I guess we’re really going to confuse people today. We started with a guest review of Kamelot’s new album. To provide balance, I should be reviewing something that mimics the sound of your guts being clawed out by a pack of rabid wolverines. Instead, I’m writing about a UK band named Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats.
If I were more deeply ensconced in the world of stoner doom, and even more precisely, the world of throwback, acid-dropping, occult, garage-band horror/rock, I would have known about this band before yesterday. But I’m not and I didn’t.
I didn’t even intend to review this album. I simply intended to listen to a song or two out of curiosity, because Metal Blade is giving the band’s 2011 album Blood Lust its first big-scale release in advance of a new album due next spring. But a song or two was all it took to fall for the album like a bag of bricks.
Listeners of a certain advanced age, such as yours truly, will think they’ve entered a time warp and surfaced in the era when Led Zeppelin, Cream, and Neil Young were changing the face of rock. But where those bands were singing about climbing stairways to heaven, strange brew, and Southern men, Uncle Acid steep themselves in witchery, murder, and the ritual of sin.
You play this kind of music, you put yourself out there pretty naked, for everyone to see what you’re made of. Though there’s a healthy dose of fuzz and high gain in the tone, which gives the music a rough sound in which the components kind of bleed into each other, it’s not nearly as distorted as your average death metal, and it doesn’t depend on blast-furnace catharsis. With this music, the songwriting is critical, the melodies are paramount, the riffs either kill or they die in the arena for everyone to see.
And because the vocals are clean enough that you can hear what’s being sung, not only is the timbre of the voice another critical point, so are the lyrics. They either work by giving the music added character, by giving the listener something extra to hold on to and remember, or they diminish the effect, or even cripple it.
On Blood Lust, everything works — the songwriting, the riffs, the solos, the vocals, the lyrics. Using decades-old technology (including a Les Paul Junior guitar and a fuzz pedal made by Basic Audio), top-shelf guitar chops, and a rare talent for making individual songs live and breath with individual personalities you want to meet again, Uncle Acid have created something really special.
Recorded on a shoe-string budget and originally distributed by self-financed mail order, Blood Lust was eventually picked up and released on vinyl by the venerable UK label Rise Above Records (which recently has been responsible for releasing albums by the likes of Ghost, Electric Wizard, and Witchcraft). The copies flew away fast, and so did a second vinyl pressing earlier this year.
It clearly attracted a cult buzz that only grew in volume. And now it’s being reissued by Metal Blade on November 20 in conjunction with the news that the band are recording a new album for Rise Above that’s due for a March 2013 release.
And now I get why this album generated so much underground buzz. I’ve drunk the kool-aid, and I’ll have another pitcher, thank you.
The album alternates between shorter and longer songs and between faster and slower ones. But whether the band are kicking out the jams on songs like “I’ll Cut You Down” and “Over and Over Again” or throttling back into the slow, swinging rhythms of “Death’s Door” or the doomy, organ-enhanced stomp of “Withered Hand of Evil”, they’ll get your head moving. The basic riffs are simple and irresistible, and apart from being sweet things in their own right, they also pull like an undertow beneath one striking guitar solo after another.
Those solos are one of the album’s great attractions. I’m not talking about jet-fueled metal shred, but the kind of bluesy, psychedelic jams that call up memories of Page, Clapton, Young, and even Duane Allman. Whether they’re rolling like a river, cutting like an acetylene torch, or filling your mind with a narcotic haze, they’re all fucking delicious.
The dual-tracked vocal harmonies are equally striking. Uncle Acid sounds like a cross between Neil Young and a less extravagant Robert Plant. The sound of his voice combined with the murderous, supernatural story he’s telling through the lyrics give the music an edginess that ensures the music is going to stay underground no matter how hooky the instrumental parts may be.
And speaking of the story, the songs were written as part of a mythical, obscure, partially destroyed film named Blood Lust that occasionally surfaces on late-night TV. You hear the sounds of channels being changed at the album’s beginning before the viewer settles in to this freaky show and you hear the TV being switched off at the end of “Withered Hand”.
But the Metal Blade release will include one bonus track past that point, a song named “Down To the Fire”. It’s all acoustic guitar, what sounds like hand percussion, and Uncle Acid’s wailing vocals. It’s marked by a slow, beautiful instrumental interlude and has the feel of Zeppelin’s “Going To California”, except slower and dreamier.
It’s no secret — we’re in the midst of a revival of 60s- and 70s-era stoner doom with overtly occult thematics. I don’t claim to have plumbed its depths, but from what I’ve heard to date, Blood Lust is at the top of that heap. Here’s a taste of what the album has to offer: