Sound — 7
Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats (shortened to Uncle Acid on the album cover) is a doom metal band from Cambridge in the UK that came to prominence in a rather unorthodox way. Their first album, unofficially released in 2010, was only sold on CD-Rs that the band financed (copies of this album remain rare). The band sold their second album, "Blood Lust," in the same manner and the album sold quickly enough that Rise Above Records signed the band and re-released this album on vinyl. According to said record company, these records were so popular that they sold out immediately and then re-sold for as high as $1,400 on eBay. Presently, the band has released four albums in five years and managed to crack the US Top 200, prompting the band's first American tour this fall.
The band's strength, as is immediately apparent on this album, is their fusion of doom metal rhythms with devilish pentatonic guitar solos, á la Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath. The lead guitar techniques of Iommi and Uncle Acid lead guitarist K.R. Starrs are almost identical. Starrs uses double stops, trills, and full step bends with the frequency and sequence that Iommi made famous. He also follows Iommi's technique of concocting extended solos from a single minor pentatonic box on the fretboard. Of course, these techniques help to make interesting guitar solos, so Starrs should not be blamed for using them, but one must realize that his techniques, phrases, and tone are not a novel concept. In fact, I would bet that many of Uncle Acid's fans come from followers of Black Sabbath who got bored with the interregnum between Ozzy Osbourne's departure in 1979 and their most recent album with him in 2013.
The differentiator between Uncle Acid and Black Sabbath is the rhythm guitar. Whereas Tony Iommi's rhythm tone, derived from his combination of a Gibson SG, a Laney amp, and a treble booster, sounds like a traditional '70s hard rock tone, the tone of guitarists K.R. Starrs and Yotam Rubinger (interesting combination of Marshall amp head and Fender cabinet) lies much further in the realm of doom metal. Their combined tone is bassy and fuzzified (some might say muddy), which allows the guitars to take up a lot of space and provide a solid base for the vocals. To emphasize this point, their rhythm guitars literally feel heavy, as in weight. The guitars lumber around the album like the footsteps of a giant. However, an unfortunate consequence is that the guitars lose dexterity; a giant might be able to make big steps, but it cannot dash quickly from place to place. The idea here is that the guitar riffs are usually slow and grinding, weighted down by the heaviness of their tone. Or to put it into a very specific guitar sense, Uncle Acid's guitarists play with their neck pickup unless they are taking solos; Tony Iommi is almost religiously tied to his bridge pickup.
Moving to general songwriting, this album's variety is a real surprise. It isn't often that doom metal bands deviate far from their general sound, but Uncle Acid proves that they possess some legitimate inter-genre versatility. While the opener, "Waiting for Blood" (my favorite), is the best indication of the album's general direction, softer songs like "Yellow Moon," the rather hypnotic title track, and "Slow Death" should not be discounted.
The shortfall of this album is that nothing really stands out. As stated, Uncle Acid borrows heavily from Black Sabbath, and unfortunately, it is apparent why they are not nearly as popular. For example, I was planning to compare the title track to Black Sabbath's "Dirty Women." Then I listened to it to refresh my memory and I was blown away at how much more proficient "Dirty Women" sounded compared to "The Night Creeper." What all this boils down to is that Black Sabbath were complete masters of their craft whereas Uncle Acid is just barely scratching the surface. And of course it doesn't help that Black Sabbath already wiped the plate clean for them forty years ago.
Lyrics — 7
To continue with the Black Sabbath comparisons, K.R. Starrs sounds a lot like Ozzy Osbourne in the vocals department. Starrs' vocals are different from Black Sabbath's in the same way the guitars are; Starrs' vocals sound slow and weighty compared to Ozzy's terse syllables that imply a sort of boogie. Starrs also sings with a constant style, making his vocals indistinguishable between songs. This single style does fit all the songs, but it can get a bit monotonous after a while and Uncle Acid definitely relies in the variation of the music to make up for this and keep the album interesting as a whole.
The lyrics on this album are definitely above average and probably the most outstanding/extraordinary aspect of the album. Their basic themes are murder and night attacks by, you guessed it, a creeper. The lyrics fit the music very well and there is actually a nice progression to them that produces a decent, sort of serial killer based storyline.
Here are some lyrics from the title track:
"Shadow in blue and indigo dreams hoping to take you away,
Come close to see and feel the night slip into day,
Blood on her lips and white powdered nose,
Scraping the glass on the line,
Head split inside like mirrors on razor blade lies."
Overall Impression — 7
Despite all its positive attributes, "The Night Creeper" is closer to a copycat nostalgia album than it is to a new, innovative take on an old subject. This album will please old fans and undoubtedly gain the band some new ones, yet the contrast between this band's quick rise in popularity and their low level of innovation is undeniable.
Nevertheless, the melodic guitar solos combined with the enthralling lyrics (and the simple yet devilishly effective album art) make this album worth checking out, if only to fulfill a want for evil doom metal with a melodic twist.