Dispatches, thoughts, and miscellanea from writer Jon Konrath

Anacrusis – Screams and Whispers (1993)

Not many people remember this St. Louis-based metal unit, except for the music critics who claim they were one of the era’s best bands, but were simply lost in the shuffle of the whole Death Metal craze of the time. And guess what – I’m a bit of an amateur music critic, and when Marco at Metal Blade sent me these demos at the beginning of ’93, I loved the prog-gy rock band. Here’s the review I wrote in Xenocide back in the day:

ANACRUSIS – Screams and Whispers (Metal Blade) This is the fourth release from St. Louis’ claim to progressive metal. These guys aren’t a Death or Thrash band, they have some of the accent and meter of a doom band but they have the balls and sharpness of a hard rock band. Its like Cathedral meets Fates Warning or something. Kenn Nardi’s lyrics are strange, they are sung in places and the phrasing is abnormal, but it gives the album a good feel. The drumwork by Paul Miles and John Emery’s bass lay down a really offbeat and unique foundation for the lucid guitarwork by Nardi and Kevin Heidbreder. The guitars blend pretty decently into the mix except for a well planned jump out of the pit for a sharp, distortion-clear solo of precision, or a harmonic, dual guitar chorus. Don’t forget the clear standalone guitar passages here and there. This concept probably won’t sit well with most fanatic headbangers, and even some more broad-tasted individuals may have to give it a second or third spin before it catches. But to me, it was worth it.

For whatever reason, I never had a copy of this album on CD. I looked around, and found I had two prerelease copies, I think mixed differently (with the standard black-on-white photocopied Metal Blade labels) and also a reviewer/cutout of the actual release. But as far as listening to tapes these days, they might as well be wax cylinders to me, so I haven’t heard these guys in like ten years. Luckily, I thought to punch it in google one day and found the band’s web site, containing MP3s of everything, which I promptly copied to my iPod for another listen.

I’ve never checked out any of the band’s other stuff; their first two on Restless plus Manic Impressions on Metal Blade all sounded a bit uneven in comparison, with the band getting their act together as far as music and production. Screams and Whispers shows the band fully together, playing well and sounding excellent. They detune their guitars like a Death Metal band would, but instead of going for that Carcass-y grindcore sound, it instead makes things more doomy. Add to that the band’s first experiments with synth, in the form of artificial orchestral hits woven into the music, and you have a much thicker soundscape than the average thrash/death release of the time.

Back in 1993, when I was in college and doing the zine, I did not have a car, and used to walk miles and miles everywhere. And this album was one of the ones that I’d put in for a really long trek, when I needed something to push me forward, but not something that was completely manic and then over in 15 minutes, like most demos of the era. There are some highlights here that I really like, that pull me back to when this album was in the walkman constantly. One I really remember is the opener, “Sound the Alarm,” which starts with a very atmospheric, clean guitar sound with a bit of delay, and then slams into a faster beat. “Release” has a more straightforward march to it, but with Ken Nardi’s strange lyrics on top it, adding a weird sense of unease that makes the song more interesting. “A Screaming Breath” and “Driven” both showcase the band’s ability to go in different directions in the same song with complex odd-meter arrangements, which are the band’s trademark. What’s even more amazing is that they switched drummers just before recording, and were able to hash out such complicated meter with a new guy right as they went into the studio.

Like I said before, this album really isn’t for everyone. Even people well-versed into odd-meter, fast-solo prog-rock probably aren’t going to appreciate this, because it’s a lot more about the strange mood captured in the sound. This isn’t a Moving Pictures rocker that has solid AOR songs from start to finish, and even though I love the album for what it is, it’s not like I pop it in the car player when I’m out driving and having a good time. But it’s very well done, and the only chief complaint from me is that the metal world couldn’t really get this, and the band disbanded a short time later. That makes this the only little time capsule of the band’s brief career, and maybe that’s what makes it even that much more special.

Rating: 8.5