July 18, 2014
by John Gentile
You will never understand everything in the Rudimentary Peni discography. You could spend a lifetime examining and evaluating the shards in the band’s work, feeling like you are getting closer to a fundamental truth. Even if you’re lucky enough to be able to establish a thesis or theory, the tiniest off-hand fragment in the band’s catalogue could instantly tear even the mightiest tomes to fibers. It’s what makes the band so fascinating.
Born out of the early English anarcho-punk scene, Rudimentary Peni never really seemed to fit in that scene, and to this day, don’t really fit in anywhere. Though they based their sound in grimy, three-chord smashing, they were equally likely to fly off on tangents, composing Wagnerian mini-movements, repeating a single musical phrase for almost four minutes, or leaving the instruments aside and using their own voices as backing noise. Their lyrics, often fixated on death, would alternatively take a position of fear or joy at the concept of being no more. Insanity, too, is given its due course, with the band both reveling in madness as well as trembling at all-encompassing depression.
The twist becomes even tighter when you look at the band’s background. One member, after becoming obsessed with H.P. Lovecraft, was locked up against his will when he thought he was a reincarnated Pope. Another almost died from a rapid, aggressive cancer at a young age. Yet despite all the dread, turmoil and chaos in their artistic and private lives, the band would still slip in ghoulish jokes between the lines of awfulness.
That’s what makes Rudimentary Peni such an utterly fascinating, exceedingly tricky band. It’s never clear when they are describing in minute detail the sheer horror of death or when they’re just cracking a joke about having sex in the back of a hearse. They never let on. To try to make sense of everything in the Rudimentary Peni catalogue is a fool’s errand. To even try to form a basic outline of the band’s history can be daunting on its own. The facts are clouded by the band’s own mystique and misdirection. For example, on the turning screw that is 1995’s Pope Adrian 37 Psychristiatric, frontman Nick Blinko claims that the whole album was written while he was being detained in a mental health facility and while he thought he was the real Pope Adrian IV. It certainly could be true, but being that Rudimentary Peni investigated the concept of mental instability as much as they laughed at it, the whole story seems too perfect. But despite the mystery that cloaks RP, or perhaps because of it, RP are probably the world’s most influential band that almost no one has heard. You see their back patches at pretty much every punk show, but how many people have really investigated the shifting puzzle that is Rudimentary Peni? Why have they remained in the recesses of the collective punk consciousness for 34 years despite only doing about four interviews ever?
The answer to the second question is easy: Rudimentary Peni are frickin’ insane. The combination of Blinko’s gravelly, doom-laden, rumbling voice combined with the pounding, wall-sized rhythm section of Grant Matthews and Jon Greville sounds like death incarnate. Throw in lyrics about “fucking in our cosmic hearse,” or songs where Blinko just howls “POGO POPE! POGO POPE! POGO POPE!” over and over, and you have one of the darkest, funniest bands ever. Everyone from the Beach Boys to Charles Manson have flirted with madness in their music, but has any band so truly embraced the horror of insanity or so thoroughly pondered mortality?
BIRTH OF A MAGIT
The clouded genesis of Rudimentary Peni is partially due to Nick Blinko’s own mysterious background. The only known information from his upbringing comes from his own book, The Primal Screamer, which can be best described as a fictional autobiography. Blinko makes no allusions that the book is factual, but the details in it so closely mirror his own life, from self-producing a band’s early single, to working with Penny Rimbaud of Crass, to having a bandmate get cancer at an early age, that it’s hard to not draw some nuggets of truth from it. Based on The Primal Screamer, it would seem that Blinko was born September 4, 1961 and grew up in the English countryside. An only child, it is suggested that he spent a good time by himself wandering through the woods or spending time alone in the attic of his family’s cottage. Whether Blinko spent large amounts of time with a psychiatrist, as is suggested by The Primal Screamer is unknown, but the concept of mental health would be a recurring theme through both Blinko’s recorded output and his personal life.
While attending Watford Art College, Blinko found himself involved in the early British punk scene. He was a founding member of the proto-deathrock band S-Haters, playing guitar and synth. However, despite pushing the band to do so, Blinko left the group before they recorded any material, though he would go on to release that band’s first two singles on the Outer Himalayan record label, founded by himself and Martin Cooper. From there, Blinko formed his own band, the decidedly more avant-garde the Magits, who were originally called the Magit Turds. Membership of the Magits seems to be oblique, outside of Blinko and Cooper. RP drummer Jon Greville, who named the band, was probably their drummer for a period of time. Also, a mate named Alex Hawkes was in the band and may have played bass. Yet by the time of the band’s first and only release, the lineup had been reduced to just Blinko and Cooper, though they did practice and record in the garage of Greville’s parents. The Magits released the Fully Coherent EP in 1979, and some copies included paper dolls called “magits” made by Blinko.
Fully Coherent was the first release on the Outer Himalayan label. Together, the EP’s four tracks barely breach the four-minute mark. On it, Cooper reads Blinko’s dystopian poetry aloud while Blinko himself evokes the coldest possible sounds from a cheap synthesizer. The result is something of a UK version of Suicide. Yet here, Blinko would establish three themes that he would carry through his career. First, each track is beyond minimalistic, seeming to be sketches of sketches, which is clearly the point of the release. Each song basically has one lyric that sometimes is repeated and sometimes not. This strategy of burning a song down to its core meaning, so that the title alone conjures a reaction, is a device Blinko would experiment with and perfect as the RP catalogue grew. Second, Blinko began to deeply express his concept of mortality and disconnecting from society. Though it would become more pronounced later, his commentary on the human condition is fairly unique. Where most artists feared the end, or reflected on how all things are temporary, Blinko seemed to welcome oblivion, though at this point, his position was less overt. On “Detached,” Cooper moans Blinko’s lyrics, “We are under qualified to see right through the vacuum/ With our X-ray eyes/ don’t defy authority if you have the energy/ disconnect.” And while Blinko’s oeuvre is often described as one of pure doom, he actually buried messages of hope in the mechanic darkness. “Disjointed” ends with what can be described as a message of encouragement, or at least a warning, “Hiding from reality is not a good way out.” Third, Blinko’s sly humor, an oft overlooked facet of the Rudimentary Peni catalogue, crops up. “Detached” comments on Blinko’s isolation all while (likely) winking at its own dead seriousness. “Avant garde, avant garde, avant garde, avant garde, please stop at this junction, my body is a mess, rebuilt at this factory with minimal distress.” Is Blinko doing a Beatles-esque mantra with the opening line, or is he laughing at just how simple and direct the release truly is?
Despite the lo-fi, lo-cash approach of Fully Coherent, Blinko was able to conjure up a surprisingly wide range of textures from his synth. The whole release could have been part of the score of Blade Runner, as Blinko gets about as much mileage as he can from the electronic box. At one point, he focuses on a throbbing pulse which seems to draw from Bauhaus’ “Spy in the Cab.” At another, he fashions a slow burning whirlwind that adds an extra layer of desolation to the EP’s feel. At the end, he signs off with a TARDIS-like buzz. Was that another in-joke or just one of the instrument’s functions?
The Magits lasted perhaps a year before splitting up. The band did in fact record a second EP called A Pawn the Game with Hawkes playing on it, but that release was shelved and no one seems to recall why. Blinko and Greville’s lack of mentioning or reissuing the Magits’ material suggests that in retrospect, they don’t feel it was their best work. In a way, that’s a shame because aside from the obvious Suicide comparisons, there doesn’t seem to be any other mega-lo-fi, ultra-minimalist synth releases from England during, or even before, that period.
THE BEGINNING OF THE END
Shortly after the breakup of The Magits, Blinko formed a new band with his schoolmate Grant Matthews in 1980. They brought Jon Greville back into the new group, probably because he was a friend of Blinko’s, though by then Greville had become well-known as a local drummer, having appeared with other acts. Matthews named the group “Rudimentary Peni” because he had a class where the professor mentioned that the clitoris starts out, during development, as a rudimentary penis. Though, Matthews is quick to point out that the significance of the name starts and ends there.
After a short rehearsal period, they played their first gig at the Village Hall just outside Watford with Blinko’s earlier band the S-Haters, as well as Soft Drinks, who featured the Magits’ Martin Cooper. At the time, RP’s set list was comprised of what would become their first, self-titled EP and some of their second EP, Farce. Even then, Rudimentary Peni stood out from their contemporaries. By 1980, the influence of Sex Pistols, and by reaction, Crass had become widespread in the local English scene and many punks were adorned like peacocks, with tall mohawks, decorated jackets, and unusual piercings. By contrast, RP dressed much more conservatively, wearing button-up shirts, sweaters, and slacks. Because the first gig was with the group’s friends, it’s likely that they were well-received. But the combination of RP’s lyrical topics and the band’s lack of visual appeal would go on to be one of the reasons their gigs were so fraught with issues in the notoriously image-obsessed English punk scene.
In fact, while their first gig may have suggested a positive live experience, the second gig acted as a harbinger of things to come. Playing a sort of talent competition, the band tied for last place, though it should be noted that the band competition was likely made up of all sorts of bands from rock to pop, so it’s likely that RP were severely out of place (a theme that would continue throughout their career as well.) It’s entirely likely that the judges didn’t know what to make of this strange, thrashing group and that RP in fact entered the competition on a lark, knowing full well that they wouldn’t win.
The third gig was a better placement for the band, yet even there, they didn’t thrive. Opening for anarcho-staples the Subhumans and Flux of Pink Indians in Red Lion, London, the band were likely, at best, tolerated by the audience anxious to see the other bands on the bill who likely appeared to be “more punk.” Though their live gigs were not particularly well-received, Rudimentary Peni were undaunted, preparing material for the studio. In 1981, the band headed to Ground Level Studios to record their debut EP. With money borrowed from their parents, the band sought to record quickly and economically with most tracks being first-take recordings. Twelve songs in all were recorded. Unfortunately, the band did not get along with the producer. By most accounts, the producer was a member of Here & Now, a band that was connected to psychedelic rockers Gong. Despite Here & Now’s willingness to create freak-out music, the producer didn’t seem to get RP’s angle, and fought with the band over the recording and mix due to Blinko’s vocals being mostly “bawling.” The band themselves dismissively referred to the recording engineer as an “old hippie” and mention him by the name “David Kaye.” However, “David Kaye” isn’t mentioned in any of Here & Now’s credits, in any of Gong’s credits, and in fact, there doesn’t appear to be any records of a recording engineer by that name. Whether David Kaye was in Here & Now, or whether there were two people working with RP on the first recording, or whether “David Kaye” is a pseudonym will likely never be known.
Despite the tepid live reactions and the conflicts in the studio, Rudimentary Peni was well-received by the underground music population even though the band didn’t send out any promos or try to get any press for it. While the release might not reflect RP’s vision at the time, it stands as an utterly unique, fascinating release, which would set the cornerstone from which the group would build their identity. As with all of RP’s albums, Blinko’s wonderfully intricate, macabre art adorns the cover. Blinko had been drawing pencil images since he was a young boy and during the early period of RP, while he was still attending Watford Art School, though he dropped out before graduation. Blinko himself once stated that he was affected by an exhibition called “Outsiders” which featured what came to be known as outsider art–that is, art created by untrained artists, including people in mental institutions and the homeless. Blinko’s art is often referred to as outsider art, but if the artist is aware that he is an outsider artist, and that his art is a reaction to formally trained artists, is it still outsider? Nevertheless, the cover of Rudimentary Peni includes several details that would recur through both his visual and recording art career. It features a skeletal fetus still encased in a womb. Tiny pin pricks create the majority of the piece with thousands of wild, slashing lines that circle the fetus and show an almost maniacal patience, dedication and vision to the completed piece. Through RP’s latest release, 2008’s No More Pain, the band have commented on the concepts of being born into this world, and how essentially, all things that are created, are created dying. The fetus skeleton adorned on their debut acted as a harbinger of the areas RP would explore, particularly on 2004’s Archaic.
Yet, on Rudimentary Peni, the band were not so specific. Although political messages would drop from the band’s lyrics by 1989’s Cacophony, they’re in the forefront here, with the band’s now-trademark macabre lyrics intertwined throughout. All three members acknowledge that Matthews was really the only bandmate interested in politics, and many of the more political lyrics spring from his pen. Though as Matthews would state later on, listeners tended to assume that the political tunes were written by Matthews while the metaphysical ones were written by Blinko. Matthews urges that both members wrote songs in both areas and there isn’t an easy way to discern who wrote what.
The Rudimentary Peni EP opens with “Media Person,” which sets the tone for the release as well as RP’s discography. A slammed-out, minute-long attack. Blinko howls like a man possessed while slashing on his guitar. Matthews and Greville bind their bass and drums into a single pounding throb, giving the band a thick, almost Sabbath-y texture compared to the thinner sound of other contemporary punk bands. Despite clashing with the producer, Blinko experimented with vocal styles, at times screeching and at others, adopting a howl. On tracks like “B Ward,” he begins to moan and shriek, going for more of a sound than lyrics, which is something he would utilize to a much greater degree on Cacophony. “Crazy Chain” is one of the group’s earliest examinations of the birth-to-death complex which they eventually gave so much focus. “Umbilical chord around the neck an pain is sane/ crazy, crazy chain, gagged and bound inane.” But despite the heavy topics, even here Blinko and the band engage in whimsy. “The Gardener” may be a comment on finality or just a description of a certain paradise, but throughout the track, Blinko hisses like a snake, making reference to the obvious biblical allusion. In doing so, it added a new element to the lyrics without actually adding any words, showed Blinko’s propensity for vowel twisting, and, most strikingly, was a bit of fun silliness in a record so obsessed with doom and gloom.
Additionally, the EP has the first instance of a song title having the word “Hearse,” a word the band would revisit throughout their career. One of the few tracks that Blinko has clearly stated that he wrote, he simply spits out, “Evil eye beyond sty and sky, hearse/hearse/hearse!” Any number of meanings could be drawn from the juxtaposition and repletion of the words, but then again, it may simply be a case of RP toying with the listener, or rather, painting an abstract canvas. Specifically, Blinko once suggested that the song “Hearse” was just words “put together.”
It’s impressive how much the band toy with anticipation and experimentation, all despite fighting with the producer. “Teenage Time Killer” floats with drifting, squealing chords before suddenly storming into an attack. “Tower of Strength” finds Blinko backed by a voice-pitched, chipmunk version of himself, a trick George Clinton had used on many P-Funk records and one the Smiths would use on The Queen is Dead.
While Rudimentary Peni may not be the band in a finished form, or even what the band envisioned, its core strength shows through. Compared to their contemporaries, the band’s lyrics are oblique and rival even Bauhaus for moroseness. Perhaps most importantly, the tiny eccentricities that would go on to drive the band’s later periods crop up, showing how tactically they inserted weirdness into the classic punk thrasher and how skilled they are at utilizing tension. Despite being unhappy with the release, RP sold copies quite quickly to the punk community and made at least two pressings, one of which bears the wonderfully bizarre catalogue number “BOOBOO1.” (Following Rudimentary Peni, all Outer Himalayan releases would bear the BOOBOO# marking. Who knows what it means?)
At about this time, RP had been playing gigs and going to London’s “Autonomy Center,” which was basically an anarchist enclave partially sponsored by Crass. Through this connection, Matthews met Crass’ Penny Rimbaud, who often acted as that band’s musical director and lyricist. Matthews brought Rimbaud a copy of Rudimentary Peni and upon hearing it, agreed to record RP’s second EP, Farce, for the Crass Records label. The release was recorded at Crass’ partner studios in July 1982, Southern, with the famed John Loder, who handled almost every Crass release as sound engineer.
Farce is more intense and berserk than its predecessor. Unlike the recording of Rudimentary Peni, the band enjoyed working with Rimbaud, and frankly, his influence is palpable. Still, whereas later RP releases would be uniquely RP, Rimbaud seemed to apply anarcho-punk texture to the band, and while it made for a harder, more cracking record, perhaps some of the band’s inherent creepiness was washed away by the buzzing intensity of Rimbaud’s production. Again, the band balanced their lyrics between the metaphysical and the political. “Bloody Jellies” in fact merges the two, painting a picture of a nuclear apocalypse and the resulting death of all mankind. As the band were wont to do, at the very last moment, they twist the usual “nuclear war is coming” punk lyric into something else with “A new beginning/ No, it’s not destruction.” Many bands, including Crass, wrote of modern war as a type of tragedy that would wipe out all life. Are Rudimentary Peni saying that the extinction of all human life is a good thing?
Blinko sounds more rabid on Farce. But where he had a sort of unhinged quality to his growl before, here, he shouted with the hot fire of Flux of Pink Indians. The band too is influenced in this way. Where Rudimentary Peni would pause briefly, or twist notes before rocketing forward before, here the band played at 10 the whole time, storming along, track after track, so that the eleven songs sound like one massive charge. The result is the band’s most explosive release of their early days, the dark murkiness given away in lieu of raw, loud power. That’s not to say Rimbaud’s gambit was a poor choice. For one thing, more than anyone else, Rimbaud helped merged RP with the anarcho-punk scene. While the band had less in common with Crass than, say, Conflict, the sheer branding of RP with the famed Crass circle on the cover of Farce was for all intents and purposes the seal of Rimbaud’s approval. With the godfather of anarcho-punk giving the band the thumbs up, their reach and “desirability” immediately increased tenfold and more or less, permanently imbued them with a sizable fanbase and audience. It may be strange to think of Rimbaud as a sort of ultra-famous Rick Rubin-type record producer, but remember that by July 1982, Crass’ first album, The Feeding of the 5000 was already well on its way to going gold in the UK. Further, Rimbaud helped the band achieve what the former recording studio could not. Rudimentary Peni was a powerful release, but it was bogged down by smudgy production. Here, the band and Rimbaud showed that while RP focused on gothic ideas and ideals, they weren’t namby-pambys who went around with wilted roses and black veils on their faces. RP were a powerhouse, able to create a racket that could rumble, and perhaps even beat the force created by bands like Subhumans and Omega Tribe. They might contemplate issues of the flesh, but they could (musically) kick ass with the best of them.
FOUNDING THE DEATH CHURCH
During this time, the band continued live performances, ranking up about 26 shows before the recording of 1983’s Death Church. Again, live shows tended to be touch and go for the band. At some gigs, they were well-received by the audience. At others, indifference or even hostility greeted them. Unfortunately for Matthews, following the release of Farce, the band’s contemplation of mortality proved to be prophetic. Still in his teenage years, Matthews contracted a form of lung cancer. Going by Blinko’s The Primal Screamer, and taking a cue from Matthews’ own shielded references to the ordeal, the cancer seriously threatened Matthews’ life. It may have been that he was expected to not survive the affliction. In fact, in The Primal Screamer, the character representing Matthews dies from the cancer. (Surely it must have been awkward when Matthews had next seen Blinko after the book’s publication, having been killed off by his longest collaborator in a semi-fictional autobiography.)
Of course, while Matthews suffered from cancer, RP was effectively put on hold or even disbanded. This created a notable point in their career as their first 26 shows would be their only live appearances until a brief tour in 1992. Luckily for Matthews, perhaps because he was so young when he became ill, he was able to make a full recovery from the cancer. However, the near-death experience left a heavy mark on him, commenting at a much later date that the illness caused him to reassess his own mortality. Also, his brush with death would play directly into RP’s lyrics as will be seen and heard by the Blinko-helmed Cacophony and the Matthews-helmed Echoes of Anguish. Still, with Matthews cured from the disease, the band would get to work on what would be their defining work, Death Church.
Death Church is one of those rare records where a band capitalizes on the potential suggested by their earlier recordings. The first record fully helmed by the band without outside interference, be it wanted or not, Death Church had the weird, creepy shards found in Rudimentary Peni as well as the booming thunder heard on Farce.
Pleased with the working environment of Farce, the band returned to Southern Studios on April 9 and 10, 1983 and again used John Loder as a recording engineer. But this time, the band self-produced. Additionally, because the Crass policy was to put out only one record per band on the Crass label, Death Church was released on the Corpus Christi label, a Crass Records-related label that included Loder as a partner.
While later RP records would be sources of conflict, on Death Church everything seems to work in tandem. Tracks like “1/4 Dead” and “Pigs in a Blanket” lean towards the more political side of punk, commenting on world poverty and animal rights. In fact, the band issues perhaps the most direct attack to date on contemporary punk rock stars on “Rotten to the Core” when Blinko snarls, “John Lydon once said he cared/ but he never really gave a fuck /said he used the money he made so people could ‘have somewhere to go’/ but now he lives in the USA and does coke after the show.” Likewise, Joe Strummer gets flogged with “Joe Strummer once said he cared/ but he never really gave a fuck/ said he used the money to set up a radio station, to make the airwaves full of something more than shot/ have you noticed that we’re still waiting?”
Meanwhile, the band continued their investigation into horror and mental health issues. “Vampire State Building,” which may have been influenced by Blinko’s stint working at Shenury Hospital, paints a picture of a grotesque figure trapped in a straight jacket due to self-harm. They also continued their sonic experimentation, while toying with abstract wordplay. “Martian Church” bears the wonderfully oblique lyrics “When you are a Martian church,”. A ghastly groan follows each refrain, suggesting the Martians praying or something even more sinister. Likewise, the fractious “Alice Crucifies the Paedophiles” finds Blinko spitting out splinters of phrases, dropping in horrific scenes like “babies bite back!”
The band had also tightened their musical chops by this point. Most tracks still rip by in a minute, but Blinko’s guitar, Matthews’ bass, and Greville’s drums more often than not combined into a single pounding pneumatic drill, while Blinko’s voice roared in the forefront. When the instruments do separate, it’s usually for the band to focus on tension and dissonance. Blinko pulls out high-pitched, thin chords while Matthews lets a plodding bass line drip underneath. Then, usually, they snap together and launch forward. At this point in Rudimentary Peni’s career, Blinko had totally come into his own as a vocalist. At times he barked, and at others he groaned and whined. He also developed the habit of rapidly changing vocal styles midway through song, and at times, even trying to sound feminine. The effect is that much of the time, it sounds as though multiple singers are on a track when really, it’s just Blinko masterfully twitching from voice to voice. This could be read deeper into a musing on the concept of identity, on which Blinko would later develop an entire album. Still, at this point, that is probably reading too deeply, and Blinko might just be having fun conjuring up different “actors” into the songs.
Likewise, Matthews had grown as a bass player. Perhaps his previous work was covered in murkier production, but here it had evolved into complex, popping lines. Often, instead of acting as a base for the guitar, Matthews acted as a foil for Blinko’s own instrument, weaving the two sets of strings around each other in snaking patterns, creating a certain suspense. When will they crash forward? When will they break apart?
The band also further explored the concept of the hearse on Death Church. Here “Cosmic Hearse” has the wickedly hilarious, and surreal, lyrics “Floating ‘round the universe/ fucking in our cosmic hearse.” It’s entirely possible that the band meant for the opening lines to be humorous, despite the song’s other, heavier lyrics about self-destruction. Honestly, the idea of people driving an interstellar hearse through galaxies while banging is side-splitting. Still, that idea is juxtaposed at the end of the song with a warning of death. Even when the band were laughing it up, horror sprung from the next corner.
Death Church serves as a Rudimentary Park benchmark. It was by far the band’s best-selling record and after their next few experiments, was the sound and texture that two of the band’s members would seek to recapture. The band had established their political elements and their metaphysical elements. Blinko had mastered his vocal techniques and Matthews and Greville moved from talented amateurs to being fully in control of the instruments, yet unafraid to deviate from structure. There is both an adherence to the classic three chord punk song and a purposeful distancing from it. That’s not to say that Death Church is RP’s best album–in a catalogue as varied as theirs, such a statement is impossible. Yet, Death Church is the album by which all other RP albums are measured. But in true self-destructive RP style, just as the band had created their masterpiece, they broke up. They have been fairly obtuse about what caused the breakup, but it likely came down to the cliché personal and musical differences. This break cemented the first 26 RP shows as the only run of the band during the anarcho-punk era, as well as forecasted their fluctuating nature in the future. Still, despite the events of 1983, they would reform before the end of the decade to record their counter-masterpiece to Death Church, the massively winding, identity-shifting Cacophony.
After Rudimentary Peni’s breakup following Death Church, Blinko either began, or continued to, communicate with Mark Ferelli of goth-punk band Part 1. The pair shared a mutual appreciation of literature, particularly late Victorian horror stories, and would spend hours showing each other their books and conversing about authors. Blinko introduced Ferelli to the writings and drawings of Mervyn Peake, who wrote slightly grotesque children’s books as well as the gothic fantasy series Gormenghast. Meanwhile, Ferelli introduced Blinko to famed horror writer H.P. Lovecraft. This introduction would go to be the driving force behind RP’s most complex, and perhaps most divisive album Cacophony.
Blinko immediately became consumed with Lovecraft’s works, buying as many Lovecraft books as he could and educating himself on the author. In fact, Blinko became so obsessed with Lovecraft that it drove a temporary wedge in his friendship with Ferelli because whereas Ferelli was once the “expert” in the author, Blinko’s knowledge had dwarfed his.
Perhaps healed by time, RP reformed to record the new album in 1987. What was to become Cacophony would be an important marker in the band’s history. Whereas the band composed earlier material together, and indeed, Matthews may have penned a majority of the lyrics, the thematic vision of Cacophony was fully Blinko’s. A spiraling, winding work, Cacophony has thirty abrupt tracks, many of them with several sections, resulting in a web of an album with 50 or so movements, give or take. Throughout the whole thing, Blinko inhabits a variety of Lovecraft-centered characters–at times, he’s Lovecraft calling out from isolation, bemoaning the fact that he can only communicate with the supernatural. At another point, he becomes a critic of Lovecraft, chastising him for “living on nineteen cents worth of beans a day, writing for pennies crappy manuscripts” when his talents would be better suited for writing guide books. At others, he becomes the Lovecraftian demons themselves, prowling through the tracks, ready to pounce from the walls or traverse black voids.
While Lovecraft’s influence permeates through Cacophony, Blinko slyly works in other influences. At one point, he adopts a broad, powerful voice and reenacts the slaying of Henry VI by Richard III from Shakespeare’s Henry VI. As he rumbles through the passage, his voice becomes more and more frantic until he is screaming at the top of his lungs, “Down! Down to hell! And say I sent thee thither!” At another point, he deadpans a radio announcer describing the end of the earth with explicit detail. At yet another, he’s the foremost drinker at a bar, leading the boys on a drinking song about living for the day because it’s better to be “under the table than under the ground.” This is one of Blinko’s greatest strengths and also one of the most disturbing things about him. As he plays these different characters, he conjures dozens of voices, many of which sound like they come from entirely different people. He often drops into unholy groans, moans, and grunts, sounding like the horrible voices from movies like The Exorcist, all without the aid of electronic manipulation. Even more, his skill as an arranger is at the forefront. Blinko delights in piling tracks on top of each other–at times, three entirely different voices speak at once, often with groans and chants in the background. Yet, despite the chaos going on, he whips them together at the end for an eruption into the next song. In an age of analog recording, this was no easy feat.
Blinko revels in the manipulation of his voice. “Crazed Couplet” finds him quoting the famed Lovecraft warning, “That is not dead which can eternal lie/ and with strange aeons, even death may die.” Yet, as he repeats it over and over, his voice becomes more contorted to the point where it sounds like he’s vomiting syrup instead of saying anything intelligible. Meanwhile, in his normal voice, he just screams “Dead! Dead! Dead!” over and over. In fact, Blinko was so spooky with his delivery that years later, Matthews stated that it was “genuinely unsettling” to watch him record the vocal tracks.
Perhaps somewhat callously, Blinko draws a direct reference to Matthews’ near death experience. On “American Anglophile in a World Turned Upside Down” he muses “Cancer of the colon and rectum/ a very common form of cancer/ which can often be cured by surgical removal/ provided it is caught early enough…” True, mortality plays a heavy part in RP’s lyrics. Blinko doesn’t seem to be poking fun or being mean. He approaches the topic exactly like a surgeon. Still, imagine what Matthews must have thought when his chum was so coldly mentioning his own near-death (and of course, Blinko has Matthews actually die in The Primal Screamer).
Just as Lovecraft was rejected and ignored by most contemporary readers, RP had trouble being appreciated for their true talent. People often threw their own views onto the band as much as they tried to understand what the band was actually trying to say. Further, just as Lovecraft had trouble associating with people, preferring to lock himself up in an attic, it was likely that at the time, Blinko was having more and more difficulty communicating with people, and having increasingly disturbing thoughts. Still, despite the heavy subject matter, the band still slid some humor into Cacophany. “Lovecraft Baby” playfully mocks the B-52’s “Love Shack” with its title. The previously mentioned critic ends his rant by denouncing, in a huff, “elder beings that smelt real bad!” Also interesting is a return of the hearse motif on “Arkham Hearse,” which finds Blinko merely hissing, “Arkham hearssssssssssssssse” repeatedly. At once it’s an examination of vocal sounds, perhaps a self-jab for the band’s often terse lyrics, and a statement of purpose.
Despite the fact that Blinko controlled Cacophony’s message, Matthews was instrumental in forming the album’s backbone. By 1987, Matthews had stopped going to punk gigs. In fact, by that time, Matthews had stopped listening to punk rock, more or less, and had been focusing on classical and oriental music. The influence is tangible. While previous RP songs tore forward with a thrash cadence, here, there is a true appreciation for the Wagnerian take on dynamics. Songs build with a quiet frill before suddenly erupting into loud, broad, power chords. It’s doubly impressive that the band are able to blast out orchestral sounds with a mere three instruments. Matthews counteracts the sheer might of the classical influence with slight diversion to eastern music, which quite masterfully, acts as both a break and tension builder for the listener. More than ever before, RP realized that if you play at 10 all the time, it doesn’t sound that loud, so by dropping to 1 or 2 before suddenly erupting into full power, the band could sound massively epic.
Between Blinko’s piled vocal takes and the band’s weaving of instrumental flourishes, Cacophony exists as a massive, perhaps initially difficult work. Playing the album for the first time for someone who is unfamiliar with this type of music results in confusion–he or she seems to be hearing nothing but noise. But quite like jazz, classical, or even heavy metal, once the listener develops the ear for the chaos, an inherent understanding of what is happening, the spiraling layers reveal themselves. What was once randomness is now meticulously placed movements–an ever-changing, ever-rewarding work that has a new layer for everyone discovered. Also, it rocks.
So because of this complexity, Cacophony, when finally released in 1989, was not well-received by fans. As of 2003, it was the band’s worst selling album. Further, members of RP have mixed opinions on the release despite the fact that now it is heralded as a work of unparalleled mastery and vision. Matthews has stated that he thought the album was indulgent, and had hoped for a more straightforward sound. In 2003 he said, “I personally think that the first half is quite impressive at times, whereas the second half sucks.” Following the release of the album, RP didn’t promote it with any live performances, often citing the fact that most of the songs would be impossible to play live. Soon after, they again disbanded. Though, if fans thought Cacophony was difficult, an even more challenging creation would follow… that is, after Blinko’s detainment under the Mental Health Act of 1983.
THE MAD POPE
The Pope Adrian 37 Psychristiatric era of Rudimentary Peni is both the hardest to trace and hardest to interpret. The band had played with the concept of madness since their first EP, but on the Blinko-led Pope Adrian, the band focuses an entire album on that single concept.
It’s easy to get caught up in the story surrounding the album. How the challenging album came to be is as interesting as the finished product itself, so much so, that one wonders if the band, quite aware that listeners are fascinated by their toying with the concept of insanity, massaged the actual facts to make the group, and specifically Blinko, seem more crazy than he actually was. By comparison, for whatever reasons, society has made minor celebrities of people that are genuinely out of their mind–Raleigh Theodore Sakers, Tonetta, and even Charles Manson. But if you listen to music that each of those people have made during a lapse in sanity, it’s a barely sequential, incoherent mess of noises, random words, and references that only make sense to the artist (if that). But RP, particularly on Pope Adrian, seem to be fully aware of how far their leash is before they lose their audience. The band revel in spiraling, abrasive madness, examining the effect of massive repetition. But, just as it seems that this experiment has lost its novelty, the band shift to more digestible, standard tracks. Then, just as the listener becomes comfortable, the band once again snag the carpet and descend further down the abyss. There is a tactical awareness here–the band know what will make people feel unsettled and confused by the insanity and deliver just enough before coaxing the listener back in.
The history of Pope Adrian parallels the sonic mania. Whether or not it’s all true almost doesn’t matter. Following Cacophony, without having toured for the album or even played a show, RP once again disbanded. Blinko, who always tended to seclude himself, began to suffer more severe delusions. He further retreated from the outside world, cutting off contact with almost everyone he knew. Eventually, he was taken into custody and detained under the Mental Health Act of 1983. Under the act, two doctors can detain a person against his or her will for a limited period of time if they both believe that a person may cause harm to himself or another person. The initial limited time can be extended after a period of evaluation. It’s unknown exactly what triggered Blinko’s confinement, but, according to the band and press releases–while Blinko was in confinement, his delusions grew exponentially worse. Eventually, he started to believe that he was the real life Pope Adrian IV.
Pope Adrian was born in the same village as Blinko, Abbots Langley, in 1100. Acting as pontiff during the ongoing wars of the Dark Ages, Pope Adrian aggressively tried to unite the Western and Eastern Orthodox churches amidst a particularly volatile period, but failed to do so. Following that, Pope Adrian tried to convince King Henry II to invade England. Though the Normans did eventually take to Irish shores, it’s unknown if Pope Adrian’s earlier provocations were influential. After acting as Pope for almost five years, Pope Adrian died in 1159. The legend is that he choked on a fly while drinking wine, but modern scholars suggest that the tale was born from the fact that he probably died from tonsillitis.
Regardless, while in custody, Blinko began to work on the next RP album, 1995’s Pope Adrian 37 Psychristiatric. Willingly using his own delusions, Blinko wrote tracks surrounding the idea that Blinko either was, or believed that he was, Pope Adrian IV. One curious thing is that Blinko never explains why if he believes he is Pope Adrian IV, he refers to himself as Pope Adrian 37. The last Pope Adrian to date was Pope Adrian VI from the 1500s. One suggestion is that Blinko’s coining of the name “Pope Adrian 37” is the result of a calculation. That is, if Pope Adrian were continually reincarnated, or somehow continued to exist, Blinko would be the 37th Pope Adrian. This assumes that a Pope serves for roughly 25 years, though, when in fact, the average Pope reigns for about seven years.
It’s important to look at the implications of Blinko believing that he was a Pope. In the modern context, the Pope is probably seen mostly as the head of the Catholic Church. But during the Middle Ages, not only was the Pope the only person who was said to be able to communicate directly with God, but he was perhaps the person who had authority over opposing kingdoms. Further, those kingdoms that were not bound by the Church’s jurisdiction were under the threat that the Pope could convince, or perhaps even order, other kingdoms to invade- as Pope Adrian tried to do. So, even though Pope Adrian IV had a relatively short reign, for that period he was the head of Religion for the European continent and beyond, as well as a man of great political and war influence. So, by assuming the mantle of a Pope, even a Pope that was not particularly successful at his gambits, Blinko in some ways is deigning himself the most important man on Earth.
After Blinko was released from confinement, he and the rest of RP began work on their new album in 1992. Unlike the collaborative work of previous RP albums, Pope Adrian was almost entirely the work of Blinko, including lyrics and music (though Cacophony did forecast Blinko taking a stronger hand in the writing process). For the release, older, unused material was merged with newer compositions. At least one riff on Pope Adrian dates back to the Magits era. According to Blinko, all but one of his acquaintances frowned upon him using his delusions as fodder for an album. His one vote of confidence came from his psychiatrist who thought the writing and recording process would be recuperative. Though, as always, it’s hard to view this without raising at least one eyebrow as the whole story seems too perfect.
Nevertheless, Pope Adrian is without question, the band’s most challenging work and arguably their most interesting. The vast majority of the tracks feature the theme with which Blinko had previously experimented–for a song’s duration, he shouts the title over and over, slightly changing his intonation each time, increasing in intensity and gravel in his voice. In some ways, this is reminiscent of jazz recordings (or funk music) where, unlike pop music, extreme repetition is embraced rather than avoided. In doing so, minute differences between movements become more striking and bold. Thus, it allows for a deeper inspection of how the tiny elements of a song can influence the greater whole. No track on Pope Adrian better epitomizes this than the opener, “Pogo Pope.” For 3:25, Blinko merely shouts “Pogo Pope! Pogo Pope! Pogo Pope!” over and over for the entire length of the tune. Each time he does, he enunciates a little differently, allowing different intonations, often breaking the words up at their end. What do the words “Pogo Pope” mean? Who knows? The fact is, with much of Pope Adrian, and even a good deal of the RP catalogue, the band might not even know what they are talking about, instead juxtaposing words for their textured or comedic affect, or merely repeating words that their muses dropped into their heads. Though there are a precious few places where Blinko’s words become clear. On “The Pope with No Name,” Blinko seems to directly address his confusion 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 grandeur, she must be mad!” That line, which is one of the very few lines in Pope Adrian that is coherent, is important for both its clarity–that Blinko is directly telling us he is suffering from delusions–and for its ambiguity. Despite having political leanings, at least as it pertains to Matthews, RP rarely, if ever, commented on gender politics, as opposed to bands like Crass, Poison Girls, and Flux of Pink Indians who made the topic a cornerstone of their lyrics. Yet here, Blinko refers to the pope in question, who quite likely may be meant to be read as Blinko himself, as a “she.” Is Blinko expressing gender confusion? Is he just using “she” as a way to express the complete loss of oneself by changing even his core identity? Is he just winking at us or having fun with the idea of the possibility of a female pope? We’ll likely never know, yet again it shows just how tactical the band is. Just when it seems they are expressing a clear point, they tweak it ever so slightly to give the question new levels of complexity that cannot be answered within the context of the album itself.
Again, the hearse motif appears, and in its boldest form. It would be the last time the band uses such imagery. First, the album cover, again showing one of Blinko’s hyper-detailed drawings, features a skeletal specter driving a hearse. Ghoulishly, the skeleton and his skeletal steeds seem to be enjoying the ride, Meanwhile, the “deceased” in the coffin opens the lid and peeks out. (Blinko also quite playfully, includes a self-referential fetus as one of the hearse’s wheels.) On the last track of side A, the thundering “Vatican’t City Hearse,” Blinko again just howls the title repeatedly. But, as the hearse motif ends, it also births another motif that would reoccur later. Being that Blinko sees himself as Pope Adrian, and being that the song is centered around the idea of the Vatican’s own hearse, it’s hard not to think that Blinko is forecasting his own death. As we’ll see, later RP songs find Blinko relishing, or at least embracing, his own demise, and the smile on the skeleton of the album’s cover backs this concept. Also, of note that it’s “Vatican’t,” not “Vatican.” Again, despite the band’s seriousness, they’re never too engulfed in their concepts to not employ whimsical wordplay.
Still, all this mania would make for difficult listening if it not backed by cracking music. In contrast to the grandiose complexity of Cacophony, at least a good part of which was helmed by Matthews, Blinko also takes the musical reigns on Pope Adrian and goes for the hard, mean, and simple. Each song features Blinko’s guitar and Matthews’ bass locking together pounding out menacing, but rocking, power riffs. Mirroring the lyrics, the band repeats the riffs, but adds in slight changes, growing fiercer and wilder, so that by a song’s end, the band is playing the same notes but the frantic music sounds entirely different. And yet, Blinko adds a contrast to his own experimenting in the mutability of repletion. During the album’s entire duration, a vocal clip of Blinko chanting “Papas Adrianus” (a bastardized Latin, Italian, or Greek form of “Pope Adrian”) repeats throughout each song, without a break, just behind the music, for a total of about 1,826 times. Yet, in contrast to Blinko’s main vocals and the instruments, each of which grow and change in shape, the “Papas Adrianus” clip is unending, unchanging, interminable repletion–each circuit is exactly the same. In a way, Blinko is setting up a game or issuing a challenge. If you have the willpower to ignore the maddening loop, Pope Adrian is an invigorating, powerful study of subtle changes as well as a celebration of the sheer charge of hearing a cracking power riff. But, if you can’t push the “Papas Adrianus” clip from your mind, you start to focus on it, eventually to the point where it’s the only thing you hear, and in fact, starts to drive you mad with its unerring, unchanging exactness. In a way, that may have been a means for Blinko to recreate his own experience: If you can’t ignore the constant onslaughts of this voice uttering “Pope Adrian,” eventually, it’s all you hear, it makes you agitated, and eventually, it blocks out all the other things happening on the record.
Pope Adrian is without a doubt, RP’s most challenging record, and the reactions of the band, their fans, and Southern Records testify to this. Both Matthews and Greville have stated that they didn’t like Pope Adrian. Specifically, Greville has stated that he thought it was too avant-garde and that he had hoped for a record more reflective of their earlier periods. Further, according to Matthews, Southern Records was unhappy with the album, and the fact that it wasn’t released until 1995, despite being recorded in 1992, seems to at least partially confirm that.
Additionally, in 1992, around the time of the recording of Pope Adrian, the band embarked on an ill-fated short English tour. Despite likely having the songs written, of the set’s 22 song set list, generally only one song from Pope Adrian, “Ireland Sun,” found a spot in the show. For the most part, those shows weren’t well-received–in contrast to earlier shows where the band didn’t fit in to the expectations of others, here, fans had 10 years of built-in expectations for the live show. Despite playing a fairly standard 35-minute “punk set,” the audience wanted more songs, and perhaps, the band at the time were not suited to deliver the power heard on their studio albums.
Modern opinion of Pope Adrian is mixed, with some people saying it’s where the band went “too far” and others saying it is the daring apex of the band’s creativity. Without question, it is one of the most unique and interesting albums ever recorded. While Pope Adrian might not be the “best” RP album, it’s the most unique and further established their core identity–other bands might play with concept of madness, or make light of the idea, or masquerade as “crazy,” RP knew what it meant to be insane and was more than happy to swim deeply in those dark waters. It might be off-putting to some, but that’s kind of the point. Further, if anything, Pope Adrian is invaluable as an experience. It’s a point of view that is found nowhere else in music. This is insanity, but it’s insanity that knows what it is to be sane. So, perhaps as a result of the blowback that the album received, Matthews took complete control of the next RP album, Echoes of Anguish, and in doing so, defined the second half of the band’s career.
THE ANGUISH CONTINUES
Unusual for the band, RP struck back relatively quickly with Pope Adrian’s follow up. Likely as a result of the mixed reception of that album, Grant Matthews took hold of the reigns for Echoes of Anguish. Recorded in 1997, the lyrics on Echoes and most, if not all, of the music was penned by Mathews.
Echoes, recorded in but three days, remains a critical point for the band. Firstly, depending on who you ask, it’s either the album that stunted the band or saved them entirely. Really, since the Rudimentary Peni EP, the band had been growing wilder and more experimental with each release. All the way through Cacophony, though, that experimentalism was palatable. That is, the music was strange, but it coaxed the listener along on the peculiar ride. Yet, Pope Adrian was the band’s most daring release and also their most abrasive. By its very nature, and infinite repeating verbal loop injected behind every song, Pope Adrian tries to drive the listener batty, twisting him/her around with repetition–it’s a challenge instead of an adventure, in the case of Death Church, or a journey, in the case of Cacophony.
So on Echoes, Matthews quite tactically did what he had wanted to do for some time. It’s unknown whether this maneuver resulted in internal band conflict, or whether it was more of a case that since Blinko got to do his album, Matthews got his crack at the next one. Being that Echoes marks the beginning of a period of extended productivity for the band, it’s likely the latter, though the two options aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive.
With the release’s first note, Matthews makes it clear that he’s boiling Rudimentary Peni down to its essence. It’s not exactly a back-to-basics approach, though. Earlier RP albums had tiny fragments, muffled sound, and twisting little interludes. Here, though, Matthews has the band blast out choppy, thick, three chord riffs. As the band marches forward at a rapid, but steady pace, Blinko, singing Matthews’ lyrics, continues earlier RP themes. While Blinko barks out odes to insanity and the horror of being born, the fact that not all RP lyrics and themes are the result of Blinko’s pen is underscored. In fact, perhaps because his cancer gave him a new perspective on life, Matthews’ own deliberations on death are vibrant. Take “Only Death” for instance, “There is only death/ no God/ No Love/ No joy/ Only death, and the fear of it.” That song, and others like it, set the tone for almost all future RP songs: a powerful, effective riff composed of a blended guitar and bass howls in the background while Blinko snarls a few short words. And really, therein lies the genius that RP has exhibited all along, both in pieces written by Blinko and Matthews. Bands will often devote a great word count to explaining and detailing a certain feeling or situation–just look at the lengthy inserts of Bob Dylan, Jello Biafra, or Propagandhi. But, RP is on the opposite end of the spectrum. RP finds the five or six words that color their picture as they want it (in the listener’s mind) and use the words to their greatest effect. Whereas Dylan supplies any number of colors in painting a picture, RP knows exactly which ones are needed to create there horrific images. All future RP releases follow this pattern with minor deviations.
Perhaps because its existence is sort of a self-definition for the band, Echoes of Anguish doesn’t have as much as a recurring theme as a display of themes that the band will later explore. As mentioned above, mortality plays a heavy part (as it does in nearly all RP releases). The concept of birth as a punishment or horror is explored on “Womb So Scorned.” Severe loneliness is told from a first-person perspective as Blinko wails on “Trial by Separation,” “When we first met I was alone/ and so were you/ when we first touched I was alone/ and so were you/ when we first fucked I was alone/ and so were you/You have deserted me, I am alone/ and so are you.” Yet with these songs, and many of the others, what makes the cold, hard endings that much harsher is that there are glimmers of hope. On “Trial by Separation,” Blinko doesn’t just lament that he is lonely, he tells the tale of being lonely, then not being lonely, only to have the person in question spurn him, leaving him lonelier than before.
Notably, Echoes doesn’t feature the sonic experimentation heard on previous releases. For the most part, the pounding riff rules all, and frankly, it works. Despite making some very non-musical choices throughout their career, here, the band could be accused of hiding popish rock music behind crustier, colder distortion.
Despite the fact that Blinko didn’t pen any of these lyrics, he still commands his army of voices. The selection isn’t as wide as it was on Cacophony, but he does seem to be having fun with his different troupes. Sort of like a horror movie, Blinko seems to enjoy playing up the horrendous themes of these songs as much as he fears them. Again, the band, and Blinko in particular, seems to be precisely aware of how people perceive their “insanity.”
Despite the fact that Echoes is less complex than its predecessors, it could be argued that it’s what saved the band. Well-received at the time, Echoes may have been what diverted the band from pure avant-noise and drove them back to one of the reasons that they started the band in the first place–punk rock. The band was still expressing their unique perspective, but in a frame that was easier to digest. Still, the previous LPs had so many hidden and unusual fragments, it is easy to mourn the loss of these whimsical eccentricities. Luckily, re-energized by Echoes’ reception, the band would again quickly start work on their next release, and through the current day, move towards an accord which balanced the classic punk stomp with their stranger proclivities.
THE CRUMBLING WALL
1997’s The Underclass marked the shortest time between any two Rudimentary Peni recordings since Farce and Death Church and their enthusiasm at being a band again is palpable. As before, they adheres to their modern incarnation–short, minute-long songs forged from simple, thundering riffs while Blinko howls a mere line or two for the duration.
In fact, the band expresses an almost unprecedented directness. On album opener “Captive of Atrophy” Blinko ruminates death by singing, “A collection of empty cells/ you are the crumbling wall/ Armored prison.” It’s important to note that Blinko (or the song’s lyricist if it isn’t Blinko) doesn’t necessarily say that the fleetingness of life is a bad thing. In fact, as is often the band’s whim, they slip a twist in at the song’s very end with “armored prison” which could be read to say that death is an escape, not something to be feared. This trend continues on “Bequest,” when Blinko snaps at his own father (or perhaps a higher power), “my father you have promised me an inheritance of death/ your legacy is tragedy, an undesired bequest.” Tellingly, on the second half of the song, Blinko plays the part of the father and answers back, “my child I have promised you an inheritance of death/ my legacy is tragedy, an undesired bequest.” In that father part, Blinko doesn’t seem necessarily sad that he has doomed his own offspring.
Interestingly, while Rudimentary Peni had abandoned directly political lyrics after Cacophony, more abstract political ponderings appear on The Underclass. “Choice of Evils” finds a surprising attack against the two-party system. “There is no right or wrong/ so help the weak and fight the strong/ there is no right or wrong but the brute force of history.” Interestingly, while the band’s metaphysical lyrics and political lyrics are often stacked against each other as two different viewpoints, or at least two unrelated topics, “Choice of Evils” seems to unite the philosophies. When the band muses on the concept of impending death, or when they argue against oppression, albeit obliquely, they always champion the “weaker” participant, or at least sympathize with him.
Blinko again begins to experiment with twisting his voice here, though not to the degree of earlier releases. By this point, he has mastered his booming growl, which contains colors of anger, fear, and a certain authority in its gravel. On “Underclass,” he begins to drop his voice, in a mixture of a hiss and guttural wail. It’s not the extremity of the band’s first half, but does forebode what has been heard on the band’s newest albums. Near the release of the album, Matthews stated that it was his favorite RP album up to that date. From his standpoint, it’s hard to argue with him. The band has whittled their lyrics down to 12 word structures they convey both utter horror and clarity pertaining to the human condition. Meanwhile, the music is simple, strong, and effective, keeping the songs rocking along while making Blinko’s proclamations have that much more gravitas. The experimentation of their earlier years is mostly absent, though, with the band’s very next release, stranger aspects would rise again.
THE FULL CONCEPT
Despite the warm reception of Underclass, and despite that the band congealed concept and sound, the band didn’t release a follow-up until 2004’s Archaic.
Although Archaic is built off the foundation set by Matthews on Echoes of Anguish, it features a few significant deviations from that plan. Firstly, and most strikingly, the band returns to the “concept” album, not seen since the 1992 recording of Pope Adrian. That is, concept album under the original sense of the term in that the band devotes the release to a single theme, rather than the modern idea of an album as a story.
Following the lead of Underclass’ “Captive of Atrophy,” (presumably) Blinko dedicates the album to the exploration of mankind’s perpetual dying. Continually, he revisits the concept that as soon as person is born, he is dying. Further, whereas he was somewhat more clinical on the ‘90s albums, leaving a distance between whether man’s finality was a good thing or not, here he takes the position that life itself is torment. As he says on “Suffer,” “Through decades of decay, despair and dismay, we suffer.” This theme remains the focal point for the album. Further, perhaps for the first time, Blinko looks at death as not only an escape, but a wonderful thing, even though it seems he feels it is the end of all. “Mercy of Slumber” includes perhaps his only “positive” lyrics on the album, “From this nightmare, someday I’ll wake, to sleep forever.” One wonders if Blinko (or Matthews) feels as though life really is so torturous.
While the band would slip humor here and there into their lyrics in the past, Archaic has very little whimsy or comedy. Though, despite the bleak outlook expressed, Blinko seems to be having the most fun he’s had since Cacophony, or maybe ever. Again he brings back his army of voices. On “The Rain,” he growls like a writhing monster. On “The Enlightened Dreamer,” for the first time, he adopts an authoritative, yet detached timbre with “Most will fail and all will die/ So none shall live to tell the tale.” Yet, after his philosopher/politician’s cadence, he immediately flips into one of his demonic hisses for the song’s coda. It seems that the more Blinko revels in the concept of despair, the more fun he’s having. (One could also note how “The Enlightened Dreamer” seems to mimic the phrasing of The Primal Screamer.) The rounding up of “death as a release” seems to culminate to a thesis near the album’s end. On “House of the Void,” Blinko howls, “From the womb/ the void is born/ the void in human form.” This is preceded by “In Crematorium Flame” with “conception is a crime/ the guilt and sentence lie in crematorium flame.” That is, Blinko seems to argue that not only is life insufferable–or more accurately total suffering–but one must blame one’s parents for injecting one into a world of despair. This is particularly interesting because in The Primal Screamer, Blinko describes a warm, though somewhat detached, relationship from his parents. In fact, throughout the book, Blinko’s parents encourage and support him on his various artistic endeavors–far to the excess of what would be expected of most parents. Is Blinko directly attacking his own parents, or is he, perhaps coldly, commenting on the condition of man as a whole, suggesting that even parents with the best intentions doom their child from the moment of conception? (Though, as always, it must be noted that we don’t know that Blinko wrote these lyrics, or any of the lyrics on the album, because, as always, the band maintains a curtain over their creative process.)
On “XNHS,” he seems to become direct with “The NHS is closing down/ Dr. Barnardo’s coming to town/ fight the hand that bleeds.” Presumably, NHS is England’s National Health Service and the Dr. Barnardo he refers to is the 19th century doctor Thomas John Barnardo, who set up programs to rescue orphans, troubled children and abused children, which still runs today. It doesn’t take much to guess that Blinko is referring to his own stint in mental healthcare and, to go one step further, how much he fought against it.
As Archaic was released, Matthews stated that he thought it was the band’s best album. For the listener, such a distinction is difficult to place on any one RP album, but Archaic is a milestone. Blinko, Matthews, and Greville appear to have reached total accord. The music pounds by in snappy, buzzing riffs. Meanwhile, Blinko, or the band, fully develops a concept, and beyond that, comes to several conclusions which they generally avoided on earlier releases. Blinko is again having a ball, growling and hissing and grumbling. By this time, RP were getting greater critical and “punk rock” respect across the globe than ever before. That momentum and goodwill would flow into the band’s final album release to date, the No More Pain EP.
EVEN MORE PAIN
If Archaic was Rudimentary Peni in balance with its attributes, 2008’s No More Pain finds the band so confident in that balance that they again toy with it and at times, get very weird. While No More Pain finds the band fully confident with their oft-competing forces, deftly venturing into the bizarre without losing sight of who they are, the release seems to bring the band full circle. Like their first releases (and the more recent ones), No More Pain is a concise 12 tracks. And like the earliest releases, and somewhat different from the newer ones, the band starts out at full speed and stays there for the entire release. Archaic and Underclass had ample moments of thrashy speed, but would often drop down into a mammoth, stomping groove. Not so here. Just like Rudimentary Peni and Farce, the band can’t seem to get through these songs quick enough. A good deal of the credit should go to Greville, who not only drives the band forward at a rapid clip, but adopts a unique style borrowing from both the jazz-influenced, mechanical school of drumming as well as the blues-based, rumble of the heavy metal school. The result is an album that is charged with a driving power, but feels like it could fly off the rails at any moment.
The cliché is that bands get more mellow as they age, but in RP’s case, they get faster and more savage. No More Pain is an important break from Archaic, and to a lesser degree, Underclass. Whereas those two releases had a focal point, or a related set of themes, here the band is happy, and perhaps reveling in the fact that they can drive all over the map. “Annihilation” finds the band covering their core interest with “Alive and alone in the dark/ Dead and alone in the dark.” But elsewhere, they get loopy and, unlike the preceding releases, don’t seem to feel that each song need state a fundamental axiom or vantage point. This, too, is like the more outlandish songs on the first few releases. “Doodlebug Baby” finds Blinko spitting out nonsense that even he acknowledges is nonsense: “Sucker Humbug, doodlebug boogie!/ St. Saul’s Cathedral, 6P nonsense!/ Doodle bug boogie, bug baby!”
Closing track “Pachelbel’s Canon in E” finds the band warping the posh song (which is usually played at graduations) from something airy and sentimental to a dread-inducing crash. In fact, it’s difficult to discern the band’s purpose by warping the song so severely (and worth noting that despite the title, the song was written in the key of D.) In a way, it’s almost a reflection of Jimi Hendrix’s famed take on the “Star Spangled Banner.” RP never shied away from slipping macabre laughs into their work, so their version of Pachelbel’s tune could just be them delighting in warping the time-honored song into a cruel doppelganger of itself. But on the other hand, and as with Hendrix’s song, it could be the band commenting on the song’s implications. Being that the song is usually played at graduations or celebratory events, the standard version of “Pachelbel’s Canon” usually conjures up concepts of potential or accomplishment. Meanwhile, RP takes the celebratory song and turns it into something dark, sinister and depressing. Could it be that the band is, in a way, expressing their views on mankind’s inescapable doom through an instrumental piece?
Despite the EP’s more abstract pieces, the band, in balancing their aspects, do take time to make some very direct proclamations. It’s worth noting that the EP’s title is No More Pain. Unlike the songs on Archaic, Underclass, and Echoes of Anguish, nearly all of which express the horror at realizing one’s position in the cosmos, No More Pain expresses a joy at the escape from such device. That is to say, while whole previous albums focused on despair, No More Pain celebrates the end of such suffering. The title track makes this clear with “Come gentle death in dead of night/and seal away the morning light.” “Sublime Fantasy No. 1” supplements this idea with “I dream a pure and cloudless sky/ where bliss, alone, untainted lies.” Compared to the band’s previous ominous lamentations, the band’s celebration of the end of life is both a positive message and profoundly disturbing.
No More Pain again finds Blinko saluting authors that inspired him, and trod similar ground. On opener “A Handful of Dust,” he quotes T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland verbatim and finds both artists commenting that no matter how great a person’s accomplishments are, within a few short years, they are all erased when contrasted to Earth’s advanced years. Blinko himself then twists around the concept and focuses it squarely on himself. “The Death of the Author,” one of the RP songs that has a meaning dependent on comparing the lyrics to the title, side-by-side, finds Blinko snapping, “Being brave won’t save you from the grave.”
Despite the band’s internal struggle–no matter how overstated or understated that may be–No More Pain seems to be a release where everything works in tandem. Matthews and Greville supply powerful, aggressive licks while Blinko finds space to both focus on making clear cut proclamations and just get bizarre. Curious is it, then, that to date, No More Pain would be the band’s last release except for a one-song single, which conspicuously, doesn’t seem to have any bass lines on it at all…
THE END OF THE END?
A mere one year after No More Pain, Rudimentary Peni released their last song to date. “Wilfred Owen the Chances,” which was included as a bonus incentive with Blinko’s novel The Haunted Head, follows in the vein of “A Handful of Dust” as Blinko recites Owen’s poem The Chances verbatim (though he curiously omits two lines).
Unlike the prior year’s recording, Blinko plays at what feels like half-speed, letting the tenor and distortion of his guitar create atmosphere in lieu of power riffs driving the rhythm. Although there are lumbering drums in the background that appear almost arrhythmically to add tension, curiously, there don’t seem to be bass lines anywhere in the song, suggesting, but not proving, that Matthews (and maybe even Greville) weren’t part of the song. Meanwhile, in a molasses voice, Blinko reads Owen’s poem. As with many poems from the turn of the century, the actual meaning of the work is contested. Generally, critics agree that the first portion tells the tale of soldiers about to enter combat during the first World War. “Jim,” having been in previous combat, informs his comrades that only one of five things can happen in combat–you get can killed, slightly wounded, severely wounded, captured, or you can escape unharmed. During the battle, the narrator escapes unharmed, though one of his fellow soldiers gets killed, another gets his legs blasted off, and another gets captured by Germans. The fate of “Jim” is up for debate. “But poor Jim, ‘e’s livin’ an’ ‘e’s not/ ‘E reckoned ‘e’d five chances, an’ ‘e’s ‘ad/ ‘E’s wounded, killed, and pris’ner, all the lot-/ The ruddy lot all rolled in one. Jim’s mad.”
While some critics interpret the final portion as stating that Jim suffered not just one but all five of his predictions, it would seem that the narrator is stating that Jim suffered none of his five scenarios. Instead, the final line seems to say that Jim suffered something worse than all five of those fates–that is, he went insane from the horrors of war. Certainly, that is more in line with RP’s own thematic devices, and likely may be Blinko’s interpretation. It’s fitting that the last RP track to date is based on source material that may have had a direct meaning, but is clouded in vague and ambiguous language–just as the band perfected at the beginning and end of their career.
PAPAS ADRIANUS PAPAS ADRIANUS PAPAS ADRIANUS PAPAS ADRIANUS
Because the members of Rudimentary Peni are reluctant to yield information about their work, because there is such a mythos surrounding them, and because much of the information that is out there contradicts itself, any analysis of their work is bound to have the author’s own bias injected into the band’s work, twisting the band’s concept towards the author’s own. Certainly, this piece is no different. But in some ways, that is kind of the point of the band. RP certainly isn’t always describing a specific thing with the intent to make an exact argument. Rather, just as Blinko mentioned with “Hearse,” some of the songs are just words put together, leaving the listener to make whatever he or she will with the tools at hand. There is no “solution” to Rudimentary Peni, only caverns in which to get lost. Once you do, you may never find your way out, and if you, you might coming out screaming “POGO POPE! POGO POPE!! POGO POPE!!!” Make of that what you will.