Friday Full-Length: Acrimony, Hymns to the Stone

Acrimony, Hymns to the Stone (1994)

If you weren’t sure about Acrimony‘s roots in more deathly/doomly fare, look no further than the gracefully morose logo that’s on front of their debut CD, Hymns to the Stone. Released through Godhead Recordings — don’t worry, they’d sign to Peaceville soon enough — Acrimony‘s first outing arrived and helped jumpstart a pivotal moment in UK heavy. And their departure from the melancholic vibes proffered by their serif-logo forebears in Paradise Lost, My Dying Bride, Anathema, etc., came at just the right time. As those bands also sought out different sonic territory and in some cases more than flirted with gothic vibes, Acrimony went in another direction entirely. They got high and they rocked out.

1994: When stoner rock was stoned.

I don’t know if it’s Dorian Walters‘ vocals or the fact that they’ve got songs like “Leaves of Mellow Grace,” “Herb” and “Cosmic AWOL,” but something about Acrimony just always seemed that much more under the influence. The overarching sound of Hymns to the Stone shows some of its age these 25 years after the fact, but that hardly makes it less righteous. The guitars of Stu O’Hara and Lee Davies, Paul Bidmead‘s bass and Darren Ivey‘s drums managed to take some influence from the grunge that was saturating the US at the time, meld it with their own history in metal, and add more than a flourish of Sabbathian undertones — looking at you, “Spaced Cat #6” — and create something new from it. And they were legitimately right there at the start. Cathedral had embraced something of a rocking side with their 1993 sophomore outing, The Ethereal Mirror, but Acrimony took even that to a new level entirely. Consider that Orange Goblin were just getting together at the time, and Electric Wizard as well. Consider that Hymns to the Stone came out the same year as Welcome to Sky Valley. Acrimony were a nexus band. They helped craft the direction the UK heavy underground would take as it moved into the mid ’90s and beyond, and their impact can still be felt today in swaths of bands in the UK and out.

While it is a mystery how there hasn’t been a band who’s named themselves after the song “Urabalaboom,” that centerpiece track remains ACRIMONY HYMNS TO THE STONEessential to Hymns to the Stone as Acrimony conveyed a jammier sensibility ahead of the acoustic start to “Herb” — also duly Iommic in its riff — and “Magical Mystery Man,” which follows and brings back some of the earlier catchiness of “Leaves of Mellow Grace,” “The Inn” and “Second Wind” at the outset. The vibe of the album is set largely by the tonal largesse of the opener and the looseness of its swing, taking a heavy crunch and making it roll with two guitars working in tandem to shove it along the path laid out with bass and drums. When Walters‘ vocals arrive, they’re lower in the mix than on some of the later tracks, and the riff-comes-first ethic is as plain to hear as the weed-worship of the lyrics. “The Inn” makes the most of some swirling wah as it marches forth, as well as some late-arriving shuffle, and “Second Wind” plays with tempo shifts effectively to convey a doom rocking feel with a nod in its midsection leading to more butt-boogie chicanery as they round out.

The fluidity there serves them well moving into the ultra-compressed start of “Space Cat #6” and the ensuing touch of psychedelic rock fervor brought to its arrangement that will be even further fleshed out soon enough on the penultimate “Whatever.” That song, which is the only one on Hymns to the Stone to hit the seven-minute mark, is little short of a revelation, playing out across a molten linear build that’s all the more about the journey than the payoff, taking the message of the prior “Urabalaboom,” “Herb” and “Magical Mystery Man” and bringing it to life in sound. Stretching out in this way suited Acrimony well, and it was a lesson they’d take to heart by the time they got around to their second full-length, Tumuli Shroomaroom (discussed here), in 1997, which even in its opening track, “Hymns to the Stone” (but wait! that’s the name of this album!), topped nine minutes en route to a total 65, as opposed to Hymns to the Stone‘s manageable 44-minute run. Likewise, the pairing of “Magical Mystery Man” and “Whatever” right next to each other hardly feels accidental, with the shortest and longest tracks offering direct contrast. “Magical Mystery Man” has a punkish feel, and “Whatever” is more spaced than “Spaced Cat #6,” so yeah. “Cosmic AWOL” finishes out by returning that massive cannabinoid sprawl somewhat to ground, still loading in plenty of wah to its just-over-4:20 push, ending with a languid percussion-laced jam on a long fade as it moves farther into the great far out.

Acrimony‘s legend, like that of a lot of heavy rock from their era — see also the aforementioned Kyuss — would grow in their absence. They put out Tumuli Shroomaroom in ’97 and had done The Acid Elephant EP before that in 1995 and a split with Iron Rainbow in 1996, but their last recording session was in 1999 for tracks that would later see release in 2003 on a split with Church of Misery and they were long since done by then. Lee Davies would go on to play in Lifer, but the rest of the lineup was quiet until coming together in 2009 as Sigiriya, a four-piece with Walters, O’Hara, Bidmead and Ivey. They released their debut, Return to Earth (review here), in 2011 and would lose Walters afterward, bringing in Matt Williams from Suns of Thunder for 2014’s Darkness Died Today (review here; also discussed here). Ivey would also depart in 2015 and the band brought in Rhys David Miles on drums and they’ve continued to play locally in Swansea and around the UK, doing fests and support slots as well as the occasional short run of tour dates — they were out with the reformed Iron Monkey twice last year.

According to their social media, Sigiriya, now with O’Hara and Bidmead as the connection to Acrimony have a third album they’re putting the finishing touches on, so it may well be that they’re heard from later in 2019. Here’s hoping. However that might come together, Acrimony‘s stoner-is-as-stoner-does heavy rock legacy continues to be a standout from the United Kingdom, and though in current music culture it’s almost too easy to neglect anything that isn’t punching you in the face with streaming videos capturing every fart at every rehearsal, Hymns to the Stone is a reminder of the roots from which what we think of modern heavy has grown out from over the last two and a half decades.

As always, I hope you enjoy.

Yesterday was amazing, thank you. Incredibly heartening and reinforcing. It felt like what I imagine birthdays probably feel like to most people. Thank you.

If you didn’t catch it, Shy Kennedy from Blackseed Design’s t-shirt for The Obelisk went up earlier this week at Dropout Merch. It’s awesome and I call it ‘Doom on the Moon,’ which is fun because I enjoy a slant rhyme as much as the next guy.

See it here: https://www.dropoutmerch.com/the-obelisk

Next week is busy. They’re all busy. Did you know I’ve got the Quarterly Review for March booked already? I might push it up and do five this year. I’m not sure I’d be able to call it Quarterly so much as Everynowandagainly at that point, or Bimonthly or whatever, but yeah. I’m thinking about it. For all the planning out ahead of time I do, I don’t do much planning out ahead of time. Ha.

Did you catch the slant rhyme above? Good.

Let’s do some quick notes for next week. Honestly, my head’s been so deep in everything for yesterday I’ve kind of slacked on mapping it out, but there’s still some cool stuff slated. As such:

MON: Static Tension video premiere; News catchup.
TUE: The Asound album review/video premiere.
WED: BLACKWVS track premiere; Soldati video premiere.
THU: Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard review.
FRI: Open right now. Maybe Old Mexico review unless something else grabs me.

It’ll be fun either way.

This Sunday at 7PM Eastern is also the ninth episode of The Obelisk Show on Gimme Radio. I need to go cut the voice breaks for it, so I’m going to wrap this up on the quick and plug in the mic and pretend to be interesting for 20 minutes or so. If you get the chance to listen: http://gimmeradio.com.

And again, thanks for all the kind words yesterday.

Please have a great and safe weekend, and please check out the forum and the radio stream and the merch at Dropout. Like such:

The Obelisk Forum

The Obelisk Radio

The Obelisk shirts & hoodies

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One Response to “Friday Full-Length: Acrimony, Hymns to the Stone

  1. Jay says:

    Love this album. People always forget this one exists. Cost me a pretty penny to get it but it was worth it.

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