Review Summary: When The Snare Drum Pops
Metal music has been divided and separated into so many subgenres that it's become extremely difficult to keep up with what's going on in the metal world at any given time. It's a genre growing at an alarming pace, endlessly sprawling and branching out into new, unforeseen and unpredictable territory. This experimentation and ambition is what gives metal its hypnotic appeal, and why it is such a polarizing style of music to begin with. However, all of these influential and revolutionary techniques all have to begin at one specific point. While it certainly wasn't the first sludge metal album, or first anything for that matter, Acid Bath's debut When The Kite String Pops is an essential, volatile mix of all things horrific and unforgiving.
Drawing inspiration from the sludgy riffing of Melvins and the trippy grooves of Kyuss, Acid Bath was a short-lived, albeit extremely influential sludge metal band that drew cards from many different decks when it came to creating an original, fascinating sound. When The Kite String Pops will put you under a spell, but not in the same way albums like Yankee Hotel Foxtrot or Selected Ambient Works Part II will. This album gives off the absolute most unsettling vibes and feelings one can imagine, as thick bass, pounding percussion and grumbling, abusive riffs provide a shiver-inducing backing to Dax Riggs' horrifying tales of depression, destruction and pure evil. This album will tap into the darkest recesses of the listener's mind, forcing them to stare blankly at the hellish, desolate landscape being shown to them as their eyelids are kept open, so they cannot tear themselves away from the torture. But the thing about this feeling is that a part of the listener is intrigued by what's happening, hell, they're probably enjoying it. One will be so morbidly fascinated with this music that it will like a part of them is being bludgeoned relentlessly into the ground while another part of them is just beginning to live.
The riffs. Oh my, the riffs. This album, along with Dirt and Blues For The Red Sun contain my favorite metal riffs of all time. The distortion is thick and large, but never overwhelming, while both guitarists play off each other to form a chaotic sculpture of deep, seedy tones and a marvelous groove. The composition of these 14 tracks is nothing short of brilliant. Acid Bath never lets the listener get too far away from their grasp, constantly switching gears and letting the music flow naturally from one jaw-dropping riff or beat to the next. Nothing ever becomes stale or redundant, and the band is extremely good at staying on top of their game and not letting the album drop off in quality at certain points. Certain tracks contain so many freakish combinations of different styles & techniques it's scary: "Jezebel" is an unholy, frightening bastard child of death metal and sludge, sharply turning from ear-shattering blasts of double bass and face-melting riffs to more dynamic, steadily building quiet sections. The tempo changes on this album are impeccable, as evidenced by opening track "The Blue". The song begins as a giant mountain of sludgy riffs and driving percussion as Riggs barks powerfully over the musical backdrop. The slow, heavy drumbeat eventually digresses into a midtempo rocking section with even sludgier riffs while Riggs declares "YOU'RE F**KING NOTHING!" "The Blue" opens this record with such force and unabashed intensity that it demands to be named an album highlight, and rightfully so.
However, Acid Bath isn't all about bashing your face into the ground with its heaviness. There are two tracks on this record that move at a slower pace, and are a breath of fresh air from the terrifying, chaotic world that surrounds them. The first of these tracks, fan favorite "Scream Of The Butterfly" is a bass-driven dirge through surprisingly melodic structures and the incredible talent of Dax Riggs. Back before his solo work (his screaming has really suffered) the man could do pretty much anything with his vocal chords; on this record alone he croons, belts, shrieks, barks and growls his way through 14 of the most amazing metal tunes of all time. "Scream Of The Butterfly" shows off his incredible range and polarizing, yet nonetheless intriguing lyricism, while also containing an infectious and melodic bass line. The bass on this record is normally about adding extra substance to the filth and sludge spread throughout the tracks, but on this song it's all about creating a lasting and powerful melody. The other acoustic track, "The Bones Of Baby Dolls" is just Riggs and a lonely acoustic guitar, complete with the band's signature tempo changes and Riggs' horrific anecdotes. This song is partly inspired by folk music, and is just another gem that prepares the listener for the album's crushing finish.
The drumming can range from anywhere to solid and steady to balls-out crazy, as evidenced by the slow grooves of "Fingerpaintings of the Insane" and maniacal double-bass on "Dr. Seuss Is Dead". The assertive and relentless pounding of drummer Jimmy Kyle is absolutely perfect for the band's sound, sounding exactly like what would play out in Riggs' demented stories. The album is sure to give the listener short breaks and show off each style of music separately, often either bringing them down to Earth or kicking their ass all the way into space. Just within the first two tracks, "Tranquilized" brings the listener down from the aural murder of "The Blue" with driving riffs, solid percussion and a healthy serving of powerful clean vocals from Riggs.
This album is '90s metal at its best. Acid Bath were the total metal package, bringing out the best in every single influence they had in them and mashing them together to create one of the most unique and recognizable sounds of any band I've ever heard. And it's amazing to see that this is just their debut. They only had one more album in their discography, but the fact that expectations were set this high by a debut album easily makes Acid Bath one of the best metal bands that the planet has to offer. Yes, the second half of the album is weaker than the first (hence the half-point off) and there are one or two filler tracks, but this still remains an astounding achievement in the metal world.
R.I.P. Audie Pitre
Recommended Tracks (asterisk signifies best song):
Fingerpaintings Of The Insane
Scream Of The Butterfly
Dr. Seuss Is Dead
The Bones Of Baby Dolls