrestles with grief and mercy and forgiveness in its lyrics, and this is reflected in the hectic sound of the song. It ends with Marcloid singing “I offer the perfect sanctity of this very moment.” It is this fidelity to the moment, to dwelling in a sound or thought long enough to honor it, which makes the seemingly disparate elements of Fire-Toolz come together in harmony.
Rainbow Bridge may not be the best entry-point for the uninitiated – for that, refer to last year’s more melodic Field Whispers (Into the Crystal Palace) – but it is Fire-Toolz’s most emotional and deeply-felt release thus far. It suggests that, while grief never ends, we can move through it in new ways, ways that bring new meaning to our lives and honor those who are absent. Musically complex, even chaotic, Rainbow Bridge contains a Zen-like peace at its core. That there is difficulty in the journey to appreciating that peace is, in fact, the whole point.