City of Caterpillar’s self-titled debut is one of my all-time favorite albums. Last September—twenty years after that debut—the band released a follow-up, Mystic Sisters.
In 2002, the band was discovering something new. In 2022, it was recovering something old.
The band picks up where it left off, building worlds and then taking journeys through the vibes. “Thought Drunk” introduces the album with spacey reverb-drenched guitars behind a menacing bass while tom drums conjure something primal, like war drums approaching from over the hill. A monotone chant leads into the vocal—then singer-guitarist Brandon Evans spits, “Heads sunk, thought drunk / I'm sick of singing fears / I'm sick of singing fears / I'm sick of losing years / I'm sick to fucking tears.” Vocal cadence is crucial with this band. Then the band stresses the struts with a four-minute noise-rock play-out.
So many good debuts are marred by poor sound quality. City of Caterpillar’s was. (There should be a charity that helps every promising band properly record and mix its debut.) But the recording of Mystic Sisters sounds much better than the debut.
The band breaks the tension with “Paranormaladies.” Rocking, seesawing riffs impel vocals that somehow sound brash and paranoid: “There's something here / I asked for a sign / Flipped the page, saw old words I scribbled down from my mind—a prior time, with different intentions—they read, ‘We'll be waiting for you, best believe that.’”
With the album’s release, Evans said, “The band is always focused on mood … To me, that’s the most important thing. I don’t really want people dissecting what we’re trying to say, because it’s not really about us. It never has been. What we cared about 20 years ago was innocent, raw emotion, and that’s what we care about now.”
The title track builds gradually. Soft, ghostly guitars and a few low-end piano notes haunt. At 1:35, a theme develops and is fully formed by 1:50. It continues to the three-minute mark and sounds almost like an Ennio Morricone soundtrack. At 3:40, this cinematic track breaks from the theme, shifts key, and then builds to a crescendo. The urgency and tension grip tight at 5:10 until a brief reprieve at six minutes. But then the band jumps back in for a brief coda—
My birth, my death, my ancestors, my brothers, my wife,
My children in the light, mothers birthing this life,
My sisters who have no say
There's mystics in the air,
There's mystics in the air, there's mystics in the...
They're everywhere, everywhere
The album’s eighth and final track, “Ascension Theft… (Gnawing of the Bottom-Feeders),” also fades in cinematically. The guitar drips tension with choice notes softened with reverb. The notes begin to pool with feedback and noise, then spill as the mood intensifies with the spine-stiffening bass. Then meaty bass notes colossus-walk over hills and through valleys, maintaining perfect control. At 3:30, the song takes off and then triumphs with a bitter, defiant vocal—
Feed your face until it bleeds
For the rest of us it's fight or flight
Spiraling through the thievery
Pockets full of puddled blood
For the rest of us it'll be just fine
Spiraling through the thievery
Mystic Sisters was released September 30, 2022, on Relapse Records. It happened the way almost all late-career follow-up albums do: the band reunited for some shows and ended up recording. Is it as good as it was the first time?
Is it ever?