Graded on a Curve: Uncle Acid and & the deadbeats,
Mind Control

Psychedelic doom rockers Uncle Acid & the deadbeats are trapped in a time warp. Coincidentally it’s the very same time warp that I’ve been stranded in for years. To wit, the benighted second half of 1969, when the dark stars of Altamont and the Manson Family killings converged to send the Age of Aquarius into permanent retrograde. I can’t speak for Uncle Acid, but there’s no place I’d rather be.

Sure, it’s a bummer. The dogs of insanity have been loosed. Paranoia is the new dope. Every freak I know is either a Satanist or trying to trade in his flower-painted VW bus for a tank. And you can forget all that he ain’t heavy, he’s your brother hoo-ha. Take that hippie over there, the one with the crazy hair and hypnotic stare. He looks very heavy indeed, and he is most certainly not your brother. That said I’m glad Uncle Acid and the deadbeats are here, because nobody, and I mean nobody, better captures the pall of fear and loathing that has settled, like a cloud of pure dread, over us all.

Cambridge, England’s Uncle Acid & the deadbeats have released three full-lengths of skull-crushing, evil-infused psychedelic doom metal—using vintage equipment to more accurately evoke the buzz-harshing vibe of the Summer of Hate—since their formation in 2009. They sound like Black Sabbath, The Stooges, and Pentagram rolled into a joint, then laced with angel dust. Go ahead, smoke it. Sure, it’ll make you a tad paranoid. But as Charlie himself said, “Total paranoia is just total awareness.” And in the year 1969, total awareness just might save your life.

I love all three Uncle Acid LPs, but 2013’s Mind Control is nothing less than—at least for yours truly—a dream come true. I’ve waited years for a Charles Manson concept album, and while Mind Control isn’t about Manson per se, its thinly fictionalized account of a charismatic cult leader who brainwashes his young acolytes to kill, kill, kill could hardly be about anybody but Charlie, who took in America’s garbage children and proceeded to bend their minds with LSD and such “No sense makes sense” koans as “Death is the greatest form of love” and “Gefrannis booj pooch boo jujube geeji geeja geeble begep flagaggle,” which I’m pretty sure he swiped word for word from Donovan’s “Barabajagal.”

Uncle Acid and the deadbeats are Kevin K.R. Starrs (aka Uncle Acid) on lead guitar, vocals, and organ; Dean Millar on bass; Itamar Rubinger on drums; and Yotam Rubinger on guitar and backing vocals. Manson once said, “In my mind’s eye my thoughts light fires in your cities,” and while Uncle Acid and the deadbeats aren’t likely to set any cites aflame with rock’n’roll, they will sonically trepan you and fill that nice new hole in your skull with some of the darkest and grooviest sounds since The Amboy Dukes’ “Journey to the Center of Your Mind.”

Take the simultaneously lovely and chilling “Follow The Leader,” a 6:29 slow drone that echoes and throbs with reverb and feedback. One guitar plays the big burbling drone while a shaker provides percussion and another guitar plays over the drone, going from simple strumming to some far-freaking-out psychedelia as the song commences. Meanwhile Starrs sings, “Tricky time is upon us/We tried but they didn’t want us/You are the chosen few/Time is here you know what to do.”

Or the mid-tempo “Death Valley Blues,” with its alternating quiet and short, crushingly loud passages, during the latter of which Starrs sings, “Always in thought control/Like bullet holes/You’re mine to control.” And which ends in a barrage of guitars over which Starrs repeats, “Let’s hide out in Death Valley,” which is where the Manson Family skedaddled after things got too hot at the Spahn Movie Ranch, and where Manson was ultimately discovered by law enforcement officers—and you’ve to hand it to Charlie, he was one flexible little hippie—squeezed into a tiny cabinet beneath the kitchen sink of remote Manson hideout, Barker Ranch.

As for LP opener “Mt. Abraxas,” I did some research and there is no such place. Rather, the good Uncle Acid borrowed the “Abraxas” from legendary occultist and anal sex aficionado Aleister (aka The Beast, The Wickedest Man in the World) Crowley’s Gnostic Mass (e.g., “IO IO IO IAO SABAO KURIE ABRASAX KURIE MEITHRAS KURIE PHALLE,” which roughly translated means “Everybody have fun tonight, everybody Wang Chung tonight”). Anyway, “Mt. Abraxas” is one heavy as Helter Skelter dirge, and features pounding drums, earthmover-heavy guitars, and very cool vocals by Starrs, who repeats, “They don’t know/They don’t know/There’s nothing up there at all.” Well of course there isn’t. The place doesn’t exist. As for the song’s second half, it’s one long barbaric, pile-driver slog.

“Mind Crawler” is the album’s primo cut, a V2 that comes roaring straight out of the silo and hits you right atop your pointy little head. Featuring Stooges piano and some unrelenting guitar pummel, “Mind Crawler” has Starrs coming down from Mt. Abraxas, a prophet of evil with bloody hands, to sing, “I wanna know/I wanna know/Just what you could do/And would you die for me too?” And be careful, he warns, “Because I might go mind crawling on you.”

“Valley of the Dolls,” on the other hand, is the only track I’m not thrilled by, despite its monstrous guitar riffs, cool guitar solo, and ear-drum-fracturing barrage of humongous power chords at the end. The problem with “Valley of the Dolls”—the title taken, of course, from the 1967 film about female up-and-comers hooked on downers co-starring a radiant Sharon Tate, which was re-released after her murder—is two-fold; one, its melody is so-so and two, the chorus, which consists of too-frequent repetitions of the song title, leaves me cold. That said, it was a cool idea to include it, although I’d have skipped Valley of the Dolls for 1966’s Eye of the Devil (“This is the climax in mind-chilling terror!”) in which Tate also played a role.

“Evil Love” is one super-cool, high-velocity thrill-fest of a song, featuring lots of heavy staccato riffing leading to a mind-blowing solo. Meanwhile Starrs sings, “You gave me drugs and lies/And programmed my mind/Now I’m a killer that they won’t find,” and shuts things down with the words, “You need our love/Our evil love/You’re here/To our programme.” “Desert Ceremony,” on the other hand, is one non-stop blast of heavy guitars that definitely want to kill your mama, and your pappa too while they’re at it, and listening to it you’ll want to take cover in Manson’s long-sought “bottomless pit” (where he intended to wait out the apocalyptic war between blacks and whites) as this one blows gaping holes in your woofers and causes the neighbors to squeal in horrified outrage. And speaking of the apocalypse, Starrs sings, “Out on the dusty desert wind/The ceremony will begin/And when the light comes round the bend/We know the Earth will meet its end” as a guitar commences a solo that might as well be the trump of doom.

The propulsive “Poison Apple” features some cool organ and lots of Paul Bunyan-scale axe-whacking, to say nothing of one long and lovely as death guitar solo that ends with Starrs singing, “I’m a box car baby, jug of wine/I’m a switchblade if you cross the line/I am what you made me and nothing more/I’m the broken lock that’s on your door,” which is as close as Starrs comes on the LP to capturing the voice and mindset of Charles Manson.

As for LP closer “Devil’s Work,” it opens with some big malevolent drums and Starrs singing—from the point of view of Charles “Tex” Watson, honor student and star athlete turned cold-blooded killer—about the murders at the Tate-Polanski residence at 10050 Cielo Drive: “It was late at night when I cut the wire/I climbed the magic pole till I got no higher/All the lines to safety are slashed away/The sun has set on their final day.” Starrs then repeats, drums still pounding away while the occasional power chord comes crashing down, Watson’s famous words, “I’m the Devil/And I’m here to do the Devil’s work.” (Actually Watson said, “business,” but let’s not nitpick.) After which there are a few big explosions of guitar, some quiet soloing, and finally a drone of feedback as the song dissolves into a void every bit as meaningless and incomprehensible as Manson himself, a brilliant, malignant, and contradictory figure who spoke eloquently about America’s shameful treatment of its lost children, yet chose to gather the same children up and set them loose to perpetrate the unspeakable on the innocent.

All in all, I like being trapped with Uncle Acid & the deadbeats beneath the foreboding skies of late 1969. Sure, America’s blank-eyed children have gone from the Haight to Hate, and are busy carving X’s on their crazy little foreheads. But hey, things aren’t all bad. Reds are cheap, love beads are as dead as Leo LaBianca, and to quote Steely Dan, all those day-glo freaks who paint their face have rejoined the human race. And the music, man, the music! Simon and Garfunkel are huge. So is The Edwin Hawkins Singers’ “Oh Happy Day.” You can’t walk 10 feet without hearing CS&N’s “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes.” And Chicago, man, Chicago is the next Big Thing… and on second thought, GET ME THE FUCK OUT OF HERE!


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