Much to my surprise, these anonymous stoner/doom/hard rock merchants from Cambridge crept up behind me just as 2013 was drawing to a close. I didn’t really know what to expect, having heard little of their music in advance. But the aura of mystery surrounding them, not to mention their image, steeped as it is in Altamont, the Manson murders and late ’60s acid comedown, compelled me to attend. And I’m very glad I did, since Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats slapped me round the back of the head that night with one of the very best gigs of the year.
However contrived that image might be, there’s no denying that Uncle Acid evoke a primal and nightmarish atmosphere with their music. This comes in no small part from the monstrously heavy riffs that power their songs, with the lead and rhythm guitars intertwined like writhing snakes. The sludgey dominance of those riffs extends most of the songs to an ideal 5-10 minute length, where they make a formidable impression without grinding on so long as to outstay their welcome. But there’s a good deal of melodic inventiveness there too, steering the group well clear of the dire abyss that is heavy metal. Lyrically, pain, torture, blood and death are recurrent themes – excellent topics, all of them, sung in a distinctive Lennonesque tone that brings light and shade to the group’s grim obsessions.
There’s an unsettling exhilaration about Uncle Acid, a feeling that the negation they remorselessly conjure is something to be savoured, even celebrated. Compounding the sense of dread and unease, the back-projected videos playing out behind the group make frequent reference to that moment in time when the ’60s hippie dream was turning into a blood-drenched nightmare. I was disconcerted, to say the least, when I looked back at the one photo I took during the concert and saw that the slide being displayed at the time was the famous Life magazine cover of Charles Manson, a man who more than anyone else embodies that disintegration. But I probably shouldn’t have been too surprised, given the way Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats bring the sound of past horrors remorselessly into the present.