Author: BD Joyce
- Artist: Acid Bath
- Album: When The Kite String Pops
- Year of Release: 1994
- Country: USA
- Label: Rotten Records
- Format: Jewelcase CD
- Catalogue Number: 2095-2
Metal as a genre is littered with the defunct careers of bands that, purely on the strength of their musical output, should have been considerably more commercially successful than they were, but for a variety of reasons never quite made it. Bands as diverse as Cave In, Warning, and Ved Buens Ende have all produced fantastic records that deserved a wider audience than they ever found, but due to internal disagreements, label politics, and even the prevailing trends at the time, they are destined to be considered cult figures, as opposed to classic bands. In addition, it took many of the more popular bands in the contemporary heavy music scene years or even decades of gradually building an audience, before they attained the revered status they hold today. It took Opeth five albums to break through to the mainstream that they have been ensconced in ever since Blackwater Park, and the likes of Clutch, Behemoth and Devin Townsend have all followed a similarly scenic route to their current elevated levels of success.
It’s easy to wonder if Acid Bath would’ve seen this kind of eventual transition to the metal mainstream, had their career not been prematurely ended by the sad and sudden death of bassist Audie Pitre in the car accident that also killed his parents. Although their wilfully off-kilter and somewhat scattershot sound weights the scales of judgement against them, the fact that they also foreshadowed both the stoner-doom sound that Down and Corrosion Of Conformity popularised only a matter of months after the release of When The Kite String Pops, but also the sludge sub-genre that has dominated underground heavy music in the 21st century, tips the scales back in their favour. Regardless of what the future might have brought for the band, the fact that we are left with only two full-length album releases is a cause for sorrow – there were undoubtedly more superb records left in a band that still resists the allure of the lucrative festival reformation circuit, and will presumably continue to do so.
For all of the attempts to put When The Kite Strong Pops into its historical context, what really counts is whether the music itself is any good, and nearly 3 decades on from its release, it is a startling and fascinating album. One of the most striking elements of the Acid Bath sound is just how sonically creepy it feels. Countless black and death metal bands aim to scare and terrify with their music and overall aesthetic, but very few actually achieve it. Indeed, in many respects, it is only the criminal activities of a relatively small number of black metal’s progenitors at the genesis of the second-wave that continue to lend black metal any sense of danger and transgression a quarter of a century on from the murder of Euronymous. Many of the other key figures (Abbath, ex- of Immortal, for example) have long since resigned themselves to embracing the sheer ridiculousness of heavy metal, and previously extreme musical forms have been embraced and assimilated across the heavy music spectrum. Acid Bath, on the other hand are frequently genuinely unsettling. In particular, the way in which spoken word samples and whispered vocal lines are just audible within a dense mix, but occasionally reveal themselves in a moment of space, before dipping back below the surface again provide glimpses of a true psychosis at the heart of the band’s sound, and a schizophrenic multiplicity of personalities on the part of the outstanding vocalist Dax Riggs.
The schizophrenia is also evident in the musical accompaniment to Riggs’ many voices. Opening track ‘The Blue’ emerges from a haze of background distortion, with the filthy, fuzzed-out bass of the late Pitre giving way to the kind of multi-tempo Sabbathian sludge that Down would soon make a career out. Perhaps a result of their immersion in the swampy sounds of Louisiana, where Dixie jazz and delta blues share musical space with fertile hardcore and doom scenes, the drums of Jimmy Kyle really swing. As influential as Black Sabbath have clearly been to heavy metal as a genre in terms of their riffing style, it’s noticeable that frequently the influence is confined to the guitars. The smaller number of bands that really invoke the feel of Ozzy-era Sabbath (Sleep, for example) convey this through a drumming style that recalls Bill Ward’s heavy jazz-inflected swing, and Acid Bath are no exception. However, as soon as the opener comes to a conclusion, Acid Bath immediately wrongfoot the listener that might be expecting an hour of Iommi tribute riffage, with the addictive and propulsive riff of ‘Tranquilized’. It’s not exactly ‘Angel Of Death’, but it represents one of several moments on the album on which the speed dial is raised far beyond the kind of crawl that might be in evidence on a more traditional doom record.
On other stand-out tracks, the band move seamlessly from monolithic stoner workouts to the dissolute and raging punk-metal of ‘Cheap Vodka’, and the more brutal, almost death metal, tremolo-picking of ‘Jezebel’, which pummels the listener musically, but also intrigues with Riggs’ spectral vocals adding a demonic dimension to the sound that more rudimentary growls would fail to add. Elsewhere, the sludge of ‘Dr. Seuss Is Dead’ feels like the band are wading through tar, evoking authentic terror in a way not unlike the disorientating sounds of Today Is The Day managed on Temple Of The Morning Star, and ‘God Machine’ adds some surprisingly deft twin guitar to a song that effortlessly switches between a head-bobbing stoner groove, and despairing slow-motion noise. Most intriguingly, ‘Cassie Eats Cockroaches’ sounds a little like a proto-Skipknot, utilising a thuggishly monstrous groove, in which the syncopated off-beat snare rhythm gives an unusual feel to an otherwise basic riff, overlaying static noises and disembodied voices that agitate the listener into final submission as the album draws to a close.
When The Kite String Pops, sporting chilling John Wayne Gacy artwork custom-designed to evade mainstream acceptance (not that this proved problematic for Marilyn Manson only 2 years later), was probably never destined to achieve the kind of break through that many bands would achieve over the next twenty years with a more streamlined, commercially acceptable take on the Acid Bath sound. That’s certainly no criticism of this endlessly captivating, and deceptively complex album though. Unusually, it offers both immediate thrills, but continues to reveal new facets on every listen, forcing the listener to return time and time again to this majestic masterpiece. Rarely do a band sound this fully-formed and cohesive on a debut, and given the ground covered by Acid Bath’s eclectic melange of styles, it is a minor miracle that it offers such a definitive statement of intent. When The Kite String Pops may never reach the audience that it deserves, but virtually everyone who hears it will be profoundly affected, and that is a more than respectable legacy for Acid Bath to leave.