Article By: Pat ‘Riot’ Whitaker, Senior Writer/Journalist ‡ Edited By: Leanne Ridgeway, Owner/Chief Editor
1986: St. Louis, Missouri – This is the time and place that one of metal’s most innovative, forward thinking entities will materialize and begin to make their way into the annals of music history.
The KISS loving duo of former violinist turned guitarist and vocalist Kenn Nardi and trumpeter turned guitarist Kevin Heidbreder, along with somewhat KISS appreciative bassist John Emery, and drummer Mike Owen (status regarding KISS unknown) form a band. They take the name ANACRUSIS (a musical term for a note or series of notes that comes before the first complete measure of a composition; also known as the “upbeat”) and begin working to revolutionize heavy metal.
They would eventually tune down their guitars, engage some ambitious songwriting, and craft said songs as intricacy laden audio artistry. Though they remained in a perpetual state of “seeking vocalist”, in their first year together, the quartet were able to record two demos under their own volition and ingenuity, ‘Annihilation Complete‘ and ‘Demo I‘. The following year sees them rework ‘Annihilation Complete‘, adding two more songs to the original seven tracks, and this is when things really begin rolling for our foursome.
With a spotlight on a local college radio show’s “DEMOlition” segment, the latter demo receives an enthusiastic embrace with regional metalheads. Soon ANACRUSIS are gigging locally. British periodical Metal Forces magazine votes it the Best Demo Of 1987 and includes the band on the ‘Demolition… Scream Your Brains Out!’ compilation album in 1988. Receiving several positive reviews and features in publications, the demo does as intended, drawing the band interest from a few smaller labels. Deciding it would be best to finance their own record and then shop it around, ANACRUSIS enter Holly Hills Studio in Kansas City, MO where, for $1,200 and seven days of creation, their first official, full-length album is recorded.
‘Suffering Hour‘ is a hodgepodge culling together old and new songs from ANACRUSIS, some with origins back to Kenn Nardi’s previous band, Heaven’s Flame. Despite the band not being overly thrilled with some of the album’s production aspects, the owner of Metal Forces mag, Bernard Doe, signs ANACRUSIS to his Axis Records label (known later as Active Records). Not only does the label sign them for a two record deal, it also reimburses the guys their $1,200 investment as ‘Suffering Hour‘ begins to make its mark.
The record serves as an impressive first glimpse of ANACRUSIS for many, rife with emotion and intensity both musically and vocally. Though never taking the position officially, Nardi is now the de facto vocalist for the band, but his vocals here differ greatly from those on previous demos. Absent are the King Diamond-like falsetto shrieks, in their place, alternating moody cleans and throat wrenched, aggressive heavier ones. The music is just as textural and multifaceted with overall progressive metal styling laced with melodic turns and all-out thrash discharges. The lyrics are quite intelligently constructed, reading like poetic literature and revealing common themes of an often darker nature, ones centering on expectation and sorrow.
All of these would be present in an even more heightened state, and a more cohesive delivery, on the astounding sophomore album from ANACRUSIS, ‘Reason‘. However, prior to this, a four-song EP of rough mixes of songs under construction, ‘Excerpts From Reason‘, is quickly assembled prior to the band’s appearance at that year’s Foundations Forum.
The band’s second album is recorded in another small scale studio, Smith Lee Studios in St. Louis and released in 1990, it follows a pair of demos from the band, 1989’s ‘Quick To Doubt‘ and 1990’s ‘Manic Impressions‘. ‘Reason‘ becomes the defining stylistic statement for ANACRUSIS, with music fans (then and now) having great appreciation and reverence for the album, especially then as it drives offers and opportunities for ANACRUSIS. Ones like a large scale tour as direct support to D.R.I. (Dirty Rotten Imbeciles), but once over the band will experience their first membership change as drummer Mike Owen joins the U.S. Navy and exits ANACRUSIS.
Enter drummer Chad Smith, Kenn Nardi’s former Heaven’s Flame bandmate, and Metal Blade Records. They sign ANACRUSIS and. in early 1991, ANACRUSIS enter their first “proper studio”- Royal Recorders in Lake Geneva, WI – to record the monumental ‘Manic Impressions‘, released that same year. Well, perhaps the NOW monumental might be better, as their third studio offering is one that reflects what ANACRUSIS have always done best… their own thing.
Let’s be honest, sometimes a band can be TOO progressive or too outside the box, at least when it comes to fans of metal music. ANACRUSIS most definitely suffered from this condition at times and ‘Manic Impressions‘ epitomized larger changes taking place in their music. The initial sessions were plagued with problems in the early stages of recording, everything from beginning to use drum machines during the writing phase, to engineers later on that weren’t so well versed with rising digital technology. However, the band and many of their longtime fans feel this album captures ANACRUSIS at their most technical and experimental, despite the band’s continuing misgivings about its final mix.
The touring cycle in support of ‘Manic Impressions‘ begins with them supporting Megadeth in the midwest and western U.S. Most attendees are unfamiliar with ANACRUSIS and expecting to see the originally billed opening act, Alice In Chains, but the band does well in winning many of them over. Their name recognition grows nicely after their next trek, as the opening act on a 38-city U.S. run supporting Overkill’s ‘Horrorscope‘ tour with Galactic Cowboys. This is the very tour that I saw in 1991, when this uniquely diversified trio of acts played the original Hammerjack’s in Baltimore, MD. Yet once wrapped, history repeats itself as Chad Smith is soon to be replaced by a new drummer, Paul Miles.
This is a calculated roster change for Smith, along with the band itself. Both had grown disillusioned with their record label and what they perceived as a lackluster approach in supporting the band and their releases. As Smith was increasingly more dissatisfied with ANACRUSIS‘ inability to earn sustainable income from either record sales or touring, tensions within the band grew. Although amid songwriting mode for their next album, Smith does eventually exit and while he does not appear on the album, his drum arrangements contribute greatly.
The album in question is, of course, the fourth and final studio effort from ANACRUSIS, 1993’s ‘Screams And Whispers‘. Recorded once again in St. Louis and at first, as is the usual ANACRUSIS way it seems, encounters myriad issues and obstacles. One of the biggest is the band’s choice to return to a smaller studio, as it means one devoid of some of the latest equipment. This hinders them in the final stages of mixing the record, so when done the band are less than happy about what they hear and hope to convince Metal Blade it all needs remixing. The label agrees and suggests they work with Bill Metoyer (C.O.C., Sacred Reich, Flotsam & Jetsam) to get the desired results, which they do.
By the band’s own admission, ‘Screams And Whispers‘ is their favorite release and the one they are most happy with. Most fans of the band also share this sentiment, gravitating toward the band’s first time “ahead of the curve” use of orchestral elements. Melded with the signature components of any ANACRUSIS creation, the album seems a natural and fitting progression for the band. Unfortunately, as stated above, this would be the final album released from the band as they broke up not long after its release in 1993.
Thankfully, the ANACRUSIS saga does not end there. In 2009, the band’s original line up of Kenn Nardi, Kevin Heidbreder, John Emery, and Mike Owen, announced a reunion show at the 2010 Keep It True XIII Festival in Germany. Also in 2009, Stormspell Records and Days Of Yore released ‘Annihilation Complete: The Early Years Anthology‘ a CD/DVD compilation of early material that included 1987’s ‘Annihilation Complete’ demo, along with other demos, rehearsal recordings, and early live footage.
Limited, select shows followed in recent years, as have reissues and other compilations like the two-disc ‘Hindsight: Suffering Hour & Reason Revisited’, containing re-recorded versions of their first two albums (streaming above). We now ecstatically share news of a new round of re-releases from ANACRUSIS.
ANACRUSIS announce the re-release of all four albums from their discography: ‘Suffering Hour’ (1988), ‘Reason’ (1990), ‘Manic Impressions’ (1991), and ‘Screams And Whispers’ (1993). All albums are remastered and will be released on vinyl and CD (with bonus demo tracks) through Metal Blade Records. Official release date and other details will be revealed soon.
This recent news was accompanied by the following commentary from the band:
“We just wanted to say the albums have all been remastered and are on schedule for the coming Metal Blade reissues. We don’t have a concrete date yet or all of the details, but we can say that all four albums will be released on high-quality vinyl and on physical CDs (with CD-only bonus demo tracks).
Due to the length of the recordings and the fact that Metal Blade Records did not want to compromise the audio quality, all four vinyl releases will be double albums. Reason and Screams And Whispers will be full 4-sided LPs and Suffering Hour and Manic Impressions will be 3-sided LPs with an etching on side 4.
The vinyl versions will all feature the original track listings aside from Suffering Hour which will also include the “lost” cover version of Black Sabbath’s “N.I.B.” (which was recorded during the Suffering Hour sessions (but was never included on the original release).“
There you have it, ANACRUSIS loving faithful fans and soon-to-be converts! The past of this most important band, as well as an upcoming plan, both of which are integral to any true fan of heavy metal.