By Justin C. It took me a little longer than I would have liked to write about Anagnorisis's new album, Peripeteia. It's not because the album is flawed in any way--far from it--but because it's such a powerful personal statement by singer Zachary Kerr. There are layers and layers to peel backBy Justin C.
It took me a little longer than I would have liked to write about Anagnorisis's new album, Peripeteia. It's not because the album is flawed in any way--far from it--but because it's such a powerful personal statement by singer Zachary Kerr. There are layers and layers to peel back, even more so because the Bandcamp download contains a booklet that Kerr included to explain how the album came to be.
I tend to shy away from track-by-track reviews, since they're really no longer necessary when you can listen to an album in full yourself. I like to highlight and guide, but I don't feel as though I need to hold anybody's hand through an entire album. I'm going to make an exception for this album, though. It's my way “in,” if that makes any sense, and it's the best way in I can think of.
The album opens with a chime-like figure, which is joined by additional guitar and spoken word vocals. This builds to a proper black metal blast, finally wrapping up with the first of many cassette recording samples. "Transparent -" is an apt title for this song, as Kerr is seeking to be transparent not only to himself, but to the listeners. The sampled cassette recordings are from Kerr's childhood, and they were presented to him by his mother after his father died in 2010. The samples often seem innocuous enough--Kerr's father, for the most part, seems calm and unmenacing, if not a bit persnickety with the details as the then 4.5-year-old Kerr answers his questions. But if you're like me, your hackles will be instantly raised. It's rare these days to be presented with audio recordings that aren't going to be damning in some way or another.
"Disgust and Remorse, Pts. I and II" are as dark as you might imagine. Kerr's black metal shrieks are raspy but full, and the instrumental work is layered and sweeping. With lyrics like "My wound is self disgust" and "Depression now leads me by the leash," you get a pretty clear sense of the mood of the work. But even so, the end of "Pt. I" starts to lift just a bit. You can hear Kerr trying to move past something, as he tells us that "This reflective version of atoms is not my story." These turns in the music are what allow us, the listeners, to survive the intensity of this music. This is black metal first and foremost, but throughout the album, we're offered a variety of turns and surprises. Of course, relief doesn't come quite that easily. "Pt. II" sees Kerr pushing the harshness of his vocals just a little bit harder, telling us, "I’ve never been enough / I've never done enough."
It's worth noting at this point that in Kerr's booklet, he describes reacting to the innocence and honesty of his childhood self when hearing those cassettes after so many years. It's also worth noting what they are in contrast to. Kerr doesn't give us all the details, as he himself says it would "turn this thing into what I wanted to avoid," although he doesn't offer more specifics than that. We learn that his father had difficulty with alcohol and gradually grew distant from Kerr as he grew up. We learn that his grandmother was extremely abusive to his mother. In other words, his parents came to their new family with their own wounds, and clearly some of these were visited on Kerr. Maybe most importantly, we learn that teenaged Kerr was sent to a boarding school in West Somoa, what basically amounted to a prison camp that billed itself as a paradise in which troubled children could heal, but in reality was scamming parents for money and providing nothing but abuse and deprivation on their children.
The next track, "5306 Morningside," is suggestively titled after Kerr's childhood address. The track starts with a moment of levity, with Kerr's father introducing a song Kerr is to sing, which dissolves into a fit of giggles. It's a gentle introduction to one of the fastest and most punishing songs on the album. But with the giggling and change in styles still fresh in our minds, we're left to wonder if it's Kerr's father who is being addressed by the final line of the song, "You always provoked the best in me / by showing me the worst of you."
"Night Skies Over Nothingness" enters with a clean guitar line that's been covered with a heavy dose of fuzz. It definitely gives you the feeling of being in the wilderness, although Kerr's stint in boarding school might be coloring my impression. We get another cassette sample, this time of young Kerr reading "Invitation," a poem by Shel Silverstein that invites its readers to share their stories, regardless of what misdeeds they may have done. Although it's a poem for children, it's appropriate for an adult working through their demons in such a naked way. At times, the music in this song lends itself more to driving hard rock-type riffs that the usual black metal tremolos, but again, this is the kind of variety that keeps this album from being an unrelenting monolith of aggression and sorrow, one that would be difficult to sit through.
"Peripeteia" is both the title track and a literary term that usually refers to a turning point, and so this song seems to be in the sequence of the album. We're treated to a lovely rendition of Kerr's mother singing Connie Francis's "Cruising Down the River," a song that she explains to Kerr was important to her mother. It's hard to know what to make of this, knowing what we do about the bad relationship between Kerr's mother and grandmother, but as the song progresses, something does turn. We're treated with melancholy synths backing the black metal, and even an electric organ makes an appearance, harking back to an older rock sound.
"Metamorphosis" has an almost upbeat feel. It makes no sense for me to psychoanalyze Kerr, on what his relationship with his parents or his own struggles ultimately mean, but this song, and the record as a whole, puts me in mind of what a lot of us come up against at a certain age. You feel damaged, both by design and by your own mistakes or self-destructive tendencies, and you're angry at your parents for real or perceived failures. But ultimately you're a grown up, and you have to come to some kind of peace with yourself, and peace with the fact that your parents came to parenthood with their own damage. You have to learn to move forward, even if it hurts, and even if some things are never said or never resolved. The clear tribute to Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb" in the middle of this track is an interesting choice. The band plays the hell out of it, and it works, but of course "numb" isn't always "healed."
At the end of the album, we come back to the idea of transparency. We're treated to half-singing/half-chanting vocals, and beneath, the words, "Dad, I just wanted you to know..." Kerr sings of "metamorphosis or death, the only freedoms I see," and we're led out of the album with the same, slow chiming that the album began with. Perhaps not a resolution, but part of a cycle.
I've given you only a taste of what Anagnorisis has put out here. So much of metal is escapism, so if this rawness is too much, you may be better off sticking with the usual death metal monsters. But for those who are brave enough to delve in, the rewards are great.