City of Caterpillar Return to the World They Helped Create with 'Mystic Sisters'
Published Sep 27, 2022For devoted fans of early screamo, City of Caterpillar are practically legends, despite the fact that they only existed for three years. The band formed in 2000, they put out a couple of split 7-inches, they released their debut album, and then they broke up. During that brief period of activity, they played in small rooms to small crowds. It was only after the band had dissolved that a generation of emo geeks who spent their after-school hours downloading mp3s from Soulseek and Blogspot gave them a venerable cult legacy.
City of Caterpillar's story isn't necessarily unique. Hailing from Richmond, Virginia, the band was part of a scene that also produced Orchid, Pg. 99, Saetia and Circle Takes the Square, whose similarly revered discographies are highly concentrated between the years 1999 and 2002. Most of those groups went on to influence later generations of screamo and post-hardcore acts, too, but you can argue that City of Caterpillar made the most significant impact. It was the combination of chaotic, emotive hardcore and spacey, desolate post-rock on their 2002 self-titled that helped pave the way for the later emergence of bands like Pianos Become the Teeth, Deafheaven, Touché Amoré, the Saddest Landscape and Holy Fawn.
Now, City of Caterpillar are one of the latest in a string of semi-obscure emo and screamo acts from their era that have unexpectedly gotten back together. In the last few years, there have been new albums from bands like American Football and the Juliana Theory and reunion tours by groups like Sunny Day Real Estate, Algernon Cadwallader, Saetia and Hopesfall. Returning to claim the spoils of one's reputation always comes with the risk of tarnishing it, but City of Caterpillar's long-awaited second album Mystic Sisters only bolsters their legacy.
While there are some clear signs of maturation, it feels like the band picked right up where they left off 20 years earlier. They weave together big, airy atmospheres, tension-filled squalls and chaotic outbursts with deft hands and a keen sense of timing. Brandon Evans' voice has improved, but not in a way that makes it cleaner or any less abrasive; whether he's singing or screaming, it's a nasty, sneering delivery that keeps you on edge. With mixing and mastering by Jack Shirley (known for his work with Deafheaven and Jeff Rosenstock), the record is densely layered and highly textural but still has a vintage feel that suits them perfectly.
Compared to City of Caterpillar's first album, Mystic Sisters leans more toward the melodic, ethereal sounds of Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Mogwai than the thrash-and-bash assault of hardcore punk, but it still incorporates both faithfully. The twin guitars of Evans and Jeff Kane shape-shift between mosquito-like hums, ghostly whispers, searing buzzsaws and chugging machinery, while drummer Ryan Parrish and bassist Kevin Longendyke give the songs a low rumble that's constantly threatening.
There's high-wire suspense to be found all across the propulsive thrum of "Decider," the droning, wobbling guitars of "Thought Drunk," the guttural shrieks of "In the Birth of a Fawn," and the unpredictable rhythms of "Paranormaladies." On "Mystic Sisters," the band gives a clinic in tension-building, slowly building from near-silence to explosiveness without ever letting the pressure dissipate until the very last second. They've also added vocal choirs that do a magnificent job of heightening the band's emotive power, whether that's the cultish chants of "Manchester" or the poignant hymns of "Ascension Theft."
All of it delivers on the assumed promise of a new City of Caterpillar record. Fans and critics have praised the irresistibly dark, moody and unpredictable sound of their debut for 20 years, and Mystic Sisters fits that description perfectly. It's music for descending into a deep, dark void, slowly at first and then with frightening speed. Screamo pushed forward in their absence, but City of Caterpillar's return reiterates the reason for their lasting influence. (Relapse)