Review – “Black Metal Demo Tape” – Gregory Pepper and His Problems

black-metal-demo-tapereviewed by Michael Thomas

If you know anything about Gregory Pepper, you’ll probably won’t be fooled by the title of this album cover. Pepper has definitely not gone heavy-metal, and this is not a demo but his fifth full-length. That said, it is a departure from the music previously put out under this band name.

It’s not heavy metal, but it’s definitely heavier. The guitars are bigger, almost shoegaze-y at times, and sometimes his lyrics take a back seat to a wall of sound. He plays with longer songs in a few places (though most songs fall in the 2-3 minute range) too. But his humour still shines through here and there, even if the overall product sounds a little darker.

From the first notes of “Big Sister,” it’s clear this is something new. Pepper’s words are barely audible over the guitar-and-synth-heavy song, and things change even more on “Problems Theme Part 3,” one of his longer songs at five minutes. There’s multiple instrumental changes, from a sunnier sound at the beginning to a melodic piano score by the end.

Pepper’s poking fun at the clichés of music have always been funny over the years, and he takes a few jabs, first with “Nothing Songs,” a heavy-pop takedown (lament?) of the kinds of empty songs you hear and then immediately forget about. “This Town” might be the most darkly funny song on the record, however, playing with the “I’ll never get out of this town” trope by talking about a character who has died. It’ll be hard to get out of your town when you’re not alive to do it. Though it’s also a heavy song, “My Roommate is a Snake and the Landlord’s a Bat” has a title that sounds like something out of B.A. Johnston’s notebook.

The biggest surprise on the album is the closer, an eight-minute song that just makes perfect sense in being called “Quirky.” There’s nothing twee about this long, almost drone-like song, as Pepper’s vocals fade more and more into the distance. “When We Were High” is a surprisingly shoegaze-y number, the words hard to hear, as though the listener is getting high with Pepper too.

So as it turns out, Darker Pepper isn’t Darkest Pepper. Really, this is an optimal amount of darkness.

Black Metal Demo Tape will be out on February 24.

Top Tracks: “Problems Theme Part 3”; “This Town”

Rating: Strong Hoot (Good)

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