Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats
, April 17th, 2013 10:17
As the recordings began to circulate so too did the rumours. Some said these two mysterious volumes, Vol.1 and Blood Lust, were dug up from the ruins of an old abandoned barn. Others believed the evil Uncle was a frazzled savant flogging his music on limited import from his hinterland den in Northern Europe. The less romantically-inclined claimed it was the obscurantist side-project of an already-established band with a penchant for cartoonish occultism and heavy Sabbath-styled riffs.
Whatever the case, the key to Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats' success was their anonymity. First there was the name - one that might have been considered hokey or divisive had Uncle Acid not seemingly materialised from under the doorframe of the underground like a byzantine fog. Who couldn't have been intrigued by this lunatic ringleader and his band of reanimated freakniks; this mysterious cross between Aleister Crowley, Charlie Manson and Arthur Brown who sings about witch cults, vampires and ceremonial magick?
The music itself was a scuzzy mid-end take on 70s hard rock and heavy metal abetted by paranoiac 60s flourishes; Uncle Acid's cobweb-draped riffs lending a peculiar Lennon-as-death-ray melodicism to the onslaught. It was a sound that touched on familiar tropes – most prominently Black Sabbath, Electric Wizard and the Beatles – blended in such a way that it satisfied a void not yet filled by the over-saturated stoner-doom scene.
Without press shots to go by, the Deadbeats became the apotheosis of the psychsploitation aesthetic - a rip of smoke from a skull-bong, the soft click-clack of a bead curtain drowned out by Ozzy crowing 'OHHHHHH NOOOOOO!', ouija boards and pentagrams littering the place while classic Tigon British horrors roll-out on VHS. It was a grimy vision of Valhalla from the comfort of a hotboxed suburban bedsit.
Issued in miniscule runs, initial copies of the two albums began fetching for unspeakable sums of money as word began to spread. And yet the Deadbeats remained a total enigma – something so good that seemed to have fallen completely out of the sky.
That is until the day it transpired that this elusive band were, as some had suspected, the creation of just one man. Residing in Cambridge, the as-yet unidentified Uncle Acid (cryptically referred to as one K.R. Starrs on the press release) had apparently produced these recordings himself upon finding a dearth of similarly-fried compadres to play with. They caught the ear of Cathedral ex-member and Rise Above label head Lee Dorrian who re-released Blood Lust only last year to unanimous acclaim. Eventually amassing three more bandmates, Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats played their first official shows to packed-out audiences over two nights in March this year at the Garage in Islington. Silhouetted by a backlight shroud, the band showcased their latest offering. Which brings us to Mind Control.
The first half of Mind Control will be familiar to followers of the band. 'Mt. Abraxas' opens the album as a slow-churn doom-metal dirge, stepping-up into a driving sixties rhythm at the halfway mark before descending back into a series of sump-coated guitar drones. The track sets the scene for an ostensible concept album based on the escape from a mountain cult. Sadly, at over seven minutes, the lo-fi mid-EQ'd production doesn't quite fulfill the same bass-fuelled dynamic as the Electric Wizard style on which it's modelled. What should work as crushing intensity falls slightly flat upon its many repetitions, making for a bit of a false start.
The roar and clash of 'Mind Crawler' recalls Deep Purple but leaves out the melodic low-E tunefulness of previous Acid tracks like 'Over And Over Again'. The trademark vocals may well hint at one of those tragic 60s pop songs about lovers dying in motorcycle accidents were it not for them being buried under a mound of crashing rhythm chords. Lead single, 'Poison Apple' is again nothing out of the ordinary for Uncle Acid but at least it reintroduces the catchy riff-work missing from the opening tunes, haunted by a spectral organ hum far back in the mix. 'Desert Ceremony' attempts plodding stoner-doom once more, never quite transcending its own inertia except for some handy lead workouts towards the end.
A slightly damp first half from a band we've come to expect outstanding things from, but not without its moments. It's nevertheless clear that Uncle Acid's spindly, saturated sound works better as gory retro hack'n'slash than on moodier doom numbers.
All is not lost. 'Evil Love' is the true rocker's choice on Mind Control, this album's answer to the band's excellent '13 Candles' from Blood Lust. A petrifying chase through the woods at midnight, it gallops along with urgency, lifting the album out of its murky black hole. If the opening side of Mind Control sought to explore Uncle Acid's hard rock and metal influences, the second side displays a much more psychedelic approach to their sound. While Lennon is often cited as a key influence on the Deadbeats, 'Death Valley Blues' also resurrects George Harrison in its own blue jay way - a brainwashed meander down an English garden that leads directly into the underbelly of that elusive walrus. Goo-goo-ga-joob, this is altogether a different splinter off the Deadbeats' stake. Also with a Harrison influence, 'Follow The Leader' takes a detour via an 'Inner Light'-style raga performed on fuzzbox and shaker in blissy catharsis.
The glazed delivery on 'Valley Of The Dolls' sees them back in slow-mo rock mode. This time the terrifying spectral stare given off by this track works much more successfully, proving Uncle Acid can do doom well when adding his own elements of glee and horror to the proceedings. We end with the trudging death-march of 'Devil's Work', in which Acid languishes in reflection upon his duty as evil incarnate. It's a monolithic end to an album which is by no means without its thrills and spills, exploring every facet of the band's sound and influences. It nevertheless takes a while to truly lift off the ground, often jettisoning the sprightly kitsch of older tracks like 'Crystal Spiders' and 'I'll Cut You Down' for a heads-down heaviness that works just as well, if not arguably better, when attempted a number of other stoner-doom bands.
Mind Control seems to have been written with ensemble live shows in mind as opposed to the solitary bedroom-based vision ploughed by just one man. As such it loses some of the trashy anything-goes experimentalism while growing a tougher, harder exterior shell. Criticisms aside, Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats remain just as intriguing as ever, wearing their influences on their highly-stylised sleeves with as much campy posturing as it takes without ever falling into the trap of derivative retro-clichés or becoming stoner rock's answers to the Darkness or Yuck, as some may fear. Although Blood Lust remains their crowning achievement to date, Mind Control's highlights shine just as true.