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Cops, Drugs and Sludge: the Timeliness of Fistula

One’s attachment to a record seldom extends solely from the record itself. This is why album reviews are flawed at best—most try to present the music in a sort of vacuum, when in actuality an individual listener’s experience with music is informed by the contexts surrounding that listening session. For example, couples frequently have a “song” that both parties identify with their relationship—sometimes it even winds up playing at their wedding. Likewise, family members have songs that remind them of one another (my mother texts me whenever she hears “Enter Sandman” on the radio).

Fistula recently released a vinyl-only album, Vermin Prolificus,. On first listen, the promo sort-of left me flat. Fistula are obviously a Cleveland band, sounding at times in-line with the evil hardcore (Integrity, Ringwom) that city pumps out, but the band also dabbles in noisy sludge and grindcore—their song lengths are mostly under the two minute mark, or around ten minutes.

When I re-listened to it this weekend, however, it hit me harder, entirely because of the context that surrounded my listening experience. Recently, my news feeds have been dominated by two topics: the militarization of police forces following the civil unrest in Ferguson, Missouri; and hard drug abuse as related to the ongoing revelations about Nachtmystium’s Blake Judd.

Fistula cover both of these topics in the run of Vermin Prolificus, in their lyrics as well as the hair-raising samples they employ. The song “Pig Funeral,” an album highlight and one of the two longer songs, tackles the topic of police violence head-on. It’s ridiculous to think that Fistula have any sort of clairvoyant abilities, so maybe they’re just clued-in to the realities of police brutality more than I am. Life imitates art imitates life, after all, and if it was inevitable that a Ferguson type incident would have happened given America’s increased militarization, then it only makes sense that some artists would lock into that trend beforehand.

The subject of drug abuse, fortunately or unfortunately, hits closer to home, and perhaps Fistula know that—one sample of an intense drug intervention repeats throughout the record, both on the opening song, “Smoke Cat Hair and Toenails,” as well as the album’s centerpiece and title track, a sprawling quarter-hour jam. In that sample, what sounds like a teenage girl is forced to repeatedly tell her parents and boyfriend that “the drugs are more important than you.” She repeats the process, until she admits “the drugs are more important than anything.” Fistula repeat that young girl’s confession like a mantra. It becomes a meditative song.

Addiction is one of my greatest fears—it’s more terrifying, and therefore interesting, than any kind of satanic subject matter. It strikes a chord with me because I’ve lost friends (and nearly lost many more) to heroin. My personal experience with his has drawn me closer to Nachtmystium records, as well as to Master of Puppets, and it’s drawn me closer to Vermin Prolificus. Hearing these songs offers an insight into the mind of an addict that I did not possess beforehand, and they leave me both disturbed and in a way comforted. As long as a substance is not more important to me than any human being, I feel some relief as well as find, months later, that I feel close to a record I did not care for previously. That is the process by which we come to accept all art, music and literature. And it’s more important than anything.

Have any of you readers found a record struck closer to home months, even years after your first listen? I’d love to hear your stories. Either way, stream Vermin Prolificus below.

— Joseph Schafer

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