The Lazarus Pit: Anacrusis’s Screams and Whispers

Welcome to The Lazarus Pit, a biweekly look at should-be classic metal records that don’t get nearly enough love, stuff that’s essential listening for students of extreme metal that you’ve probably never heard of.  Stuff that we’re too lazy to track down the band members to do a Hall Of Fame for.  This week, we have the finest technical thrash band from St. Louis to have a drummer with the same name as the Red Hot Chili Peppers’: Anacrusis’s  Screams and Whispers (Metal Blade).
Anacrusis were an interesting beast.  They put out four proper albums, a good half of which were genuine classics, and yet they remain languishing in obscurity.  Sadly, the reasons for this were the same as most of the bands I’ve covered in this column: time period, location, and just never quite getting that big break.  They formed in the late 80s out of the ashes (nyuk nyuk) of Heaven’s Flame, after the initial thrash explosion and subsequent feeding frenzy.  By the time they got around to recording their debut, Suffering Hour, in 1988, it was really too late.  There were still some great thrash acts producing great music, obviously, but if you were a newcomer, it was pretty easy to get lost in the sea of dreck like Apocrypha and Wrath.  Meanwhile, super-technical death metal bands like Atheist and Cynic were just starting to make their mark down in the swamplands of Florida, but Florida was (and still is) a long way from Missouri.

Its follow-up, Reason, was good enough to get them bounced up to Metal Blade for their third record, 1991’s Manic Impressions.  And holy crap was that a good record.  In fact, on a different day, if I was in a different mood, that may very well have been the album I chose to feature in this column.  Just total slashing icy technical glory, all based around a mind shattering vista of mental illness.  It really should have been the album that launched them into glory – “I Love the World” alone should have been a smash, at least amongst metalheads – but 1991 was a brutal year for mainstream metal acts, and the underground had moved on to stuff with grunting and shrieking as the primary lyric delivery system.  Anacrusis definitely had some shrieking, but it was more in the Kraut-thrash sense than the Schuldiner squeal.  So it was a band on their last legs, knowingly or not, that put out 1993’s Screams and Whispers.

As ambitious as Manic Impressions may have been, musically, Screams and Whispers topped it.  You want to hear a band unafraid to experiment and mix genres?  Anacrusis start this thing off with “Sound the Alarm,” a slice of straight up postpunk Killing Joke urban despair.  “A Sense of Guilt” brings in the shredding and guitar squeals, but then “Too Many Prophets” introduces a new element entirely: keyboards!  But the good kind, the synthesized orchestra kind.  Obviously not as good as a real orchestra, but as Emperor proved a few years later, it could definitely work with metal.  These guys got there first.  They use it sparingly, too, accenting the songs instead of overpowering them.  With the super dry production, none of the instruments get lost in the mix, allowing you to appreciate them in their full Voivodian complexity.  It’s rare to find a band that can combine technicality of this level with melody and memorable songs, but Anacrusis did.  For all the weird crap they do that only musicians can truly appreciate, Screams and Whispers is eminently listenable.

Unfortunately, apparently nobody was paying attention.  This would be the band’s swansong.  They’ve done a really nice job of tending their legacy, though, recently reissuing Suffering Hour and Reason and releasing their ENTIRE CATALOG for free in high-quality MP3 on their website (so you really have no excuse).  Vocalist/guitarist Kenn Nardi even put a remix of Manic Impressions up there, although to these ears it sounds worse than the original mix – but it’s nice to have the option.  And as far as bands they’ve influenced, well, I wouldn’t be surprised to find that some of the Willowtip or Sumerian acts have some Anacrusis CDs on their shelves.  It’s just a shame more people don’t have the screams and whispers running through their heads.

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