February 2023 - Feature Release - The Pit Edition
Another month flies by, which means it's time to select a new feature release for The Pit. As it's my turn to choose, I've selected Anacrusis' Screams and Whispers album from 1993. Given my love for this album, I probably should have selected it as a feature previously, but I do acknowledge that it's probably a better fit for The Infinite. Regardless, I'll take any opportunity to invite Academy attendees to check it out. This is an album that's all about songwriting, so I encourage you to let it get its hooks in before judging.
It would be great to read what you all think of it either below or in review format.
I haven't paid much attention to Anacrusis over the years and so I wasn't quite sure what I would be getting with Screams and Whispers. Well one thing I did get was an interesting listen that's for sure. This is definitely not one of those thrash albums that jumps out and grabs you by the throat, but it requires a degree of investment on the part of the listener in order to unpack and digest what is going on here. Thrash metal can often be a very immediate experience, but a single, or even a couple of listens would never do an album like this justice. It is true that by the time of Screams and Whispers release there were several bands trying to move thrash metal on into a more progressive or technical direction, with varying degrees of success and it's fair to include Anacrusis amongst their number.
One thing that did stand out immediately were Kenn Nardi's vocals which don't come on like most other thrash vocalists who try terribly hard to sound as aggressive as possible, although he certainly shows at times he is capable of vocal aggression, it is not his only recourse. There is a gothic tinge to his vocals and even, I might venture, a touch of grunge about his singing. Most often, he comes off as a cross between Suicidal Tendencies' Mike Muir and Killing Joke's Jaz Coleman, although he can let rip when the material requires it.
Musically Screams and Whispers is a real mixed bag and to call it simply a thrash album is not telling the whole story. I guess progressive metal may cover it, but there really is a shedload of different influences going on here and from track to track, like with Forrest Gump's proverbial box of chocolates, you're never quite sure what you're going to get. Anacrusis seem to take delight in catching their listeners off-guard with a succession of curveballs, whether it's a gothic metal-like track such as the opener, Sound the Alarm (probably my favourite track), or the accessible melodies of tracks like Release that are exceedingly catchy in places, to the keyboard flourishes that sound like they were rented from Yes' Owner of A Lonely Heart that rear their heads on more than a couple of occasions, and the Killing Joke-influenced Division, this is certainly an unpredictable thrash metal release.
But, does it work? Well, I am a man of simple tastes and it could be that this is just too cosmopolitan for me but, no I'm afraid it doesn't always work and on a few occasions the constant change of direction hints at a work that doesn't really know what it wants to be, other than different from the herd. The constant and sudden changes of direction I often found frustrating and a little bit irritating, with it ultimately residing slightly outside my enjoyment zone. Don't get me wrong, there are tracks I enjoyed, the aforementioned Sound the Alarm and Division for example, but for me it isn't sufficiently coherent and those constant curveballs ended up distracting more than engaging me. What does make this album for me and are what I will take away from it are Nardi's vocals which lift the album higher in my regard than I think it would have with an inferior singer, so although I found the whole a bit disappointing, the vocals made it a worthwhile experience nonetheless.
I'm glad Ben choose this release as this month's feature because it's been on my radar to revisit for a while now & I'd probably have checked it out this month at some point anyway. I remember not being as positive about it as I'd hoped at the time of release which is probably why it's taken me all these years to get back to it &, to be honest, not a lot's changed. Ben's been a massive fan of "Screams & Whispers" for a zillion years now but I just can't see what the big deal is. It's a serviceable progressive metal record with some thrash metal influence. I don't think it's accurate to call it a progressive thrash release as the progressive side of Anacrusis' sound dominates this tracklisting with a fair amount of US power metal in their sound. The thrashier parts remind me a lot of Testament's "Practice What You Preach" & "Souls Of Black" albums & vocalist Kenn Nardi seems to try to sound like Chuck Billy during his more aggressive moments too but I'd compare "Screams & Whispers" more to bands like Watchtower, Mekong Delta & particularly Nevermore more than I would to Coroner or Vektor.
Unlike Sonny though, I'm gonna have to admit that I find the vocals to be one of the weaker components of "Screams & Whispers". I wouldn't say they're much more than serviceable & think that a record like this one is sorely lacking a top line front man. I also find the production to sound noticeably dated with the rhythm guitar tone suffering from a hollow frequency scoop that was very much of its time & the keyboards being pretty random & more than a bit cheesy. I don't really find the album to get going until it makes a late surge through the one-two punch of the Voivod-inspired "My Soul's Affliction" into "Driven" but sadly the tracklisting dies in the ass shortly afterwards with the lengthy closer "Brotherhood?" which is the clear low point of the album.
I dunno. There are some really good things going on here (particularly the proggier lead guitar work which generally elevates things) but I'm afraid I don't see this record as the minor underground classic it's widely regarded as being. Enjoyable? Certainly but, despite the clear talent on display, I find it a bit hard to look past the flaws here.
In a parallel universe somewhere, Proggy Vinny is writing a review about an album he discovered from a band called Anacrusis who took a traditional thrash metal foundation and built a progressive (if not all that daring) structure on top of it. Proggy Vinny and Anacrusis moved into that structure and lived happily ever after.
Here, in this miserable excuse of a universe, this Vinny was not looking for a progressive thrash metal album and so wished Anacrusis all the best and declined to go to more than 50 or so minutes of the house-warming. Joking aside, Screams and Whispers is not a bad record. It is not something I ever want to hear again but I accept that the issue there is more me just not liking this as opposed to Anacrusis sounding just downright offensive. I can easily acknowledge the instrumental work and do on occasion find myself nodding and tapping along to sections of songs on the record. However, I cannot get on with Kenn Nardi's vocals. They absolutely ruin every track without fail. Even when he tries to go a bit Chuck Billy (agree entirely with Daniel) it just doesn't work.
It is baffling to think that he is noted as the originator and "mastermind" of the band because he is by far the weakest link. He can't sing. End of. His voice is only unique because of how weak it sounds and to try and keep any thrash credentials here is bordering on bizarre with such an unsuitable vocal style present. Not for me folks.
I knew this would be somewhat divisive, but I must admit that I'm surprised by the complete lack of connection this album appears to have made with others here. I don't want to get all defensive about an album I love, as I encourage everyone to form their own opinions, but will simply state that I think Nardi's vocals are fantastic. I think this might be a similar case to Nevermore, with some fans finding them unlistenable due to Warrell Dane's approach, while others (myself included) find them to be utterly compelling, taking the listening experience to greater heights.
As I stated in my review, I found the vocals to be the most compelling ingredient of the album. I enjoyed it most when it was at it's least thrashy because I just don't think it works at all well as a thrash album. Interesting exactly how divisive a release it has turned out to be though. Just goes to show that even if two people agree that a release works (or not), it can be for completely different reasons, proving that in music everything is subjective.
I've done my review, here's its summary:
Time for me to again give you a brief summary of what the deal was with classic metal genres transitioning in the early 90s. Most thrash metal bands at that time either left in a hurry or switched to a different style, most notably alternative or groove metal. But those bands started in the early to mid-80s, and the ones late in the game that started in the late 80s wanted to have the last bit of what was popular when the story was already moving on. Anacrusis is one of those latecomers, and they still had their great sense of technicality and unique atmosphere, unlike other late-80s-starting bands like Annihilator that fell victim to mainstream pressure too soon at that time. Screams and Whispers is a masterpiece! They really ended their initial run smoothly. It was quite an incredible surprise to me after just finding this band this week. It's a dark atmospheric swansong offering. Kenn Nardi has an impressive vocal range, ranging from aggressive shouting, almost deathly, to clean operatic singing that you can find from other thrashy progressive metal bands like Nevermore. In the pessimistic darkness of some songs, the riffing stays sharp and keeps the bleakness interesting. There's also fast pounding bass and drums that often lowers down to a slower pace. And some songs have atmospheric orchestration. The orchestration comes from the keyboards instead of an actual orchestra, so I can't really put the "early symphonic metal" stamp on it. Still it adds a whole new dimension to the sound in grace. Unlike what other bands had done that year, Anacrusis stayed firmly in thrashy progressive metal with the right amount of balance. Sadly, they disbanded right after that album, a self-sacrifice to not fall into the modern trap. However, in the early 2010s, they were back on the touring road for some time, and they even re-recorded their first two albums, then after that, other than a 2019 reunion show, they again said "That's all, folks!" But if they ever come back in the future with a new original album, sound the alarm!