Written by Kep
Anomaly – Somewhere Within the Pines
> Progressive death metal
> Wisconsin, US
> Releasing November 25
Old Mr. Johnson had a perfect life
A perfect home with a perfect wife
Went to the woods one weekend
And he came back home with a brand new friend
Wisconsin death metallers Anomaly aren’t what you’d call a household name. Hell, I’d be willing to bet that the majority of the people who read this missed their 2021 debut LP Planet Storm, possibly because it dropped on the same day as Carcass released Torn Arteries, and certainly at least in part because there seemed to be precious little of that crucial metalhead-to-metalhead word of mouth that keeps the underground churning. That’s unfortunate, because Planet Storm was a solid album, conceptual and spacey, techy through and through with a touch of prog and some genuinely cool moments. The cosmic setting and extremely techdeath cover art probably turned some off who would’ve enjoyed it, as spacey techdeath has a bit of a niche audience these days.
Somewhere Within the Pines, though, is an entirely different beast.
I hear this album as a group finding its true voice, stepping out of stylistic trappings that held them back and becoming something more focused, more interesting. Anomaly has kept the things that worked best for them—conceptual songwriting and album design, touches of prog, leads that balance groove against technicality—and enhanced them, eschewing excess and letting their narrative drive the music. The setting: a backwoods town and nearby forest. The story itself: violent and horrifying, but laced with melancholy and told with personality. It’s a much more mature approach to a concept album, and the listen is far more rewarding for it.
The 50 minutes of Somewhere Within the Pines are spread across six lengthy tracks and one particularly amusing interlude (more on that later). They’re best experienced as a complete package, so that you can follow the overarching story from the bitter vitriol of its opening to the resigned acceptance of its surprisingly heartfelt denouement. “Now Kep,” I hear you asking, “are you really going to try and sell us on the emotional profundity of a story about a forest-dwelling spider demon that murders children in small town Americana?” And the answer is no, I’m not going to do that. This is schlocky horror at its most B-movie, and part of why it’s entertaining is their willingness to embrace that.
The tracks themselves are sprawling, narrative things, driven by the riffs and roars of frontman and lead guitarist Neil Tidquist. This album hits a lot of mid-tempo grooves, those sort of satisfyingly uncomplicated chug patterns that allow for the vocals to really lead the way. Opener “Cursed to Meet Another Sunrise” is a great example, its macabre tale of a person held in demonic thrall told over a thick framework of rhythmic chords, leaning into riffs that prioritize atmosphere and don’t distract from the story being told. Tidquist takes at least one solo in nearly every track also, and they’re all impressive—the evocative, almost bluesy balladic approach in “My Old Bleached Bones” and the desperate melodic nature of the one in closer “One Last Glimpse at the Cursed Sun” deserve special appreciation. His ability to speak through both lyrical delivery and guitarwork is the record’s finest feature.
Tidquist also mixes things up with a number of clean vocal passages, fit into the songs in a way that reminds me of the way The Faceless does the same. His voice is even a bit like Michael Keene’s at times, though he’s got more range and a better sound. These breaks from his usual midrange screams are appreciated variety, and the album’s multiple tranquil passages, highlighted sometimes by acoustic guitar and always with laid-back drumming, are as well. The real cherry on top of the record, though, is the tongue-in-cheek interlude “Don’t Go Out into the Woods Alone”, which tells three gleefully morbid tales over a repeating folksy strummed chord progression. It’s fun, it’s silly, and it’s a particularly memorable moment in a memorable album.
The backing group of bassist Daniel Stachowiak, rhythm guitarist John Ibarra, and drummer Sam Morrisonis a rock-solid foundation for this sort of story-driven work, precise and energetic but staying mostly understated. That’s not to say there aren’t moments that shine in the rhythm section, though. The lightning quick double-bass in “Sentenced to the Trees” will definitely grab you by the ears, and there are some particularly nice bass licks that tastefully decorate the texture here and there—my favorite moment is near the end of “Sentenced”, where a Stachowiak solo introduces a colossal stomping slammy riff in classic bass-solo-followed-by-devastation-in-the-pit fashion.
Anomaly’s progressive leanings are shown both in their sweeping songwriting and in their instrumentation, which includes extremely smart work on the keyboard from Mary Beers. Her role on Somewhere Within the Pines is far more reserved than it was on Planet Storm: here it’s a subtle but nonetheless essential part of their texture. Her finest turn is on “These Cold Weeping Winds”, where you can hear the eerie backing synth filling out the sound in various places while the guitars and drums play rapid-fire licks before it leaps to the spotlight, weaving into the riff with a counter-riff of its own and then harmonizing in the powerful up-and-down passage that follows.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Sometimes a band takes a couple albums to find their calling, but when they arrive at it the results are massively enjoyable. That’s Somewhere Within the Pines for Anomaly: the Milwaukee five-piece has produced an impressive record that’s full of atmosphere, engaging storytelling, and smart songwriting. It’s a remarkable step forward from their previous work, and definitely worth a listen or several. Go ahead, take a few steps into the woods. What could it hurt, anyways?