Review: Kenn Nardi – Dancing With the Past
Do you remember the days when blast beats weren’t a necessity to a metal drummer’s arsenal? Do you remember the days when you had to mail-order your metal swag from record sleeve inserts? JAG remembers. And if I were a gambling man, I would bet my money that JAG and anybody else who appreciates old school metal still daring to innovate will love this album. NO WEEDILIES, NO DEEDILIES.
The second I decided that I had to write a review for Kenn Nardi’s Dancing With the Past, I knew I would be in for a tricky process. To give a brief summary of the band, Kenn Nardi is essentially an extension of the seminal alternative thrash band Anacrusis, just without any of the other members in the picture (besides some guest writing and performance spots). In their career, Anacrusis came out with four full–length albums, each one progressing and – in this author’s humble opinion – improving upon the latter. This eventually led to the creation of their 4th and final full-length album, Screams and Whispers, which is widely considered within their fanbase as their crowning achievement. After a breakup, a reunion, and another breakup, the future of Anacrusis seemed unclear, until the announcement by Kenn Nardi was made that after 20+ years he would finally be releasing a new Anacrusis album under his own name. I know that it may seem to be a faux pas as you read further into this review that I interchangeably refer to this as an Anacrusis album and a Kenn Nardi album at the same time, but after reading a shit ton of interviews on the subject, I think we can safely conclude that each moniker is justifiably appropriate. After listening to this album and really sitting with it (and second guessing every sentence I wrote for this review), here is what I have to say about it.
This album is a seamless blend of fascinating explorations into the uncharted, mixed in with love letters to the annals of Anacrusis and old school metal in general. Kenn Nardi performs every instrument on this album (save for a few guest spots) with taste and cautious restraint, careful to never sacrifice the integrity of one instrument for the other. While this album has the longest playing time in Anacrusis’ catalog by far (clocking in at almost three hours in length), it overcomes any preconceived notions of being a lesson in tedium. For it being 2015, we have seen numerous shifts occur within the climate of progressive music since 1993, so much so that being a “relevant” veteran within this scene would seem to be quite the daunting task. However, Dancing With the Past not only catches up with its modern day predecessors, but steps forward to help write the next chapter of progressive music.
Explaining every little thing I love about this album would be quite challenging to do, so bare with me while I try to bring to light its best elements. Overall, what satisfies me most is that Nardi approached it without artistic hesitation, something I noticed immediately during the album opener, “Unnecessary Evil”, which introduces a completely foreign orchestral element into Anacrusis’ system. Unflinching musical prowess by Nardi is stamped all over this album. In the song “Made”, Nardi utilizes a bouncy sludge-breakdown that would make Kirk Windstein blush, while songs like “Await the Setting Sun” and “Spitting Bitter” spew forth primal, inventive thrash. Other tracks like “The Dark and The Light” and “The Runt” explore a foray of morosity that has only been lightly dabbled with in some of Nardi’s side projects. While all these dynamics undoubtedly help to make this album more interesting and digestible, they also clue in fans who bore witness to Anacrusis’ early demise what could have been.
Now, make no mistake, while this album may be progressive, Nardi was incredibly aware that he had to make up for lost time. He manages to do so with another one of my favorite things about the album: the anthems. I mean sure, I may love getting the opportunity to see “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” live, but you know I’ve got to hear “The Number of the Beast” before the night’s over. This being said, “Dead Letters” is undoubtedly one of the best singles in Anacrusis’ career, and I feel it’s also one of the best summations of Anacrusis’ sound as a whole you could get in just one track. There are other standout tracks too. “One World”, “This Killer in My House”, and “Ordinary” will surely satisfy any fan who has been mourning the 20 year drought of Anacrusis’ creative yield (or anybody who just wants to raise a fist and bang a head).
I can’t let the strength of DWTP’s lyrics go unsung. Nardi has always had a strong way with words in the past (ref. me in my car at 18 shouting “WRONG, SO WRONG!” to “Division”), and it seems he had quite a lot to say from the abundance of depth and character we see in DWTP’s lyrics. Songs such as “The Runt”, “The Telling Skies”, “Creve Coeur”, and many others display an intense level of thought throughout, yet are artistically ambiguous enough to allow the listener to attach their own personal meaning to the song. The icing on the cake is the conviction with which Nardi puts into the delivery of his words, adding another layer of perspective and emotion to the song as a whole. One of my favorite lyrics from the album comes in the chorus for the breathtaking epic, “Symbiotic”, which goes:
The water’s deep, the blood is thick/ One fills the soul, one makes us tick/ Adjoined and whole, apart and sick/ For we are all, symbiotic
If that isn’t a “bro, I love you” chorus you sing at a metal show, I don’t know what is.
If I were to give this album any real criticisms, they would be on a few minute points. The most obvious is that it’s very long, which makes it as equally susceptible to monotony as any other band. Most songs average out at six minutes in length, which can sometimes find you wanting them to just get to the damn point (ref. “Untouchable”). The only other significant problem I have with this album is the tracklisting, especially on Disc 2. I feel that numerous songs on DWTP deserve more attention than the first time quick-listener may have the patience to give, and a more properly sorted tracklist could easily rectify this situation. The biggest mistake comes at the album’s end. I was really hoping for this album to end balls out, which could have easily been done with a song such as “Symbiotic”, 2 songs away from the album closer. Instead, Mr. Nardi opted to end with the bleak, depressed-sounding “The Runt”, which on its own is a terrific song, but not the way I would think to end an album that could possibly be your last. (We need more closers like “Hallowed Be Thy Name” or “Eyes of a Stranger”).
Overall, this is an album that is firing on all cylinders. It’s progressive, yet not obsessed with technique; completely signature, yet never abusing old habits; rocking and anthemic, yet mournful, serious; and truly heartfelt. DWTP is a complete album that is a breath of fresh and old air that will leave the die-hard fans elated, and (hopefully) captivate those who are not privy to Anacrusis’ charm. I hope this album will make its way more into the collective consciousness of the metal world, but if it doesn’t, I’m just glad I was afforded the incredible opportunity by Kenn Nardi, Divebomb Records, and my physical health to spend my money on an album that’s so utterly sublime.
Best songs for an interested newbie to listen to: “Dead Letters”, “Fragile”, “One World”, “Symbiotic”
Author’s “hidden gem” favorites: “Submerged”, “Beside Myself”, “Unnecessary Evil”, “The Dark and the Light”