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Album review: Reptilian American, Panzram Pt. 1

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Reptilian American - Panzram, Pt. 1

Former Savannahian A.M. Rodriguez steps forward with a new project, Reptilian American, and it’s something special. Music and art are important during times of darkness and crisis—especially if that music is loud in spirit and sends a ferocious message. Panzram, Pt. 1 does just that, and more.

The album is Rodriguez’s first under the Reptilian American banner and is a complete shift away from the music he’s made before. This is a brutal exploration of hardcore punk that tells the story of notorious serial killer Carl Pazram. It’s an intense collection of music that is not for the faint of heart, by any means. Rodriguez manages to encompass the pure darkness and evil of Pazram’s crimes while also putting them into enough historical context to grasp just what was done and who the man was who did it. Don’t get it twisted—there is no glorification or romanticization here, as you might see on a television show or in a movie. This is an investigation and an exploration that encompasses many layers of a very disturbing and dark moment in time.

This also has the scent of a highly political protest work in its own way, perhaps due to the fact that Rodriguez is donating 100 percent of the proceeds to organizations that support lasting criminal reform. Rodriguez explains in a very detailed essay that the album is, in part, a commentary on the beyond-broken prison system in America, and both themes are tied together within the music.

Musically, Panzram reminds me of the great New Jersey punk band Titus Andronicus, with the vocals presented in a highly off-kilter and strained manner. It’s a very specific way of presenting punk music, because it’s not a Keith Morris-esque hardcore punk delivery or a Henry Rollins ferocity. It’s a voice on the edge of destruction, that literally sounds like it’s in physical pain. That’s a very, very good thing for this music, though.

There’s something brutal and honest about approaching a vocal that way, but especially when the music isn’t necessarily fast and pummeling like hardcore. It has more of a modern hardcore leaning to it, but it’s not at the level of heaviness that you’d find in a death metal band or another form of extreme music.

In fact, a song like “Torture/Agony”—which might be perceived as one of the heaviest and sonically deepest songs on the record and could technically be the closest the album gets to relating to anything extreme—is layered with guitars that aren’t just heavy for the sake of being heavy. There are chorus-y guitars as well, and a very diverse soundscape.

Some of the songs are incredibly short, and none of them last longer than 90 seconds. But by the end you feel like you’ve heard a calculated, highly conceptualized life’s work. It feels like an hour of music, but it’s not, It’s intellectually and emotionally pummeling, and honestly a little exhausting, but those are incredibly good qualities for a record like this to have. Take “Education,” for example. It’s a challenging piece from a musical perspective, but in 17 seconds it makes itself known as a true standout. You’d be hard pressed to find another 17-second song that accomplishes that.

All-in-all, this is a challenging and really compelling work that punk fans should hear. It’s a record that is thematically heavy and not easy to listen to from a perspective of subject matter, as it takes place entirely from Panzram’s perspective. But as is the case with all good art, it makes you think, makes you uncomfortable, and most importantly makes you feel.

Panzram, Part. 1 is available at reptilianamerican.bandcamp.com

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