Heavy metal's forgotten humourists - IN SEARCH OF SPACE #24

(Or:- the greatest album the Melvins never made)

We are the dead next door
(it's up too loud)
where the dirty needles shine and litter the floor
(it's up too loud)
taste the light inject the lord
(it's up too loud)
I cut myself again because I'm so fuckin' bored
(It’s too fucking loud)

This is the chorus from Dr. Seuss is Dead, the final cut from side one of Acid Bath’s searing debut album, When the Kite String Pops. A record that makes some twisted spiked Jack and home-grown coke cocktail into the weirdest psych trip of your life, and with some of the cleverest introspective insights ever seen incorporated into heavy music. Combining elements of blues, folk, country, gothic rock, David Bowie and all across the metal spectrum into a glorious mix that upholds bowel-shuddering grooves repeated with Dax Riggs’ vocal delivery alternating between machinegun and low slow southern drawl, Acid Bath play their debut through with the kind of pitch-black humour that characterises Tool and Type O Negative releases. This album came out in 1994, the same year as Stoner Witch, the Melvins most definitive record (though by no means the only one worth checking out, it’s a great place to start if you’re uninitiated) and right off the back of 1992s Lysol and 1993 Houdini. It looked like the southern boys were going to rise up and take the whole metal world by storm; but it never happened. While the Melvins provoke nothing but unending respect and awe, I can’t help but like Acid Bath more in some ways. Certainly they didn’t have the time to get the breadth of career the Melvins have accrued, but When the Kite String Pops is more instantly gratifying and less madcap than any Melvins record, even Stoner Witch.

Time and again throughout this record, Acid Bath prove what strikingly clever humorists they really are. The chorus above, from Dr Seuss is dead, is drowned out by the backing cadence, which is, ironically, too fuckin’ loud. All the way through, in the same way as the Melvins they cross back and forth along musical lines, taking in a blues song here, a charging straightforward heavy metal bull there; like a manic head in the midst of a bad acid trip crisscrossing along a busy stretch of morning highway, miraculous and also unnerving. Take the lyrics on the opener, the Blue, include the gloriously distasteful “eat my cold shit”, which is paradoxically followed by Tranquilised, a song that I feel could storm the charts or play well to a party crowd (if bookended by some Grand Funk to ease you into the heaviness, natch). And like a hapless nobody in the vicious throes of an evil acid trip careening across a six lane highway to the sound of blaring horns and shouts of derision and sarcastic encouragement, the ability to survive so many jarring shifts is quite miraculous. What holds this package together like the chocolate round a Twix, is the enduring Acid Bath groove. I’ve spoken quite a lot about groove in my other work (incidentally, no, I cannot write groove without unthinkingly putting it in italics, it looks wrong any other way) and Acid Bath play like a itemised list of how to compose a good, foot tapping groove; it works in layers, like if one were creating a fully grown human being in formaldehyde at the start of a science fiction movie; first one needs solid bones and for that the drums are an ideal candidate, something catchy and sharp, lots of snare and bass, if you please. Next, the musculature, now that job is done by the bass, usually playing a simplified but still perfectly enjoyable version of the guitar tone, which of course forms the skin. On top of that should ride the vocals. The chorus from Dr Seuss is Dead is a great example of this. Everything fits together and coalesces into such a perfect distortion dream it’s hard to imagine it any other way.

If you can’t laugh at yourself, you have no identity; and Acid Bath spend the whole of this record laughing at themselves and the straight-laced South. The tabloid-baiting artwork by infamous serial killer John Wayne Gacy and appealingly fucked-up song titles like Finger Paintings of the Insane and Cassie Eats Cockroaches and lyrical content throughout that really pushes the barriers of what is acceptable. It’s hard to decry it as mindless censor-baiting filth though, partly because it is surprisingly poetic and well handled; which gives the ever-pervading sense that like the Melvins powerful deconstruction albums that dismantle the artifice of rock music, Acid Bath know exactly what they’re doing and hope that you do too. What writes the Melvins off as more than just expert noise-makers is that to completely dismantle music in the way they do, you first must know how it works; punk bands like the Sex Pistols stately (‘till they reformed anyway, and admitted it was actually all about the money) that their aim was to destroy music, and took to it as one would a sledgehammer to a television. The difference between them and a band such as Wire, was that Wire were taking the television apart with all the correct tools, spreading out the parts piecemeal and asking you to make sense of it. Plato’s proverbial question, where is the chariot? On Wire’s early records, you can easily think of that parable and think, where is the rock music? What part of this is rock music? The niche in which Wire exist with respect to punk is much the same space Acid Bath and the Melvins occupy with regards to metal. Dismantling everything with that same post-punk sensibility like a scholar meticulously disentangling a student’s essay.

If a work of art doesn’t challenge you, it isn’t art. Great artists are always ahead of the times and there will always be the powerful and the scared, uncomprehending the art and afraid of the world slipping from their grasp. In the fifteen hundreds, the people who didn’t understand the art burned the artists; in the last two centuries, those who didn’t understand saw to it through censorship that none of us got to experience the works of screen, page and ear that were pushing the boundaries of what could be acceptable, and what could be done. Now, in these more enlightened times those who are pushing the artistic limits are operating so far away from the safe havens of art that they are operating off the radar. It’s a shame. Go listen to Acid Bath’s best album, and let me know what you think.

Written under duress by Steven.

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