Review Summary: Acid Bath, the true rightful heir.
The last review for this album came under heavy fire for its use of "post-grunge" in the description of what Acid Bath was going for on this album, but that argument takes away from just how interesting and varied this album is. Acid Bath have a certain Seattle flavor going for them, but the band has too many other influences to pigeonhole so easily. They draw equally from straight up NOLA sludge, death and Southern metal, thrash, hardcore punk, and the ringing acoustic detours that became Alice in Chains' trademark. Their vocalist is a puzzle as well, effectively channeling the likes of Layne Staley, Phil Anselmo, and Chuck Schuldiner over the course of an album's worth of vocal output. Yet, Dax Riggs seems to brand his own style through it all, never really sounding like he's aping anyone. He's simply a powerful, charismatic vocalist.
In support, the band creates a pleasingly heavy rapture of sounds and tonalities, touching on multiple stylistic variations that have been berthed in metal over the years. That adaptability ultimately left them with a legacy as a lost classic of 90's metal, but with little fanfare to go with it. Acid Bath would have been the perfect band to lead the evolution of 90's metal through the rest of the decade, but their most prolific period fell between 1993-1996, at the peak of grunge and during its subsequent collapse. They were no longer recording when heavy rock music sank into obscurity during the late nineties, which is too bad, because Paegan Terrorism Tactics is an exceptional display of a band that had a working niche in almost every corner of heavy metal.
Acid Bath make no secrets about the tone of the album with opener "Paegan Love Song," a song that opens with a Riggs scream and a lumbering Southern metal riff. Right off the bat, the change in production is clear. There is more of a sharp distinction between the tonalities of the instruments, Riggs' vocals seem higher up in the mix, and the atmosphere seems grander and less corrosive than on Kite String. As the song changes tempos at will and Riggs alters his vocal delivery with complete confidence, it's clear that Acid Bath is looking to draw a straight line through the song, resulting in a more cohesive stream. The effect is immediate, fresh, and exciting. "Paegan Love Song" itself transitions between COC esqe Southern metal, grunge tribute, and sludge chant with complete ease. Riggs is completely locked in, showcasing the range of his vocal delivery with his airy but powerful singing voice, first-rate death metal screams, and Staley like sense of intonation.
"Bleed Me an Ocean" sounds like Aenima era Tool creeping forward before the band kick starts into this thrashy Blind era COC riff with Riggs flying over the top in complete vocal command. It later transitions to a droning sludge number with blaring vocals from Riggs, taking the song in another unexpected direction all the way to the finish. It's insane. The album is totally adventurous but entirely accessible. Acid Bath gives you a little flavor of everything, their stylistic transitions sounding completely natural and unforced. We could have avoided the rap-rock phase altogether with these guys leading metal forward in the late nineties.
The trippy "Graveflower" is an excellent detour from the distorted assault thus far with its spacey lead intro and whispered vocals from Riggs. A strong drum backbeat follows and Riggs' vocal range continues to unfold under new platforms of expression. The song consistently detours between heavy riffs and tribal drums backing Riggs, with guitar feedback fading into the background and the intro riff setting its hypnosis at the track’s conclusion. "Diab Soule" comes in with a colossal Exhorder sized riff and eventually explodes into manic fury behind Riggs’ death metal tirades, sporting a groovy mid-tempo riff that you know Dimebag Darrell would appreciate. Riggs is on fire here, seamlessly transitioning between signature death metal squall and his definitive singing voice.
Acknowledging the similar vocal timbres, the breadth of Riggs’ vocal command is where he truly earns legitimate comparison to Layne Staley. Staley had a remarkably unique and powerful voice, but his ear for music was just as excellent. He knew just how to alter his intonation and cadence to fit with the musical attack behind him, and Riggs is just as gifted at the art. He elevates the band's intense sonic delivery with his power and brings elusiveness to the band's plentiful melodic moments, perfectly exhibited on the great rock tune “Venus Blue.” That sort of charisma and personality at the vocal position is easily a massive separating point between Acid Bath and other similarly styled bands, especially those in the sludge, stoner, and Southern metal circles.
Ultimately, Acid Bath is a band that should have garnered far more respect than they did. If the above descriptions aren’t sufficient, treat yourself to the death metal eruption of “Locust Spawning”, the daring acoustics of “Dead Girl,” or the punk meets doom turmoil of “13 Fingers.” Acid Bath was an incredibly versatile band, their resourcefulness being something that doesn’t come along that often in heavy metal. This album is full of dexterity, nimbleness, and pure energy. Paegan Terrorism Tactics probably wasn’t meant to be the swan song, but it convincingly serves the purpose with the portrait it paints of a band that was good enough but maybe not lucky enough. But hell, as Dax Riggs serenades in the “Dead Girl” closer…
I’ve been dryin’ in a dead age
I’ve been reekin’ of the new plague