ULTIMATELY, I don’t actually give a shit whether you like Rudimentary Peni or not – come to think of it, I’d probably prefer it if you didn’t – but if you’re coming to this cold, but you can find out everything you need to know about them here.
Essentially, in the words of a very wise man, Peni “took the basic thrash blueprint, wiped their arses with it and screwed it up into a tight little ball before exploding all over you like a bad medieval disease.”
If you’re already a fan, and you’re looking for catalogue numbers and release dates, you’d be better off elsewhere.
By the time Death Church was released in 1983 – like a bat out of Abbots Langley – I’d been listening to Rudimentary Peni’s first two EPs for a while, and was mad keen to hear the album. Gagging for it.
There were less and less records coming out on the Crass label (or their Corpus Christi offshoot) to get excited about. Crass themselves seemed to be going from strength to strength (in reality, they weren’t – just the opposite in fact), but the bands who released records on their label were not quite as consistent.
For every Cravats or Poison Girls, there were lots of Conflicts and Alternatives, peddling their drearily mundane, none-too-subtle, strictly-by-the-numbers, pay-no-more-than-65p Crass punk (much of which I bought, incidentally, as soon as it came out).
Peni, in stark contrast, were genuinely innovative and exciting.
They made great music, their lyrics and artwork were just something else and they had a genuinely eerie mystique to them, even within the context of the anarcho scene, which could be pretty fucking oddball at the best of times. Me and almost everyone I knew were absolutely fascinated by Peni. Everyone just wanted to know what the fuck the trio were going to do next. There was nobody else quite like them.
The two seven-inch singles they’d already released a couple packed in more good ideas than most bands get in an entire career – and the album was their chance to really show the world what they could do. It was a hugely anticipated record.
I probably bought this historic, essential, monumental and transcendental piece of musical history from Record Village on Scunthorpe High Street, before hightailing it back to the feudal village I lived in to listen to it at full blast in my bedroom.
Luckily, we have the benefit of a review I wrote in the first issue of Primitive Patriot fanzine:
“I like this record a lot,” began my highly-perceptive critique, incisively. “It’s hard to describe. This is not the usual new punk blam blam blam. I’d recommend it to anyone with an open mind but I expect only the usual people will bother to buy it and that’s a stupid waste.”
Tremendously insightful, I think you’ll agree. The brevity also works for me.
Arriving in a big cloud of fuzzy, distorted guitars, whistles and shrieks of unrestrained feedback, yelps, growls, squeals and full on shouting and screaming, Death Church was still recognisably the work of Peni but the trio had moved on from their earlier incarnations as heard on their EPs.
They’d developed, grown, and intensified. With other bands who’d had stuff out on the Crass label, that usually just meant they’d got faster and stupider. Not so Peni.
Peni’s sound was still all about Nick Blinko’s extraordinary vocal performance and equally remarkable guitar, and Grant Matthews’ big meandering basslines, backed up by Jon Greville, a drummer literally smacking the shit out of his kit like he’d got a massive problem with it. They were recognisable as the band who had recorded those mind-bending EPs.
On the surface, it seemed like nothing had really changed. But everything had changed.
Their sound was much more coherent, accomplished and convincing than before. They had more focus. It seemed like they’d just cranked it up a couple of notches. They sounded fucking enormous.
In common with much of the output of Crass Records and its associated labels, there’s a real sense of urgency to Death Church, even when the pace is somewhat funereal. Which it isn’t very often.
The album’s opener, 1/4 Dead, starts with a languid, gentle, deceptively mellow bassline picking out a simple riff before the guitar and drums crash in, and Blinko begins much wailing and gnashing of teeth.
There are false finishes, subtle increases in tempo, not-so-subtle increases in tempo, dirty, squally fuzzed up guitar crescendos, weird jazz basslines, all accompanied by strange and unsettling extraneous squeals and exclamations throughout. Groans, moans and drones. At points, their whole hairy aesthetic seemed to have as much to do with Zappa, Gong, or Hawkwind – or even the Damned – as the Pistols, the Clash and Eater.
Death Church takes the standard Crass fare of spikey agit-prop punk outrage and righteous anger at the state of the world, tackling subjects such as religion, eating meat and bogus rock stars and adds something else entirely, something genuinely strange and unsettling. Titles like Vampire State Building, When You Are A Martian Church and Alice Crucifies the Paedophiles tell their own story. This record is the clearly the product of some very unconventional minds.
“Floating round the universe, Fucking in our cosmic hearse, You know time don’t ever end, Can’t evade those dead Zen men, You’re the meat in big Buddha’s dinner, One day you’ll eat us all up too, One day is now ..”
They’re the lyrics of Cosmic Hearse in their entirety. The song lasts about 30 seconds. But why should they keep on going when they’ve made their point? There are many, many bands who could learn a lot from that kind of brevity.
There was never any doubting Peni’s sincerity. They weren’t faking it. I often used to wonder about the anguish, anger and indignation of some of the people barking out songs about Hiroshima or immersing themselves in accounts of revolting abuses in vivisection labs and slaughterhouses.
Obviously, none of the above are Good Things, and everyone had every right to be angry, of course. But I sometimes wondered how much of it was genuine concern, how much was non-specific anger and outrage at the world in general, and how much was just people getting off on atrocity porn.
There’s no doubting the conviction behind Peni’s issues-based diatribes but underlying it all there seems to be a despairing, profound disengagement from ‘normal’ society. It would be glibly easy to presume that these were the tortured visions of Blinko’s disturbed mind (he’s had mental health issues for some time) but both he and Matthews wrote the lyrics for Death Church. Blinko just gave voice to them, in his own inimitable way.
According to Matthews: ”It was the usual mixture of Nick and I. Of all the things we have recorded, I would say that Death Church is the most democratic, in the sense that it does not come across as being more Nick’s project or mine. People think that they can detect which songs were written by me and which were written by Nick, but when tested they often get it wrong, which is interesting.”
Matthews found out that he had lung cancer as they were writing songs for the album. He was in his early twenties.
“Whilst writing some of it, I was going through the fight for survival, at least one of the songs on that album was written by me whilst sitting in a cancer ward wired up to a drip.”
The album recorded and mixed in just four days. It has a heavy, uncompromising, dense sound, with John Loder making for a lot more sympathetic producer than notorious guitar-hater Penny Rimbaud.
They sounded absolutely authentic, and seemed totally untutored, unmannered and unknowing – except, of course, they were big US hardcore fans and would’ve closely studied every note on the records they heard by Gang Green, Minor Threat and the Necros. Either way, while they didn’t slavishly copy it, the US sound certainly gave Rudimentary Peni a certain dynamic intensity.
My mate Ross borrowed my copy of Death Church about 20 years ago and I got it back a couple of years ago (along with these). It was a genuine joy to hear it once again. We used to think Peni were so extreme at the time – it seemed like they’d beamed down from another planet. Or the Middle Ages. Or a very dark and dystopian future – but listening to the album now merely reveals a kick-ass rock band playing raw, basic, repetitive punk rock tunes. There’s nothing particularly weird or extreme about them.
In fact, unlikely though it may seem, the album even got to number one in the indie chart in the summer of 1983. And then Peni promptly split up.
Despite the efforts that Crass and their compadres went to avoid any kind of youth culture pin-up status .. No, because of the efforts that Crass and their compadres went to avoid any kind of youth culture pin-up status, an enormous appetite for photos and footage of the mysterious bands associated with Crass immediately grew in the hearts and minds of obsessive fans the world over.
Albeit an enormous appetite that has now largely been sated by the inter-fucking-net.
But Rudimentary Peni only played a handful of gigs at the time. Nick Blinko wasn’t keen on gigs (at their worst gig, remembers Matthews, “we had so much stuff thrown at us we had to leave the stage,”). They seem to have had a Taliban-like aversion to photography in general.
The upshot is that here are very few photos of them knocking about – although there was some actual live footage of them a gig in the early 90s on YouTube at one point. Never has a band been so influential and so invisible. As for the album, it’s just a fucking tremendous record and the fact that it has been largely ignored by those classic rock goons just makes it all the more wonderful and precious.
I’ll leave the last word to Nick Blinko, writing in his semi-autobiographical work, The Primal Screamer.
“As to the music itself, I could not suffer a great deal. Most of it is cacophonous. There is a lot of screaming by Nat; a bit scary, but nothing like the primal therapy aberrations, thankfully.
“Some passages would be unique were it not for a slight fleeting resemblance to the most extreme moments from the canon of that deceased, eccentric English composer Cornelius Cardew.
“However, it mostly sticks to a rigid and very rapid common-time beat, with Greg and Jim revealed as reasonably competent musicians. Nat just adds volume and bluster with distorted musica in diabola guitar and growling vocals, wrought with the occasional weird whispered overdub: like speaking in tongues, wrought with primitive studio trickery.
“It is apocalyptic music. This is doubtless why it has had a minor appeal. It is basic, but genuinely eerie.”