Having grown up in a Christian cult-like private church-school, it takes a lot for me to be surprised by the oddities of modern-day Christians, but every now and then I’ll come across something that I just can’t help but be amazed and/or freaked out by. Most recently, in doing research about post hardcore band Showbread’s latest double album Anorexia Nervosa, I was reading through the band’s forums looking for more insight into the album’s story, which is apparently very important in the listening experience. Instead, I came across page and pages of people trying to decipher the meaning of each individual song, threads about people crying hysterically while listening to Anorexia Nervosa, and speculation that demonic forces were antagonizing Showbread during the recording sessions and trying to prevent them from releasing the albums. Despite the questionable nature of the people that had those reactions, I’d be lying if I said that they didn’t get me more than a little excited for how Anorexia Nervosa would sound.
The concept of Anorexia Nervosa is certainly one of the most overblown and pretentious ideas seen in awhile. Two discs, each disc with the same song titles telling two sides of the same story, complete with cryptic blog posts containing clues that fans were meant to decipher leading up to the album’s release. There are timestamps that the listener is supposed to follow while listening to the album, and the liner notes contain a story that is meant to be read while listening. While it’s obvious that Showbread put a huge amount of work and thought into these records, the music does not live up to the hype and buildup created by the band themselves. Showbread deserve some credit for knowing their audience though; their fans have eaten this concept up.
Musically, Showbread seem to be attempting to cash in on a trend that was popular in post hardcore a few years ago – replacing the catchiness of bands like Thursday and Thrice with a constant dissonance in an attempt to create more atmosphere and feeling. That is, essentially, Showbread: true emotional value is displaced by artificial noise and production tricks. While the impersonality that this creates may have been what the band intended, it doesn’t make these albums any easier to listen to. Showbread have taken The Always Open Mouth and The Shape of Punk to Come and filtered them through The Downward Spiral without the lasting and endearing qualities of any of those records. The execution of the individual discs is painfully predictable – Nervosa contains traditional Showbread “raw rock” songs, while Anorexia focuses more on “experimentation,” which basically means that there will be electronic drums and vocal effects, as well as a disturbing amount of samples featuring pigs squealing. Showbread’s minor key riffing and badly toned keyboards grow old after the first listen, as each song tries to outdo the one before it in terms of dissonance and unpleasant progressions.
Eventually the album just becomes too much to take all at once. The constant jarring nature of the music becomes unnecessarily overbearing, and by the time Anorexia’s “The Goat” starts playing, you’ve already heard most of Showbread’s tricks. The distortion of the vocals on nearly every song is incredibly grating, and even without the effects, the screams would contain neither the individuality nor the power of someone like Jacob Bannon or Daryl Palumbo. Many songs, such as Anorexia’s “The End” and Nervosa’s “The Death,” end with cacophonous climaxes that annoy rather than excite, due to the overabundance of layers and elements stacked on top of each other. All too often, Showbread merely try to do too many things at once, making for a tedious experience that wears out the listener very quickly.
Fortunately, Showbread do manage to get things right a few times throughout the course of Anorexia Nervosa. Nervosa’s ending piece “The Beginning” shows vocalist Josh Dies turning out one of his few truly great performances; the soaring vocals are inspiring and heartfelt, and halfway through the song the mood changes from triumphant to tense, creating one of the only times where the full band is working on all cylinders. Nervosa’s “The Journey” is on the other side of the spectrum – it’s a driving, dirty, Southern rock inspired song that sounds like everything that Maylene and the Sons of Disaster have been trying to do their whole career. The chorus is intense and catchy all at once, and you’d have to try pretty hard not to yell along with “Yeah, I am, I am the empty empty.” Additionally, the song’s bridge shows the band putting their industrial influences to good use. Conversely, Anorexia’s take on “The Beginning” is a charming piano-driven instrumental that lessens the sour taste in the listener’s mouth after the other songs on the extremely lackluster disc. However, as with all mediocre double albums, you have to wade through twice the crap to get to the good stuff.
From the start, Showbread have always made their influences clear, as if admitting to ripping off other bands makes it alright to do so, but it’s time for them to come up with a sound of their own. Anorexia Nervosa shows potential for something good, if not great. Their penchant for dirty rock songs won’t be fully realized until they put less emphasis on nigh-constant dissonance and unpleasantness and more on songwriting and emotion. The parallelism that the band tried to create between the discs is at least interesting, although most of the time it's poorly executed. As a double album, Anorexia Nervosa is too long and too similar for its own good. As a concept record, it’s pretentious, and it contains some of the most annoying samples put to tape. As an original body of work…well, it just isn’t.