It's interesting that Southern Records chose Pope Adrian 37th Psychristiatric to lead off their re-release of the Rudimentary Peni discography. Certainly Pope Adrian is a fascinating, nuanced record. But it's also the most challenging record in the band's discography. One could argue that the release coincides with the election of a new pope, but that is more likely a happy coincidence. Rather, in issuing Rudimentary Peni's third LP first, Southern seems to be making the point that to try to make sense of everything in the RP catalogue will drive you mad, which coincidentally enough, might be the concept behind this very record.
Pope Adrian has one of the most mysterious backgrounds of any record in rock music. Released in 1995, Pope Adrian was the first Rudimentary Peni release since 1987's Cacophony. To say that the band had undergone trials since the release of Cacophony would be an understatement. As with any strange record, a swath of mythos surrounds Pope Adrian, mixing fact with fantasy, so that the album's true genesis is so dyed with mystery and imagination that its true background will never again be known.
Still, some of the facts are known. Sometime following the release of Cacophony, Rudimentary Peni vocalist, guitarist, and lyricist Nick Blinko was held captive under Section 3 of the 1983 Mental Health Act, passed by English Parliament. That is to say, Nick Blinko may have been held against his will in a mental asylum for being batshit crazy. Though in the government's defense, this likely wasn't the case of a normal guy getting tied up in red tape, but actually, the government restraining someone who actually was batshit crazy.
Then, the fact and mythos regarding this release intertwine. The story goes that while in captivity, Blinko was experiencing severe delusions and believed that he actually was "Pope Adrian the 37th." Somehow in Blinko's mind, Pope Adrian 37th was the same person as the real life Pope Adrian IV, who was a substantial force behind the Norman Invasion of Ireland in the 1100s and who also failed to reunite the Roman Catholic Church with the Eastern Orthodox Church despite a vigorous attempt to do so.
While institutionalized, Blinko penned the majority of Pope Adrian in his Pope Adrian 37th character, exploring what it meant to abandon his former self and deal with the loss of identity that comes with it.
Blinko opens the record screaming at the top of his lungs "Pogo pope! Pogo pope! Pogo pope! Pogo pope! Pogo pope!" and continues to scream those two words for the entire 3:23 running time. It's explosive, berserk, repetitive to the point of a mantra and completely off the wall. It also acts as a sort of Infernal Gate etching. It lets the listener know that while the previous Rudimentary Peni releases flirted with concepts of insanity, Pope Adrian was where the band crossed the line and then went a mile further. The record isn't by a man considering insanity, the record is by a genuine, bona fide, for-real-deal madman.
For the most part, the record operates in the realm of insanity. On many tracks, Blinko does little but scream the title over and over, while, energetic, muscular, but simple riffs tear away behind him, growing wilder and more disconnected with every bar. "Muse Sick (sic)" contains only the lyrics "Music sick! Music sic!" "We're Gonna Destroy Life the World Gets Higher and Higher" contains just the title for lyrics as well as the ambiguous, but threatening aside, "It was a crime before Nick was born."
Such an execution would threatened to derail a full-length release. However, bassist Grant Matthews and drummer Jon Greville match Blinko's guitar in energy and ferocity, but act as the solid base for Blinko to launch himself. Both Greville and Matthews grow wilder and more ferocious as the songs rocket towards their hard finishes, but whereas Blinko tears himself apart at the end, often literally shredding his vocals chords, the rhythm section congeals just enough to give the music identify instead of pure cacophony.
Equally interesting is that on a precious few places, Blinko snaps out of his manic ranting and issues some uncharacteristically clear concepts. On "The Pope with No Name" Blinko contemplates his own confused identity with "It's such a shame the pope with no name / she doesn't know what she's called / closure, confusion, it's so sad / delusions of of grandeur, she must be mad!" Note that the pope in the song twists gender identity just as he twists concepts of himself.
But of course, just as it appears that Blinko will be making a direct point, (well, direct for Rudimentary Peni that is) the band roar back with "Hadrianich Relique" which is an instrumental that starts off as a simple, but powerful buzzsaw riff only to spiral quicker and quicker out of control, getting more violent with each passage, until the band tear itself apart.
What makes the album most interesting is that in many ways it is an experiment in repetition. Repetition can be a way to strengthen ideas and concepts until they become unchallenged simply by existing. Indeed, although the band repeat many of the lyrics ad infinitum, because each expression is slightly different than the last in energy and precision, the music becomes exciting in its evolution, rather than dull in repetition.
Yet, in contrast to the berserk growth of the songs, there is the album's great kicker. For the entire 43 minute running time, a vocal loop of Blinko uttering "Papas Adrianas" (a bastardized Latin, Italian or Greek for "Pope Adrian") repeats over and over throughout each song, for a total of about one thousand eight hundred and twenty six repetitions. It functions as an interesting trap. If you are able to focus on the music itself, ignoring the vocal loop placed just behind the music, Pope Adrian is a berserk, simple and potent masterpiece. But if you don't have the willpower or tolerance to ignore the vocal loop, and focus instead on the ever-repeating refrain, the album will drive you mad through its unrelenting, unchanging and purposeful repetition.
It's impossible to know just what Blinko was getting at with this challenge, and maybe he didn't even know himself. That's precisely what makes Pope Adrian the most difficult of all Rudimentary Peni albums, but also the most pure.
The Southern Records re-issue maintains respect for the album while cleaning up the transfers a little bit. Blinko's fabulously twisted art is preserved in the CD issue, and the vinyl version blows the images up to four times their original size, giving them the detail they deserve. The audio is crisper, allowing more focus to be given to multiple movements happening at anyone time in these songs. Also, the sharper audio allows for the destructive endings of these songs to be that much more dynamic. Interestingly, the aforementioned "Papas Adrianas" vocal loop seems to have been lowered in volume ever so slightly, which makes it a little easier to focus on the music instead of the driving insanity fueling this album. It makes the release a more enjoyable listen, and easier to savor, without taking away any of the danger inherent in the original release.
Prior to Pope Adrian Rudimentary Peni swam in the seas of inanity, but never drowned. But, this dark record is complete submersion. One of the most fascinating albums ever made.