When most people think of the 1960s, they imagine the time of free love and civil rights. Most music today that emulates the ’60s tries to reflect this attitude. Sometimes, though, there’s a band like Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, who remind us that for every Woodstock, peace march and love-in, there was an Altamont, a serial killing or a secret government drug test.
Now they’re here to reinforce that message with their new album, The Night Creeper. Uncle Acid’s sound could be sold as some unholy merging of the melodic harmonies of early ’60s Phil-Spector-produced pop groups with the ephemerality of psychedelic rock and the musical and lyrical darkness of early heavy metal groups, like Black Sabbath.
Uncle Acid’s sound is firmly rooted in a retro aesthetic, but they really rise above their contemporaries with their atmosphere. This band is so friggin’ evil-sounding. Unrelenting horror drips from an Uncle Acid song like blood from the edge of a carving knife.
The album, unlike this article, starts pleasingly. There’s only the barest intro of some guitar distortion, and then it dive bombs straight into the thunderous mid-tempo stomper “Waiting for Blood.” This is a really strong start to the album; it conjures up an image of the streets of Victorian London at night, complete with a Jack the Ripper type skulking in the alleyways, stalking his prey. It’s also energetic to the point of being perversely joyous. It feels like the audience is hearing the monologue of a serial killer, twitching with anticipation at the thought of cutting throats.
This sonic evil continues with the eerie, hypnotic riffs of “Murder Nights,” the second track. “I know you love murder nights, I know you love death,” intones frontman Kevin Starrs, mockingly. The track speeds up wildly at the end, carrying the audience on a demented roller coaster completely into the pitch-black soundscape that is “The Night Creeper.”
By the fourth track, “Pusher Man,” the sound starts to become a bit repetitive, which is surprising, because there is a marked effort to vary the composition of the songs on this album. It’s a welcome change from some of Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats’ earlier work, like their superlative album Blood Lust, where more than a few of the songs bleed together, as they share similar tempos, time signatures and riff construction.
Blood Lust is still slightly better than The Night Creeper, perhaps because the latter feels a bit unfocused at times, as is the case with tracks like “Pusher Man” and to a lesser extent, “Inside.” This isn’t helped by the fact that other tracks, despite not sounding like filler, drag on the tiniest bit.
Make no mistake, there are truly stellar moments on The Night Creeper, like the one-two punch of the instrumental “Yellow Moon” and its immediate follow-up, “Melody Lane.” “Yellow Moon” almost taunts the listener with its brighter, more hopeful-sounding guitar work. It almost makes me wonder if a light will shine on the dark narrative of The Night Creeper, which is why it’s such a gut-punch when “Melody Lane” roars to life immediately afterward and shatters that light by relating the story of a seedy red-light district, where some of the red light might just be reflections in puddles of blood.
After that, the album takes a softer, and somehow more insidious, approach. The lyrics of the title track give off the impression that the cycle of violence present throughout The Night Creeper’s larger narrative is already too far gone to be stopped (“They’ll never find him and we’ll never know/who’ll be next to go”). The aforementioned “Inside” provides a tonal bridge between the raucous title track and the slower, nine-minute, psychedelia-tinged final track “Slow Death.”
The deliberately fuzzed-out garage rock production will probably become very divisive among music aficionados. For the most part, it works, and lends a grimy tone to the music, but sometimes it interferes with clarity, particularly in the vocals. The sound sometimes feels like it isn’t as rich as it could be. The biggest gripe with the album, however, is that it’s difficult to put together the narrative that the band clearly wants to have.
In an interview regarding the story of The Night Creeper, Starrs mentioned that the album is meant to showcase the evolution of the Night Creeper’s journey through different tones present in different styles of media. It explores the feel of the story as if it were a dime-store pulp novel, and then its adaptation as a noir or slasher film.
That’s an awesome concept, but the execution fails — particularly the pacing. This goes back to the album’s lack of focus. Starrs’ idea is ambitious, but the album never really evolves enough sonically or holds a coherent enough flow for it to come together.
Despite all the criticisms, there are enough moments of rich atmosphere on the album where it’s worth the listener’s time. Though this review’s descriptions of the music may scare off listeners who are not Uncle Acid’s target market, I encourage everyone to give it a listen and let themselves get wrapped up in the creatively bloody environment that Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats have forged.
Contact CUI News Staff Writer Thomas Roller at firstname.lastname@example.org