Rudimentary Peni - Death Church [Reissue] (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Rudimentary Peni

Death Church [Reissue] (2014)

Southern Records/Outer Himalayan

Death Church is where Rudimentary Peni get weird. Prior to the release of their first LP, the band had released two EPs. Though those releases foreshadowed the dark genius found in Death Church, both of those seven inchers bore traces of the band's anarcho–contemporaries. Shreds of that influence remains on Death Church, but it is here where the band emerges from the cocoon fully formed.

With two full sides to fill, the band, instead of blowing up their hyper–short songs into longer epics, decided take their core sound, and experiment with variants of the form. Most songs take shape in minute long, choppy chord attacks. Nick Blinko rips out thick, massive riffs that despite being hard, still bear an indebtedness to the fundamental catchiness of early rock. Blinko sets the tone with the pounding buzz of his guitar, but bassist Grant Matthews and drummer Jon Greville add the essential back drop. The pair congeal together to create rapid, column like sounds that roar and rumble, making them feel as punk rockish as they do Wagnerian.

And then, as the scene is set with the Poe–ish sonic texture, Blinko comes into his own, howling out tales of mortality, horrible creatures, and once in a while, even love. It is here that Rudimentary Peni establish their true genius. Thousands and thousands of bands spend dozens of lines, carefully selecting words, and creating metaphors to express a particular concept. Rudimentary Peni needs but two lines to make the most profound statement. On "¼ Dead" Blinko snaps, "3/4 of the world are starving/the rest are dead." That's all the band needs to say because it says it all. Like surgeons, the band cuts away the chaffe which clutters many songs, and in doing so, writes one of the most potent lyrics found in music.

In a way, that opening track operates to highlight both of Rudimentary Peni's aspects. On one side is the salute to gothic topics. "Inside" and "Nothing but a nightmare" comment on the futility of life, and even suggest that life itself is torment. In these moments, despite the parade of horrors, Blinko reveals himself to be a extremely tender soul. On "Dutchmen," he laments the death of 20,000 people in an early 20th century concentration camp whose suffering will be forgotten. "Vampire State Building," skillfully argues for caring for those who suffer from mental illness, through a cold, objective description of a mental asylum, likely from the point of view of indifferent caretakers.

Despite the doom and gloom, Blinko, most surprisingly drops a positive encouragement. "Have you ever realized that you must love yourself/ if you don't how can you love anybody else–" At first glance, it seems completely out of character for Blinko to be urging for a positive self–esteem. But, despite the brisk moment in which the line is dropped, Blinko is quite likely drawing a line. The dark lyrics of Rudimentary Peni aren't meant to be used like an 80's horror move– "fun" scares for the sake of being scared. Rather, Blinko is sending a direct message urging for a nicer world… all despite the fact that on the rest of the album, he seems to be saying that the world not only can't be saved, but is a prison designed for torment. Fascinating.

And then, as is Rudimentary Peni's style, the band ratchets up the weirdness even further. For instance, "Martian Church" has the bizarre lyrics "When you are a martian church." That's not "When you are in a Martian church," which would sort of make sense, but rather, "When you ARE a Martian church." The band might have had a meaning behind this haunting twist of words, but to decipher it's meaning is nigh impossible. But, that's one of the reasons the album is so lasting. It seems that there's a key to the puzzle hidden somewhere in these lyrics, but if it is, it will take years of study to find it– even more, you might not like the decoded messages.

Despite that Rudimentary Peni salutes and lamentes the horror of living on the album, the traces of their anarcho contemporaries is still evident. "Rotten to the core" might have the most direct assault on the Sex Pistols and the Clash from the time period. Crass batted at the Clash with the jab, "They said we were trash, we'll the name is Crass, not Clash" and Chumbawamba's Boff playfully mocked "garage land" with a piss take of the track, but Rudimentary Peni sticks in the dagger and twists it around with the direct condemnation, "John Lydon once said he cared/ but he never really gave a fuck/ said he'd use the money he made so the people could ‘have somewhere to go'/but now he lives in the USA, and snorts coke after the show." Then, The Clash get a beating with ""Joe Strummer once said he cared/ but he never really gave a fuck/ Said he'd use the money he made to set up a radio station, to make the airwaves full of something more than shit/ have you noticed we're still waiting–"

The contemporary anarcho–bend continues with tracks attacking the meat processing complex and the church itself. After this release, the commentary on standard punk topics would become less direct. One wonders if that's because the band felt there was a change in the atmosphere, or if the topic was cliché, or as Cacophony and Pope Adrian would show, the issue of metaphysics and sanity would become far more important than where John Lydon puts his nose.

But despite the seriousness of the lyrics, the band winks at the macabre a little bit. "Happy Farm" playfully contorts the famous bible passage with "As I walk out of the valium of death." "Cosmic Hearse" has the immortal lines, "Floating around the universe/fucking in our cosmic hearse." Dispite how deadly serious the band is, even they, with the despair that is life, must stop to laugh every once in a while. That's among some of the band's most profound statements.

The Southern Records 2014 does a nice job of erasing the much between these powerful licks and sharpens the sound. While Cacophony is thought of as the intricate masterpiece, the remaster reveals some of the hidden sonic secrets, and shows that even at Death Chruch, the band was already weaving together intricate sonic webs. Likewise, the vinyl edition features Blinko's art in bright, clear printing, which shows both the genius of the band and gives some insight into their mindset.

Sometimes, Rudimentary Peni, with their near–constant waxing on morbidity, are almost painted as a side–show– "Look at how obsessed with death and madness these guys are!" But, just a year or two after the release of Death Chruch Matthews would find himself stricken with cancer and on the verge off death in a hospital bed. Thankfully, despite being about as close to death as one can come, he recovered. Then, after that, Blinko went off the deep end and was forcefully restrained in a mental health institution without his consent for a number of years. Thus, despite their parade of horrors and skeletons and Martians and crucified Jesuses, the band isn't describing some comic book or action flick, but are saying things that hold to the core of the human condition. That's what makes this truly horrifying.