Showbread // Showbread is Showdead

 

7.6

self-released / 2016

Two years ago, the remaining members of Showbread were hamstrung - they had not one but two feature-length films to complete before they could move on to the next album, and coupled with the demands of full-time jobs and growing families, they were paralyzed. A progressive dissolution of the once-vital project seemed to be inevitable. Then over lunch one day, they hit on an idea: instead of a slow and unheralded death, they would pool their remaining resources to finish the movies, then record one final album - an act of audio self-immolation called Showbread is Showdead - and lay the band to rest. So it goes.

Showbread has always occupied a unique place in music. To secular crowds they are unnervingly Jesus-obsessed, but their practice of The Way, which includes a die-hard commitment to Christian anarchism and pacifism, a stringent straight-edge ethic, and vehement rejection of American consumerism, also strikes at some of mainstream evangelicalism's tenderest spots. Pariahs from both the hard music scene and the Christian one, they've uncompromisingly walked a new path between, and in the process accrued an absolutely fanatical community of listeners - there are more Showbread tattoos out there than for most bands with fanbases 20 times their size.

Most of those same convictions show up again on Showbread is Showdead - "Raw Rock Theology" lays out the band's iconoclastic creed as "Burn down their gods/Defy their king/No flags, no idols/One King of Kings" - but there are some new ones, as well. "Harry Harlow and the Monkeys of Despair" takes trenchant aim at factory farming ("I draw the chalk line/So I can sleep fine/To a symphony of suffering and doom") while "Dear John Piper (Stillbirth in Space)" attacks the doctrine of meticulous providence with the same intestine-munching ferocity that The Fear of God brought to bear on jingo Christian nationalism. And the song ends with a David Bentley Hart quote! He and Piper aren't even the only theologians to get shoutouts on the album; N.T. Wright gets a nod in the form of the song title "Life After Life After Death" (though the closing ballad - despite some great lyrics - is kind of a dud, failing to connect the way the group's best softie hymns do).

Sonically, Showbread is Showdead resembles an anthology. It's a trip back through the band's discography that ends back where it began, at their debut No Sir, Nihilism is Not Practical - though now that album's seminal sound is tinged with the flavors picked up along the way. The original lineup showed up one last time to work on Showbread is Showdead, and frontman Josh Dies, together with Ivory Mobley (returning for the first time since Age of Reptiles) form a double-helix scream machine that rarely lets up. Meanwhile, the band ricochets from frantic keytar-spiked punk to pummeling wall of noise to immense post-hardcore grooves with thick, slithering basslines - all delivered in the ineffable aesthetic known only as Raw Rock. From the music to the cover art (where Death makes venison of Nihilism's antler lady), Showbread is Showdead is the debut's bizarro twin, and as a conclusion, it gives the band's body of work a unity and symmetry that's deeply satisfying. 

Final albums happen all the time, but rarely are they so sure of the project's demise (it's tough to imagine an LCD Soundsystem-style "Never mind!" happening here), or, for that matter, so pessimistic about the its enduring legacy. Dies waxes nostalgic about Showbread's heyday on "January 3, 1889: Nietszche Witnesses the Flogging of a Horse", which features some positively abusive playing by the band, and he notes with some melancholy that broken teeth, a scar on his chin, and hearing loss are some of the only mementos he held on to from that era. But the title of a later track gives away what he really sees when he looks back on his accomplishments: "Legacy of Skubalon". (That's Greek for crap)

"Skubalon", despite being a soaring punk anthem, is a weary sigh of resignation - as the sun sets on Showbread, Dies is astonished it went so fast ("It dawned on me over the last three years/We can never go back there again"), and his internal life is shaken without the validation of a band: "So racked with shame from wanting to matter/And the things I'm never going to be". There's an overpowering feeling of futility to the song, and he describes all the effort he put into Showbread as downright Sisyphean: "I spent 18 years pushing a rock up a hill".

In the opening to The Myth of Sisyphus, Camus said that the only truly important philosophical question was whether or not to kill yourself; there's a sense in which Showbread's whole career, from Nihilism all the way through Showbread is Showdead, has been an answer to that question. (On this album there is literally a song called "Why Don't We Kill Ourselves?") They've always been keenly aware of the existential abyss that yawns just beneath the surface of modern life, and more than almost any other artist they put the casual meaninglessness of our age in sharp relief to The Way of Jesus. But beyond that ideological dichotomy, Showbread's real rejoinder to the question of suicide is the white-hot adoration of Christ at the core of everything they do - and it's that adoration that stands as the band's true legacy.

Rest in peace, Showbread, and God bless you.