While Rudimentary Peni's Death Church, Cacophony and Pope Adrian 37th Psychristiatric were all sprawling concept records, after 1995, the band radially altered, or perhaps more correctly, focused their sound. Gone were the tiny scraps of lyrics and musical interludes that were tucked in the crannies of their previous releases. In their stead was tactical specificity. Where many artists can achieve clever concepts through voluminous movements, precious few can achieve greatness with but a few tools. On 2004's Archaic, Rudimentary Peni whittled their music down to its barest elements and displayed that genius can yield great work, no matter how few tools are available.
For the most part, Archaic follows the tradition started by 1998's Echoes of Anguish. The band smash out simple but powerfully massive riffs while Nick Blinko growls the lyrics, which more often then not are merely a couplet repeated for a minute. For one thing, it is amazing how the band are able to create twelve riffs that are so dark, yet so incredibly catchy. Almost a dark Ramones, the band seem to know exactly what three notes fit together perfectly in each song, and develop songs that simply don't need anything else - indeed, anything else would hurt the powerful delivery of this music because it is so rich.
A good deal of that has to go to the performance on this album. Guitarist Blinko, bassist Grant Matthews and drummer Jon Greville lock together completely, creating a single wall of sound with inseparable instruments. Each song stomps forward in a march that seems to accelerate and twist, suggesting multiple levels of sound that might not actually be there. The actual intonation here makes this music so rich. Blinko and Mathews achieve a perfect coagulation of buzzing stings, so that the music has definition but is thick as an entire orchestra, pulling a Phil Spector with but only two instruments. The other key is that while the riffs here might repeat themselves, there are tiny, tiny variations between each movement that make the music captivating. One finds him or herself subconsciously eager to hear how the music will bend from refrain to refrain without even thinking about it.
But while the music is simple, Blinko and Matthews perfect the art of sparse lyrics so that each line is powerful enough to carry a song. As always, the band focus on mortality and death, mixing together the concept of death as both freedom and permanent imprisonment. On "Mercy of Slumber," Blinko wails, "from this nightmare, some day I'll wake/ To sleep forever." The song has no other lyrics because it doesn't need them. The song is Poe-like, describing a feeling that we have all had at a time or other, while also giving insight into the author's mind and describing a fundamental human condition that precious few have the courage to address. But then, paradoxically, just after speaking of death as a release, on "Rehearsal for Mortality" Blinko cries out "In this rehearsal for mortality/ I learn acceptance and can no longer return/ with such tenacity to cling/ to all that is me." Is he accepting the problems that plague him in life as a part of him? Is he accepting life itself, or a fear of death, after pontificating on it for the previous eleven tracks?
Likewise, Blinko's delivery is at its absolute height. By Archaic his voice had developed into a thick, powerful growl, making him seem like something more than human. On "House of Void," he barks out "From the void/ the womb is formed/ the void in human form" with such vigor, it sounds like that he's having a good time all while suggesting that mankind is death personified. On "The Rain," he lowers his register and hisses "the rain runs down their carved names" so that he sounds more like a fiend than a thing of flesh. Again, another paradox: Blinko is both espousing a fear of death and praising it, but he sounds like he's having a blast even though his delivery is both somber and vicious.
Because the sound quality of the original album was pretty top-notch, the Southern Records reissue focuses on package design and distribution. This album has been notoriously hard to find, so it's a boon for fans to now have it readily available. The vinyl release blows the original 10-inch to a full 12-inch, and includes some postcards and a poster of Blinko's art. The CD version comes in a handsome replica of the original vinyl sleeve. Blinko's minute, twisting art is amazing at any scale, and with it made so large, his minuscule lines can be fully appreciated as well as give an idea of how monstrously exact he is in his work.
Previous Rudimentary Peni albums have dealt with death and madness, focusing on those topics with an almost scientific dedication. Archaic finds the band continuing that train of thought, and turning their studies into a statement about mortality itself, willing to both ask questions about man's fate as well as give direct, albeit gruesome, answers. But despite all this, Blinko, who was restrained for some time due to mental issues, seems to be having the time of his life. Is this because he's finally answered the question to the meaning of life with the phase "to sleep forever" and likes the idea of oblivion, or has he been pulling our leg with the macabre this entire time? One answer suggest ghoulish character while the other one suggests something more calculating… and perhaps sinister.