Music News

Grindcore doomsayers Clinging to the Trees of a Forest Fire skip the fluffy nonsense and tell it like it is

For over five years, Clinging to the Trees of a Forest Fire has been cultivating a sound that combines the darkness and brutality of grindcore and death metal, resulting in a seething cauldron of outrage and tortured despair.

Amid the often atonal clangor and pummeling rhythms, vocalist Ethan McCarthy's feral wails evoke an existential crisis so intense you can feel it in your bones. This is not a band that is merely loud or musically extreme; rather, it is one willing to implode the conventions of heavy music and write songs that are the opposite of being tough, that go beyond merely pointing a finger at the enemy outside to examining the enemy inside one's own head.

Clinging recently signed with Prosthetics Records, and the unusual band's new album, Songs of Ill Hope and Desperation, plumbs new depths of the act's repertoire. We had a candid conversation with vocalist Ethan McCarthy about the band and its artistic goals.

Westword: How would you describe the music of Clinging?

Ethan McCarthy: I feel like Clinging is a mix between a lot of grind and a lot of doom. We all kind of got into doom later on, after all of this. We liked Crowbar when we were younger, but your more extreme doom, like Moss or Sunn O))) or Khanate, came later. We have a little bit of death metal and black metal in there, too. All genres of extreme, underground music, but the foundation is doom and grind, for sure. If we were a food pyramid, the base would be grindcore and doom, with sprinklings of other stuff over the top.

Did you have any specific goals, artistic or otherwise, with this band?

Some people want to write a pop song to uplift everybody or make everyone think of some fluffy nonsense. I want to make people think about what's wrong with their lives, and to understand. People think with the new president — I'm half black, so I don't give a fuck what his race is — I still think he's a corrupt politician sending us to hell. And I sing about this in songs.

My peers don't want to hear that. It's taboo if you're under the age of forty. I talk about how you're fucked if you work a job you hate, and how you're fucked if you don't work. Some people want to go home and listen to safe music and forget about what's going on.

But you can't forget, because when the shit hits the fan, you have to be ready. I don't just talk about what's wrong, but I talk about the terrible feelings it brings me. Just these places you don't want to admit you go to, but I go there, and I write about it. I know what's oppressing me, but a lot of people don't know, and I think that's the positive aspect of it. Increasing awareness about the fucked-up things in life.

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Tom Murphy is a writer, visual artist and musician from Aurora, Colorado. He was a prolific music writer for Westword and a documenter of the Denver music scene.