Friday, September 21, 2012

Deserted Island 500 - "Screams and Whispers" by Anacrusis

For the inaugural post in my "Deserted Island 500" series, I'll pick an album that has been unfairly marginalized by the metal faithful.  My favorite style of metal (by a small margin) is thrash metal, and my tastes often draw the ire of fellow thrashers because I tend to lean toward the more technical and progressive side of thrash versus the more straight-ahead aggressive thrash of Slayer and the Germanic bands (Destruction, Kreator, Sodom, etc).  I also quite like the Bay Area sound, as evidenced by my love for early Metallica, Megadeth, Testament, etc.  But in general, my favorite thrash bands take the basic constructs of the style (speed, aggression, razor-sharp riffs, energy) and inject them with a healthy dose of robust musicianship and musical adeptness.  I like it when thrash metal is more than just loads of energy and great guitar playing, and when they take it to the next level and make it into something even more.

Anacrusis, who hailed from St. Louis, Missouri, was a band that made a successful transition from the aggressive, no-holds-barred thrash of their early days to a much more technical, progressive, and intricate sound at the end of their short lifespan as a band.  Their debut, "Suffering Hour" was an intense affair, treading the same sonic waters as other thrash bands of the day, putting as much aggression and energy into the mix as possible, still retaining the melody and catchiness of the NWOBHM movement thrash was heavily influenced by.  While thrash purists often cite it or its follow-up "Reason" as the band's better output, some laud the more progressive 3rd album "Manic Impressions" as the peak.  While I like "Manic Impressions" a fair bit, I tend to think their final opus to be their best work.  This is due to the variety present and stylistic exploration while still keeping that razor-like guitar tone and the essential components of thrash metal as part of the overall construct.  Kenn Nardi's vocals have improved, his singing ability having been honed over 5 years of touring and recording, as well as his trademark screeching having become quite precise and piercing to nicely compliment his improved singing ability.

Part of what I love so much about this album is the guitar tone.  It retains that "icy" tone and texture of "Manic Impressions", but is crunchier in some ways, and has a more piercing quality to it that really compliments the songs well.  In addition, the clean guitar passages are just as haunting as the heavy passages because of the rhythms and riffs used, and the stark production fits this to a tee.  Drum work by Paul Miles is a high point, as I feel like his playing is spot-on for the material, and he never overdoes it, but always adds the right extra textures when needed.  I like the songwriting here best, because I think it represents Kenn's writing abilities so well, and offers what is probably the most memorable set of material he ever wrote under the Anacrusis banner.  Each song has at least one major hook, and these tracks and riffs get stuck in my head long after the music stops playing.  I can't say that about the band's other 3 albums, but this one release certainly stays with me far more than most any other under the "progressive thrash metal" label.  Lyrically, Kenn strikes a chord as well with his anthems of discontentment and disillusionment - we've all felt disconnected from society, loved ones, and life in general once in a while, right?  Those elements, coupled with the pristine production that compliments the songs and the recording just makes for what I consider to be a near-perfect package.

While there's no such thing as a 'perfect' album or release, this comes fairly close to what I would consider perfection based on the style, context, production, songwriting, and overall construction of the material.  I don't spin this constantly, in part because the material is best when it's had time to "breathe" a bit between listens, but every time I do spin this one, it is always affecting and jarring in its delivery.  That's one of the highest compliments I can pay to an album, really.  There are other albums I listen to very frequently because I really enjoy listening to them, or some due to long-time love of the release, but when I can come back to an album months after the last time I listened to it and it sounds fresh and vital each time, that's a special work of art.  This is an essential piece of thrash and progressive metal art, and if you're a fan of either and it's not in your collection, shame on you.

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