This winter marks the 20th anniversary of Maurizio and Roberto Opalio’s singular My Cat is an Alien project, a milestone that they are celebrating with a pair of fascinating and divergent releases. Originally recorded back in 2015, Eternal Beyond is the fruit of an explosive and wildly experimental 4-day session with French black metal vocalist Joëlle Vinciarelli that does not sound at all like black metal. RE-SI-STEN-ZA!, on the other hand, is billed as a sort of culmination of My Cat is an Alien’s entire career. As I have not yet heard much of the Opalio’s earlier work, I cannot vouch for the truth of that, but I was pleasantly surprised by the title piece, which sounds like the work of a radical art commune a la Amon Düül embellished and collaged by a talented noise/musique concrète artist.
I am always especially eager to hear the Opalio brothers' collaborative endeavors, as My Cat is an Alien is such a singular and hermetic entity. As such, it presents quite a unique challenge for any artist attempting to merge with their aesthetic, which generally leads to some intriguingly bizarre results. Also, I am often unfamiliar with the other artists who enter the Alien orbit, so it can be a potential opportunity for me to discover some similarly outré minds. In this case, I was vaguely aware of Joëlle Vinciarelli’s La Morte Young side project, but completely unfamiliar with her status as the howling frontwoman of French black metal band Talweg. Black metal and MCIAA seem like unlikely bedfellows, but it is immediately apparent from the harrowing shrieks in brief opener "Preludio" that Joëlle’s feral edge is probably the perfect foil for the Opalios' burbling psychotropic miasma. The first fully formed piece of the album, "Eternal Marriage of Heaven and Hell," only deepened that belief. The core of "Eternal Marriage" is very much in line with MCIAA's recent aesthetic of plinking and disjointed strings, churning electronic drones, and a quavering and wordless vocal haze, but it is viscerally enhanced by crunching and scraping metal textures and a host of guttural screams and jungle sounds. It sounds like a wonderfully cacophonous and unearthly collision of lysergic reverie, space battle, metal recycling plant, and monkey orgy. That is certainly not a niche that I knew needed filling beforehand, but it works brilliantly.
The other two major pieces on the album are similarly compelling, particularly "Eternal Albert Ayler," which enhances Maurizio Opalio's harp-like backdrop and the buzzing electronic periphery with a wonderfully strangled and primal trumpet solo from Vinciarelli. The 22-minute "Eternal Eclipse du Soleil" is the album’s massive centerpiece though, unleashing a buzzing and sizzling bed of electronic textures, wordless ritualistic chants and moans, and plenty of crunching and scraping metal textures. As it progresses, some of the components grow increasingly unreal in texture. Also, it often sounds like there is a hapless noise-guitar band a la The Dead C trying to be heard above the din. The overall effect is quite a difficult one to convey, but the closest description I can muster is “it sounds like approaching a remote monastery through a jungle while the earth shakes and fire rains from the sky.” As with many great MCIAA works, it could arguably benefit from more aggressive editing, but the length feels fundamentally crucial for pulling me completely out of my reality in time for the heavy and beautifully crafted final crescendo.
To my ears, Eternal Beyond was an ideal collaboration for the Opalios at this stage in their career, as they have plunged as deeply and completely into a hallucinatory rabbit hole of otherworldliness as anyone. While I am sure Maurizio and Roberto will no doubt go even deeper into that singular headspace with future albums, this release is an unexpectedly explosive lateral move away from that expected trajectory. Most MCIAA albums evoke and explore an increasingly vibrant and fully realized alien soundworld totally unlike anything else I have heard–on Eternal Beyond, the Opalio’s vision instead feels like it is ripping through a dimensional barrier to bleed into our own. That is a welcome twist: as much as I love being totally unmoored in unfettered imagination run wild, some earthbound context and contrast adds some very effective sharp edges to MCIAA's strange dreams.
The atypically earthbound and representational cover art provides an immediate clue that RE-SI-STEN-ZA! might not be a typical My Cat is an Alien album and that is indeed a safe assessment. For one, it is the most personal of the Opalio brothers' releases, standing as a tribute to their family, their region, and the culture of resistance, all of which come together in the cover photograph of the duo's maternal grandparents. I never expected overt political statements from MCIAA, but it is understandably hard to be a bystander in such an increasingly frightened and xenophobic era. That said, the theme of resistance is one that has arguably shaped MCIAA's entire career, as there are few other artists who have been so unwaveringly challenging and iconoclastic for as long as the Opalios. The average My Cat is an Alien album has absolute zero common ground with anything happening in the mundane world of the masses, as Maurizio and Roberto seem to exclusively look to the stars or search inwardly for their inspirations instead.
The opening title piece is a surprise exception to that trend, as it instead looks backward to the music of revolution-minded rock and communal free-improv. At least, it does initially, as Roberto declaims his titular poem over a lurching and oddly timed quasi-tribal rhythm of deep toms and ringing ride cymbal. That nod to the radical past is both precarious and fleeting though, as the groove is soon beset by a haze of oscillating and chirping space toys. As long as Roberto is speaking, the piece remains somewhat subdued, though there is clearly the feel of a gathering storm beneath him. Eventually, however, it finally erupts into wildly bubbling and churning stew of electronic chaos and it is glorious. Unexpectedly, however, it quickly settles back down into a woozily plinking and ringing simmer…before absolutely exploding into a roiling crescendo of howling noise and swirling alientronics. The remaining and similarly lengthy piece, "Let Their Voices Speak Through The Wind," is a bit more in the vein of recent MCIAA albums such as Psycho-System and The Dance of Oneirism: heavy psychotropic drone built from chirping electronic pulses and Roberto’s wordless layered cooing. Nevertheless , it marks an intriguing (if subtle) evolution, as Roberto and Maurizio occasionally cohere into a bit of a more structured composition than usual with a simple and languorous one-finger keyboard melody and some ghosts of a chord progression. Of course, the primary appeal is still the sheer otherness and enveloping haze of pulse and oscillations, but the spectral hints of poignant melody and unexpected harmonies add a welcome extra shade of depth and beauty.
It is hard to say if RE-SI-STEN-ZA! is better than any other recent My Cat is an Alien albums, as their last few opuses have all been absolutely absorbing masterpieces of outsider psychedelia. This album does stand apart as distinctive for a couple of reasons though. The most obvious one is that it delves deeply into an uncategorizable sort of spaced-out, noise-damaged psych rock quite different from their recent abstract drone-fests. Also, Maurizio unexpectedly unleashes quite a gorgeous and rippling guitar coda at the end of "Let Their Voices Speak," which is rare treat from a duo so devoted to unconventional instrumentation (and with such a liberated approach to scales and chords). The less immediately apparent innovation is that these "spontaneous compositions" seem to have more of a premeditated dynamic and compositional arc than usual. That is a welcome innovation; particularly since the sneaky intrusion of structure does nothing dispel to the mind-warping transcendence of the Opalios' alien vision–it merely makes it a bit more accessible. Most likely, everyone already indoctrinated into My Cat is an Alien’s singular vision already knows that this is an essential release, but it may very well be the perfect entry point for the curious as well.