Looking at the ascendancy of the UK’s Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats (often stylized with a lowercase ‘d’ on the last word) over the last half-decade is like staring into the abyss of our own worst impulses, and it seems unlikely the band would have it any other way. Portrayals of murder, exploitation, the celebration of cult mindsets, all provide the VHS-grained fuel for the four-piece’s fire. Their aesthetic accomplishments have been beyond considerable. Since debuting in 2010 with the only-20-made-and-never-reissued Vol. 1, Uncle Acid made their breakthrough in 2011 with Blood Lust (discussed here), which was subsequently reissued as their first offering through Rise Above Records, then in partnership with Metal Blade.
Their third album, Mind Control (review here), followed in 2013, and by then their influence had already begun to spread to a league of up-and-coming groups interested in capturing a similar style of lo-fi garage doom and psychedelia. That influence has only increased its span as Uncle Acid began to establish a presence as a live, and subsequently touring, act, and their fourth full-length, The Night Creeper, arrives through Rise Above with the band — guitarist/vocalist Kevin R. Starrs, guitarist/vocalist Yotam Rubinger, bassist/backing vocalist Vaughn Stokes and drummer Itamar Rubinger — positioned as forerunners of a style they helped create, having fostered a sound that has retained its immediate identifiability despite a growing number of players in the US, UK and Europe taking cues from it. Plenty out there are trying, but no one sounds as much like Uncle Acid as Uncle Acid. Their sonic individualism has been a great source of their success up to this point.
Couple that individual style with songwriting so memorable as to make tracks about stabbing people seem like generational landmarks, a classic mystique and a balance between wider-market conceptual horror appeal and preaching-to-the-converted Sabbathism, and Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats‘ reach is as multifaceted as the band’s hooks are infectious. The Night Creeper, the bulk of which was tracked live by Liam Watson of Toe Rag Studios in London, does nothing to interrupt Uncle Acid‘s momentum. Rather, it performs the crucial function of demonstrating growth within their sound. Not only growth as players — the simple fact that any of it was recorded live is progression; Uncle Acid weren’t a live band when they made Mind Control — but stylistic expansion as well.
Pulling back on the post-Manson cultish conceptual themes of its predecessor, The Night Creeper‘s 10 tracks/54 minutes (the longest offering yet) foster a general air of darkness derived from classic horror, noir and Giallo films. Still tales of murder and unnamed threats, but opening salvo “Waiting for Blood,” “Murder Nights” and “Downtown” are less direct in their root thematic, and so feel freer to explore dark corners Uncle Acid in which have yet to lurk. “Waiting for Blood” and “Murder Nights” in particular are maddeningly catchy, but they also set the tone of the record in establishing its rough-edged, almost biting sound. It would have been very easy for Uncle Acid, particularly after Mind Control, which feels positively produced in comparison, to have smoothed out their style, upped the recording fidelity, and made a general push toward mass-market accessibility. The Night Creeper, instead, sounds like it was buried alive and had to crawl through six feet of packed dirt distortion to see release. It is glorious in its filthy revelry.
There are other signs of progression throughout. Instrumental interlude “Yellow Moon” delves directly into the kinds of ambience much of Uncle Acid‘s material has touched on, that analog, Mellotron creepiness, while on either side of it, “Pusher Man” and “Melody Lane” provide The Night Creeper with highlights in terms of songwriting and choruses that just as easily could have opened the album, both hovering on either side of six minutes long but with not a second to spare in their bizarre hypnosis and unbridled push. Familiar elements, perhaps, but given fresh execution. After the solo-topped peak of “Melody Lane,” the title-track arrives with an immediately slower tempo, more swing than thrust, subtle turns in vocal layering playing out without undercutting the prevailing rawness and patience of what would be the album’s longest inclusion if not for “Slow Death,” which closes.
Separating the two is “Inside,” the shortest piece at 3:25 (yes, shorter than “Yellow Moon”), which would be easy to pass off as an afterthought if not for its insistent chug, fuzzy leads and lingering psychedelic keys. Structurally, it departs from some of the band’s established verse/chorus tendencies, but all the better to set up “Slow Death,” which at 9:36 is essentially built on a languid, subdued jam. Vocals are deep in the mix behind jazzy guitar, a cutting-through snare and the distinct hiss of analog tape. There is a build at work, but even at its most swollen, the song is never really meant to “take off” from its prescribed dirge march. Volume grows and fades and there’s a long bout of silence before the mournful hidden track “Black Motorcade” caps, its acoustic form recalling “Down to the Fire” from the reissue of Blood Lust, but in a mood shifted, twisted and altogether less active, in part sounding like a lost Kinfauns demo, but still well within The Night Creeper‘s by-then-expanded purview.
Ultimately, whatever else it does for the band’s processes or profile, what The Night Creeper most declares is Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats‘ sustainability. Not even that they can come out with a new record every couple of years and keep themselves on the road — “the road,” which you’ll recall wasn’t even a consideration in 2012 — but that they can continue to expand on what they’ve done in the past without being locked into one formula or another, and that as their profile grows, that doesn’t necessarily translate into capitulation to a broader audience. These should be encouraging signs for fans, but more than that for the band itself, since while these songs are identifiable as their own, there’s nothing about their work four albums later that would seem to indicate stagnation on any level, and they can continue to move forward and grow in sound and aesthetic from here. No question that for many listeners, The Night Creeper will be in the conversation of the year’s best albums, and rightly so.