Because of a lack of movement and variation from track to track, The Night Crawler sounds terminally one dimensional.
When the revered Rise Above Records re-released Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats’ Blood Lust album in 2012, the metal media were only happy to help create an enigma: The Cambridge, England foursome were immediately included in the occult rock revival -- an artificial movement used to categorise a small handful of unrelated bands who chose to tunefully sing about Satan while trading ‘70s-styled hard rock licks. And because Uncle Acid’s music recalled a time when the 'flower power' drug haze faded and 'free love' dried up, writers fell over themselves trying to find ways to cram in references to the Manson Murders, B-movie splatter films, and a whole host of imagery revolving around Satan, drugs, and Kool-Aid drinkin’ suicide cults. (Hell, they’re still at it three years later.)
Obviously, founding member Kevin R. Starrs (Uncle Acid) has helped feed the media machine’s desire to build an intriguing persona around his band; which, in reality, seems to consist of a bunch of regular chaps with a fondness for Hammer Horror, Black Sabbath and the Beatles. But who could blame him for hamming up the mystery: as a result, Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats gained plenty of exposure between 2012 and the 2013 release of their third album Mind Control, and this, along with the appeal of their music and lyrics, secured the band a once in a lifetime opportunity to support their Brummie idols in Black Sabbath.
For those who caught Uncle Acid on Sabbath’s Reunion Tour in the winter of 2013, it was clear from their impressive performance that they had not been fazed by huge arena stages and the size of the crowds. Uncle Acid took the chance by the throat, and you left with the impression that if this band existed during the era they take most musical and lyrical inspiration from, they would have been a huge arena draw. Following on from what was the biggest accomplishment of their relatively short career to date, you would expect that Uncle Acid’s creative fires would be burning bright. Yet disappointingly, their latest album, The Night Creeper, stalks the same ground as Mind Control but sounds like a less effective sequel.
Mind Control was a slow-burner when compared to Blood Lust’s fuzz-bomb doom ‘n’ garage rock, led by Uncle Acid’s anthemic, witchy vocal hooks and horror tales. No immediate gratification was granted from that album, which was centred on tales of Jonestown-inspired cult mania; Uncle Acid made you work for the many riches contained therein. In comparison, The Night Creeper has fewer rewards and suffers greatly because it feels as though Starrs and company placed too much focus upon the narrative rather than writing an engaging collection of songs, front to back, that provide an interesting musical foundation for the murderous exploits of The Night Creeper – a homeless Jack the Ripper type with a thirst for blood-letting (“There’s a man in the darkness waiting for blood”).
The Night Creeper starts strong with first single “Waiting for Blood”: the band ride a hypnotic doom groove from start to finish and include a guitar solo section which shows plenty of flair, intricacy and feel. Save for its dying moments, “Murder Nights” follows at the same mid-paced tempo but it’s hampered by a lifeless central riff and plodding drums which reveals an all-too-simple arrangement totally dependent on Starrs’ nasally vocals melodies, which follow the cadence of the riff à la Ozzy Osbourne. The spirit of the legendary Sabbath singer is felt again during “Downtown”; yet once again, the music rolls along repetitiously without any of Uncle Acid’s past menace. In the case of “Pusher Man”, they seem to have based this track on the main riff from Mind Control’s “Mt. Abraxas”, and despite this song having one of the strongest choruses on the album, such self-plagiarism is lazy and inexcusable for a band of their standards.
After four songs that reveal a disconcerting lack of dynamics, the ‘70s prog instrumental “Yellow Moon”, which rounds out the album’s first half, comes at an essential time. The guitar interplay is deftly arranged and its final coda recalls the Beatles at their most hopeful, although this is short-lived and a little stunted. However, “Melody Lane” almost makes the album worth its price tag alone, as this song is quintessential Uncle Acid playing to their strengths. After what precedes it, there’s a startling immediacy and energy to “Melody Lane” -- it’s as though the band just suddenly woke from the malaise. The vocals are biting and catchy, the guitars slash and the drums do more than just hold the tempo in place. “Melody Lane” is as strong a song as Uncle Acid have written in their short career, but it’s a double edged sword in the context of The Night Creeper as a whole: while it’s easily the highlight of the album, it spotlights the inadequacies found elsewhere. For instance, the title track, which follows, falls back into the same drudgery and its simple riffs sound even more jaded as a result; a dead-eyed zombie crawl rather than the intended foreboding horror. The glam stomp of “Inside” does contrast nicely with the aptly titled “Slow Death” -- a mellow nine-plus-minute jam that shows glimmers of the psychedelic side of this band -- but ultimately the latter, along with the disposable “hidden track” Black Motorcade, ends The Night Creeper on an uneventful note.
Although Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats are not exactly what you’d class as being monotonous on this record, complacency has, quite worryingly, started to set in. Besides “Waiting for Blood” and “Melody Lane”, there are no songs of the same class as “Death’s Door”, “13 Candles”, “Devil’s Work” and the aforesaid “Mt. Abraxas”. Uncle Acid have shown in the past that they’re well versed at holding attention when settling into a low and slow groove, but what they have forgotten here is how to dynamically pace the album. Mind Control, for example, contained measured songs like “Desert Ceremony”, “Follow the Leader” and the Beatles-esque “Death Valley Blues”, but additionally, “Mind Crawler” was an up-tempo garage rocker, “Poison Apple” mixed glam and doom boogie, and “Evil Love” threw NWOBHM influences into mix. Because of a lack of movement and variation from track to track, The Night Creeper sounds terminally one dimensional. The production is also a major issue as it dulls the edges of the drums and guitars, resulting in a washed out and flat sound overall, which doesn’t help when the songwriting lacks a spark of its own. So while the artwork borders on the iconic and the concept is very much in sitting with the band’s oeuvre, musically, The Night Creeper is a sub-standard addition to the canon of one of the most promising bands in modern rock.