Homage, or ripoff? It’s an important distinction to make. Is your art calling back to a period with a loving touch, or are you nicking bits and pieces of the past, repurposing them as your own? And a question beyond that concerns what comes next: does your art wallow in the past or expand on its principles? These are the questions any retro-loving band must be asked, and Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats are nothing if not a audiophiles for decades long gone. Unfortunately, when these questions are posed, they can only come up with a shrug.
For those unfamiliar, Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats are a brilliantly named group from the U.K. whose Black Sabbath worship knows no bounds. Everything from the album art to the growling bass notes recalls the early days of metal, swirling together the occult, the hellacious, and the sex-driven into one roaring machine. After their solidly received 2012 debut, Volume 1, the lads really came into their own with Blood Lust. Their hallucinogenic doom found a cult audience thanks to the riffs contained within. Follow up Mind Control was less well received, but the satanic brotherhood marches on with The Night Creeper.
Uncle Acid frontman Kevin Starrs described The Night Creeper as an album that “could have started life as an old cheap, grime-covered, 25 cent pulp paperback” and, certainly, the aesthetics are in place. Starrs’ vocals are drenched in grime, and the recording process is covered in a light hiss, like it was constantly raining outside the studio walls (considering they’re from Cambridge maybe that’s not too much of a surprise). Between Starrs’ eerie wails and downtrodden guitar work, these deadbeats are trying to convince you that you’ve picked up some lost classic; an LP found in the bargain bin from ’68 that was accidently skipped by the press and the public. Maybe this would be passible if The Night Creeper had been a child of the ’60s; instead it’s just a gimmick.
Unlike, say, Tame Impala, who turned their psychedelic trip into the Beatles’ heyday into a brilliant, ever changing experience, Uncle Acid are quite content to let nostalgia take hold. Many of the Ozzy-esque choruses seem to be asking, “Don’t you remember when you heard ‘Sweat Leaf’ for the first time? Wasn’t that cool?” In that sense, they’re also crushed by their closest competition at the altar of Sabbath: Arkansas’ Pallbearer has been doing their own sludge/doom mixture for a few years now, taking flight while Acid snoozes in the past. Beyond that, there are also general missteps in the songs. “Inside” is recycled Queens of the Stone Age riffage, the nine minute long “Slow Death” takes ages to go anywhere, and Starrs never becomes the raspy, cult fronting singer he wants to be, his performances often coming off as grating.
If The Night Creeper delivers on one thing it’s riffs. This album is absolutely stacked with them, and is in close running with Ghost’s Meliora as the best guitar album of 2015. If that’s your bag, The Night Creeper might be one of the more delicious LPs in recent memory. Opener “Waiting for Blood” is a skull-crushing ode to horror flicks with a twin guitar attack, “Murder Nights” is infused with some delightful black magic, and “Melody Lane”, if it wasn’t for the whole serial killer angle, could be called “catchy”.
But just having riffs isn’t going to cut it. We’ve been lucky to have a boon of great rock records as summer turns to fall, with releases from Dope Body, Ghost, and The Flatliners. The problem, when comparing The Night Creeper to these other records, is that Uncle Acid doesn’t have a personality beyond riffs and pastiche. Even Ghost, whose entire sound is a throwback to ’70s hard rock, find playfulness and new areas to explore. Uncle Acid, meanwhile, keeps living in the flashbacks. There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with The Night Creeper but if I want to listen to Master of Reality, I’m going to listen to the original.