Published Feb 24, 2017Gregory Pepper and His Problems' Black Metal Demo Tape is the Guelph musician's darker followup to the nostalgically pop-punk tunes of 2015's Chorus Chorus Chorus. The occasional sludgy metal breakdowns in the otherwise bright, Weezer-esque tracks of Chorus seem to have foreshadowed the direction of this new release, but I hesitate to call it a natural progression.
"Predictability" has no place in the Pepper lexicon, and every subsequent release demonstrates an artist who is constantly evolving, pushing himself outside his comfort zone and experimenting with his art. But that isn't to say that this is an unrecognizable release. Behind the distorted, kvlt as fvck tunes are the signature sarcasm, cynicism and dark humour that let you know this is the same old Pep.
Pepper's lyricism continues to evolve along with his musical direction, and Black Metal Demo Tape showcases some of Pepper's most poignant, personal lyrics yet. The theme of masking oneself recurs throughout the album, and — whether consciously or not — the thick distortion serves as yet another mask, concealing Pepper's feelings of self-doubt, regret and being a misfit that make up much of the lyrical content. But by the final track of the album, Pepper strips away all of the heavy production for the acoustic "I Felt Pity," sung with a fragile earnestness that is a rarity for Pepper. The album thus ends with a song extolling compassion, wrapping up the collection with a track that is the antithesis to the misanthropy and sarcasm usually so ubiquitous in Pepper's recent releases, demonstrating his ability to evolve even within the short timeframe of just one album.
Apart from a few backing vocals, Black Metal Demo Tape's instrumentation, main vocals and production were all handled by Pepper himself, and stand as a testament to the firm grasp he has of his medium. Pepper is one of those rare musicians who doesn't feel the need to find what works for him and stick with it, but instead constantly pushes the envelope and challenges himself, doing so with a sense of humour and self-awareness that always make for richly complex and entertaining albums. You never know what'll be next, but you know it'll be good. (Fake Four Inc.)