Review Summary: Nothing, nothing, nothing is forever.
I'm seven years old, and it's another Sunday morning. I have to wake up early for no good reason - at least within my reasoning - and my parents are stressing to meet some weird deadline of leaving the house by 9:30 AM. We pile in my dad's cigarette smoke-laden pickup truck and head to our weekly meeting place full of nicely dressed strangers that sing out of tune and have creepy smiles. Upon arrival I brace myself for 30-45 minutes of awful monotonous music aimed at an invisible person; this preparation period is the only way I can make it through this portion of service without showing visible signs of torment (I've always wanted to please Mom and Dad). When we are finally instructed to sit down, I am simultaneously relieved (we're finally sitting down!) and dreading the remainder of service (an even more monotonous experience, the sermon). I keep a keen eye on my watch, counting down the seconds until the magical hour of 12:00 noon, at which point the only thing left I must endure is the congregation's collective small talk.
This has, more or less, been every Sunday of my life until the summer of 2006. At this point I was 19 years old, and was about to give up on searching for the answer to my life-long question, "Is God actually real?". In fact, I hadn't put much stock into anything - real or not - up to that point. I was into a few select things: Zelda, horror movies and music with a good deal of screaming. I wasn't even all that into girls, including the one I had been married to for about a year (we didn't love each other...long story). In my immense boredom of my job at the time (drafting civil engineering plans), and of my life in general, I started browsing Purevolume for new bands. I came across Showbread, a silly outfit with seven members, two of which were lead vocalists, one of which was a black dude. This alone was enough to catch my interest, but when I started listening to their songs, I wasn't impressed. They had just come out with a new record, Age of Reptiles
, and boy was it weird...it's like they couldn't decide on what kind of album to make; it was synth-driven rock but it had a strange danciness to it that seemed out of place. Digging a bit more into their back catalogue, I discovered songs from No Sir, Nihilism is not Practical
, an album that Revolver Magazine had dubbed "Screamo Album of the Year" (that year was 2004). Of course at the time I had no idea that this record isn't real screamo, but it had screaming, and that's all it took to sell me. I bought it and Reptiles
along with it after the Purevolume songs grew on me.
I absolutely knew I was in for something bizarre from the very first time I spinned this disc. It opens with a conversation over the phone:
"Yeah, you gotta help me out man, I'm falling apart at the sea--"
"Calm down man, calm down. Look, I really don't know what to say, but it really doesn't matter. How's that?"
"No sir, nihilism is not practical."
For the duration of the song (and for the majority of the album), maniacal, Refused-like screaming and energetic, punk-influenced riffs on top of fast tempos immediately follow, both vocalists constantly trading screams off. Every once in awhile, the pace slows, allowing a catchy singalong or poppy break to shine through. Think Blood Brothers meets Refused, but with pop and alt-rock laced prominently throughout. The record even slows to an almost halt on a couple of occasions; "The Missing Wife" is played exclusively on what sounds like a ukelele and vocalist Josh "Dies" Porter uses only clean vocals, and "Matthias Replaces Judas" is a tear-jerking ballad, also absent of harsh vocals.
As unique as this blend of genres was (especially for Christian music, more on that later), it was actually the lyrics that impacted me more than anything. It's a ritual of sorts for me to shut off everyone in my life while I listen to an album for the first time and read along with its lyrics. As I read the words penned by co-vocalist Dies, I was captivated by his unrelentingly real approach to spirituality and other topics; you can just tell when someone writes from experience vs. when someone writes words that just sound cool or whatever. In Showbread's case, the lyrics are both:
I'm nauseous, or maybe just inspired
So truthful, I begin to tire,
No less then everything.
No haiku, no paper packaged thing,
Patronized you harmonize, a thorax rattles so,
Like idealistic jargon every self-respecting hopeful should know.
I know the road to everything,
I know it goes right off a cliff,
Nothing, nothing, nothing is forever
Sympathy I do indeed intake in bulk amounts,
For reasoning obscure it seems too numerous to count,
And so it goes the lesser chose to crawl through narrow gates,
Bulimic thin the winding road now empty into lakes,
A pulse is found, and so we drown, and sing for this duration,
From rows and rows of teeth we're spared, these artery serrations.
Emptiness I must impress upon you in its grandeur,
My stagnant heart, it comes apart, as selfishness demands her,
To sound a note from scores I wrote,
And offer them unto thee,
For melodies now synthesized, your love it lives within me.
-The entirety of "A Llama Eats a Giraffe (And Vice Versa)"
As you can see, his lyrics are thought provoking, well articulated, funny, heartfelt, genuine and other adjectives, all at once. However, it wasn't until track 12, "Matthias Replaces Judas", that the lyrics got me:
Jesus my heart is all I have to give to you, so weak and so unworthy,
this simply will not do, no alabaster jar, no diamond in the rough,
for your body that was broken, how can this be enough?
by me you were abandoned, by me you were betrayed,
yet in your arms and in your heart forever I have stayed
Your glory illuminates my life, and no darkness will descend,
for you have loved me forever, and your love will never end.
These are the song's closing lyrics. Now, these words by themselves may not be much different than what I had heard every Sunday morning during the awful experiences I detailed earlier; what made them powerful was a very tangible presence that descended upon me during this song. I can't explain it other than I just knew and felt that there was someone else there with me. I immediately started crying, and I tried to stop. I tried rationalizing the situation away, pretending it never happened. But who was I kidding? That really just happened. That was the first time I had cried since...I didn't even remember. I realized later that the reason Showbread had such an impact on me is because they spoke my language; I had never (and am still not) into church-y stuff, praise and worship music, etc. I mentioned earlier that I was into horror movies (still into that too); the song "Dead By Dawn" is an ode to the Evil Dead
film series. This may sound silly, but until Showbread, I didn't even realize that it's okay to have fun and enjoy non-Christian art like horror movies and still consider yourself a follower of Christ. I realized more and more how much I identified with Showbread's mentality as I read their blog posts, responses to tough questions from Christians and non-Christians alike, etc. As you can conclude, this record ultimately changed my life.
Now, let's take all this sentiment away for a moment. You're still left with a bombastic mix of genres presented in an orignal form. This record is a huge breath of fresh air for the Christian music scene. I said earlier that (on this record) there are seven members. Two vocalists, two guitarists, a bassist, a drummer...what's number seven? A keytarist! Showbread somehow figures out how to get snyth involved in this crazy blend, and in my opinion, it always works - even on the rest of their albums. If you know anything about Showbread, you know that they're notorious for dramatically changing musical style album to album. They do this for several reasons; the easy one being that they're not interested in writing the same album twice (how many times have you heard a band say that?) - and boy do they take that notion seriously. The other - and more important (at least to them) - reason is that they believe that what is contained in their message has eternal implications and is therefore worth holding onto, whereas the stock and sentiment that people put into music itself is not. This idea is visually represented in their "Raw Rock" logo, which is a music note being cancelled out (this symbol is featured on every album's disc itself). What is Raw Rock? Simply put, it's the band's self-branded label of their genre (a genre some call post-hardcore, but Showbread is so much more). But it is the final product you get when you combine the ideas and beliefs behind Showbread with their music that is truly Raw Rock. If you ever go to a Showbread show and hear people chanting "Raw Rock Kills", now you know why.
It is one of Showbread's ideas, and probably one of their ultimate goals, to destroy many of the creeds that plague today's music scene, and also, Christianity. They have no interest in fame or money or even appealing to fans musically. They also have no interest in religion. What they do want, however, is to create honest and challenging music, straight from the heart, and straight to the hearts of others. Rules and the status quo are meant to be challenged, and Showbread knows that. Their lyrics question many thoughts and ideas that many people blindly follow, and their music refuses to adhere to any one established genre. Some call this record a The Shape of Punk to Come
knock-off, but I call it a slice of wonderfully original Christian music with a hard-hitting yet non-threatening message. Besides, could you really see Refused writing a song like "Mouth Like a Magazine"?