Acid King: Beyond Freedom

This is not a review of Acid King’s Beyond Vision. This is a review of what it was like to immerse myself in the whole Acid King discography leading up to the new album.

Acid King is one of the few bands that scared me, and I mean really scared me. Doom is a fascinating and diverse genre, far more than it gets credit for outside our community. One popular style is the occult, dark stuff. Demons, Satan, creepy things that go BUMP in the night, “you’re gonna die and you don’t realize…” kind of stuff. You know, the fantastical stuff that’s edgier than the typical Hammer Horror film.

Then there’s the style that explores serial killers, slashers, and everything that endears Uncle Acid and the Dead Beats, or the more intense Church of Misery to us. Those and other styles can be disturbing, even offensive, like Mephistopheles. They aren’t really frightening, scary or horrifying, but it’s still fun.

Then, there’s Acid King.

I’ve been working on this post for a while and had to put a halt to the whole thing. I found myself writing accolades and heaping praise to the point I recognized my own bullshit. The truth is, after Busse Woods, I kept a clear path away from this band. I had an inkling as to what it was about, and at that point in my recovery, it was too close to home. That probably doesn’t make much sense to someone outside of recovery, and I try not to hammer this point too often.

But the truth is, what Acid King was writing about was something I couldn’t handle. I’m not a fun drunk or a casual pothead. I was that dude that tended to ruin it for everyone else.

The world that Lori wrote about, the freedom of the biker life, and the stuff that goes with it. It’s not for me. But I wanted it, oh so bad. Earlier on in my recovery, it wasn’t safe. I’d be romancing an illusion of what could have been.

Anyway, there I am, writing away and realizing that no matter how good the album is (and it is, BTW) and no matter how right I am about it, I’d be nothing more than a casual listener reviewing it as if I were always a big fan, as if I’d been listening to them for years. That’s all good, but it’s posing and virtue-signaling, considering my actual relationship with the band and the music. This isn’t Angry Metal Guy, after all…

I’ve learned that I can’t change the past but can correct it. So that’s what I decided to do over the past few weeks: A deep dive into as much Acid King as possible. Interviews, podcasts, all available recordings, and even a quick purchase of Say You Love Satan by David St. Clair, the book that kinda started it all.

Whatever I expected with this deep dive isn’t what came out of it at all….

Say you Love Satan

What a horrendous yet wonderful book. I mean, St. Clair can definitely write, but he’s so damn trashy. It’s easy to see the influence he’s had over a variety of media, from Inside Edition to the scandalous documentaries and general BS on streaming services. There’s too much bullshit throughout the book to take too seriously, and he’s clearing throwing gasoline on the fire of the Satanic Panic that was soon to follow. Even the title is cheesy, slimy clickbait.

Until it isn’t. Part III begins on page 297. Up to that point, Save You Love Satan comes across as tawdry pulp, full of exaggerated assumptions and a narrative style that comes across more as fiction than the work of credible journalism. Suddenly, St Claire does a literal 180-degree shift late in the book, presenting a logical analysis and critical overview of the legal system and how the case was botched. It’s so effective that it changed my view of the earlier chapters.

If you can find a copy, it’s worth it if you’re interested. I couldn’t find any copies for under $10, but I also didn’t spend days combing the internet for a good deal.

Acid King- The First EP

1994 was one of those epic years in retrospect when it comes to the Heavy Underground. Kyuss released Welcome to Sky Valley, an album that, in many respects, launched an entire genre, a few record labels, and a metric ton of bands. I wish I could say I knew that then, but the reverberations around the world in reaction to that album were impossible to see at the time. Other big albums that year include Corrosion of Conformity’s Deliverance, Melvins’ Stoner Witch, and The Church Within by the Obsessed. Big year, in hindsight!

Not only is this the first Acid King recording, released on Man’s Ruin Records in 1994, it’s also an early-ish example of Billy Anderson’s work. Lori S. was joined on this release by drummer Joey Osbourne, who stayed with the band until 2017, and bassist Peter Lucas, who left in 1996.

This is the first time I’ve heard this, and aside from Busse Woods over thirty years ago, it’s the first Acid King I’ve really listened to in that timeframe. But now that I’ve listened to the whole discography, it’s time to grasp it. Looking at my notes from the first round, it came across to me as rough, almost low-fi. Now that I have some experience under my belt, it’s waaaay better than the first time.

I think it’s a release that gets better in retrospect. It’s rough and raw and doesn’t reveal too much at first. But after some perspective, the distinctive sounds of speakers breaking up from the insanely high gain being pumped into them combined with a Big Muff fuzz pedal make sense. I imagine the vocals really caught people off guard. Back then womens’ “hard rock” vocals were related to grunge, punk and more commercialized/refined product. I’m not sure we were ready for this kind of performance back then- there simply wasn’t a point of reference.

Of course, now it’s lauded as a groundbreaking classic, which is definitely what I’m doing. It’s essential in a lot of ways, but I don’t want to pretend that I always “got” this, understood it, or even heard it. But I can now!

Zoroaster- The First LP

Released on Sympathy for the Record Industry, or Sympathy records in 1995, I was totally oblivious to this release. I was far from impressed on the first listen, with opener Evil Satan having the kind of punk/DIY feel to it that’s too easy for me to dismiss. The transitions feel clunky, the drums and bass repetitive and lacking any discernible character other than a mechanical time-keeping device for the rudimentary and minimalist “riff.”

My expectations and enthusiasm for this project took a serious hit. Mid-tempo rocker If I Burn intensified my ambivalence.

Then the weirdest happened during One Ninety-Six. The main riff began to float in my mind. There’s nothing spectacular about it, but there’s something about the slow drone, the slow and deliberate pace and tone of the guitar work that had me slipping into a groove of sorts.

Vetigate #1 then did something rare. I mean, it happens to me on occasion, but relatively few songs or bands put me into this state of mind. I began to drift, and entered a trance-state that I generally only experience with Black Sabbath, YOB, Elder and Kyuss. I don’t exactly fall asleep as much as hit a hypnotic state, the very state that I used to combat depression and anxiety. I can’t present this as fact, but some music seems to trigger my GABBA and Serotonin, similar to how sedative/hypnotic or hallucinogenic drug.

Whatever it is, whatever caused it to happen, I knew the rest of the journey was going to be…interesting…

Down With the Crown– The Second EP

I never even knew this existed, which backed up my decision to explore the whole discography before tackling Beyond Vision. As I understand the story, this infamous cover picture wasn’t designed for Acid King initially. It was adapted to resemble a poster Lori S. had of Jimi Hendrix. Regardless of the origin, it’s pretty classic.

Origin story aside, the first two songs struck me as pretty average, retaining the punk elements that (to me) are infused in the early work.

And then… Phase II, which I assume refers to the phaser-effect at the beginning of this juggernaut. Here we go again! Almost 4 minutes of pure distortion, feedback and pure awesomeness with a single chord repeating until the bass comes in. At around 5:20 the drums come in while the guitar and bass conspire to the kind of riff most bands wish they could pull off.

I know Beyond Vision is being celebrated as a foray into more overtly psychedelic styles, but this, this is the kind of stuff that takes me on hallucinogenic journeys. It’s that riff that never ends, that never wants to end, that twists and spirals its way to my cerebellum as I close my eyes to an internal light show of being and revelation that rivals the enlightenment of satori. That’s what it feels like for me when I experience this kind of rhythm and tone for sustained chunks of time, and it’s what I’ve been chasing ever since I heard Under the Sun off of Black Sabbath’s Vol 4.

Uneven and not exactly “polished”, it’s definitely the point at which Lori was finding her voice, not just looking for it.

Busse Woods– The Second LP

A puritanical element to recovery can sink in deeply after a few years (see this post for a little more explanation.) Not everyone, of course. But certainly for me, and a multitude of others. There’s no real logic to it; to an outsider, it probably makes no sense. In fact, it probably drives ’em nuts. It’s one thing that makes relationships with a recovering person such a never-ending fountain of bubbling joy.

At any rate, that’s the only thing I can grab onto to explain my initial reaction: Busse Woods is one of the few albums that has scared the fuck out of me. Knowing the snippets of the backstories of the bands’ origin, along with the historical setting of the recording, was too much for me. Too close to perfect to be safe, it conjured up the feelings I still had toward a life I wanted so much. It’s one of the things discouraged in traditional recovery: thinking about how much you loved the drug-using life in the first place. Until you end up in therapy over it a few years later.

And for good reason…

Regardless, this album brought up feelings for me that , even at 7 years clean, were best left untouched. But what about now? Thank-goodness I’m in a good place. I’ve made a lot of progress in making peace with that part of my life, and it took over 25 years for that to happen. Now that I’ve fully embraced the Clean and Sober Stoner ethos, I don’t need to be afraid. Guarded, aware and cautious: absolutely!

Busse Woods is every bit the classic wonder I’ve heard about. One fan called it a “perfect work of art,” and I have to agree. There’s no doubt that this is a powerful lineup for the band, with bassist Brian Hill leaning into some serious grit and more aggressive playing while Joey Osbourne comes across as spectacularly comfortable with the maturing sound.

From my perspective, the heart and soul of Acid King are Lori S. and Billy Anderson, who might as well be the fourth member at this point. In hindsight, the earlier releases seem a bit hesitant and unsure of the potential power of what was going on. On this one, though, it’s all finally unleashed, in large part to Anderson’s ability to capture raw energy in the performances that usually only come across live for most bands.

The songs are overall longer, with Lori no longer seeming to explore and experiment. It’s like her conscious ability to express the endless riffs in her head is locked in, tight. She’s not just following a roadmap, she’s now the terrain.

Silent Circle is not only my favorite song on this album, it’s embeded itself into my top 50, of all time, at the very least. Maybe I’m off-base here, but I can imagine a dude named Isaiah Mitchel from a little band called Earthless hearing this, and in a blinding flash of inspiration, his whole musical world crystalizes. I recognize that I’ve been immersed in the world of Acid King for a few weeks now, and that I’m liable to attach all sorts of references that might not be there. But damn, I bet the work of Lori S. had some sort of impact.

Overall, I kinda get why I avoided this band after hearing Busse Woods, and I’m grateful I was able to set up a boundary, no matter how ludicrous it may seem. The music contained in this work hits just a bit too close to home, and evokes too much longing for a certain lifestyle for an addict like me to take lightly. I’m glad I’m beyond that now. Especially since this isn’t even my favorite…

Free– The Third EP

What the hell? I expected the last album to be the ultimate Acid King. But Free is fucking…amazing. Blaze In just grabs my imagination, my awareness, my damn soul in a way that makes me feel raw and exposed. The primal perfection of her guitar. The pounding of the drums and the bass, this time courtesy of absolute LEGEND Guy Pinhas, coalesces into the kind of riff that’s been churning away in my brain since I was in 7th grade, drawing names and logos of favorite bands while blowing off math class.

Again, I don’t know shit. I don’t care how many interviews I read, footage I watch, or people I talk to: I don’t know a damn thing about Lori. But I swear to gawd, everything she recorded up to this point in 2000 was nothing but a prelude. All those riffs in her head, essentially floating in the ether, are made manifest in Free and everything that came after. Busse is excellent, but this is next-level stream-of-consciousness material. She’s learned at this point to take the never-ending internal riff-fest of her mind and actually put it to tape, with Guy and Joey as her consorts and Billy as the High Priest. But make no mistake, she’s the one on the altar.

The title song strikes me as something I’ve heard a million times over a thousand incarnations. It seems so natural, like it’s always been a part of me. But in reality, this project is the first time I heard it. And let me tell ya, the bass of Guy Pinhas (The Obsessed, Goatsnake, Fireball Ministry and the mighty Beaver, to name just a few) is lethal as he digs into those strings, eq’d with a perfect snarl and growl. Just perfection.

This is perfect Acid King so far. An endless trove of the kind of riffs I still daydream about when doing yard work or staring at the ceiling.

III– The Third LP.

Oh good gawd, are you fricking kidding me? Again, as I wrote on the last EP, this is perfection. I thought the last one was, but this…..fuck! This trio sounds battle-forged and tested. The riffs and drive more aggressive and relentless, the singing clearer and more confident.

What hits me most on this album is how she’s not just playing her guitar. She’s playing her Big Muff fuzz as well, as if it’s a separate instrument. Or, better yet, her guitar, fuzz, amp and cab are all a single instrument, in some odd way. It’s the polar opposite of shredders like Yngwie Malmsteen or even Isaiah Mitchel, for that matter. They (and hundreds of others) can shred. Lori doesn’t seem to give a crap, instead focusing on tone, sustain and feeling while using the least amount of gear and effects possible.

I marvel at her ability to give tonal expression, dynamics and juice to her solos without the aid of a flange or even a basic chorus. I understand she does use an echo-effect at times, but even that is minimal. What she gives us is buckets and buckets of tone. Stoner/Doom often gets criticized for obsessing on the “back line,” as Grave Next Door drummer and all-around ringleader Patrick Solerno once told me. True enough, but in this case it’s warranted. She doesn’t have her gear for show, and it definitely doesn’t hide any flaws or sonically makeup for a lack of technique. It is her technique, and it’s awesome. I think the closest guitarist, of any era, that comes close to her is Mike Scheidt from YOB. Even then, he relies on gobs of effects.

Taken off Reddit, this is Mike’s pedalboard at one time. Link to the original

Up to this point, I’m obviously blown away and what I’ve heard so far, and I didn’t expect this. It resonates with me because Acid King focuses on the most basic aspects of “Stoner/Doom” in ways most bands don’t. Mostly because it can severely limit the potential audience; the Acid King approach is not for everyone, at least not this first batch of albums.

Middle of Nowhere, Center of Everywhere – The Fourth LP

After reading, listening, and watching interviews, it’s clear that this album is special for Lori. I get the sense that this didn’t do nearly as well as expected, and some people consider it a bit of a letdown. I’ve seen a few contradictory reviews on it, raging from “the basic sound of Acid King is unchanged” to “this is a huge departure.” I’m paraphrasing, not quoting.

I’m right down the middle between the two extremes. Yes, the essence of Acid King is there, but it’s far more experimental with soundscapes and effects. It feel like a logical continuation from III, with it’s bare-knuckled approach and straight to the point riffing.

On Middle of Nowhere, the music is more relaxed, like Lori is more at peace with herself. The production takes longer to develop, with languid passages and more relaxed drones, especially on Silent Pictures. It comes across as self-confident and assured, while continuing to take chances. It’s downright beautiful is spots, even meditative. It’s a wonderful album that changes the trajectory oh-so-slightly at first, but like a celestial object, one degree becomes significant as you hurl towards the expanse…

Beyond Vision – The Fifth LP

Acid King was Stoner/Doom before Stoner/Doom was cool, or even a thing. The other foundational pillars of the scene flamed out, quickly. Kyuss dissolved into a myriad of other projects, a big-bang of the genre, so to speak. Sleep fell apart under the weight of their own obsessions, with Dopesmoker tearing them apart until the world was ready for its greatness.

There was Acid King in the beginning, and there always has been Acid King. Now is their time. It’s unfathomable that Beyond Vision would chart at #96 on Billboard, and from everything I can tell they’re experiencing success at a level they’re never had.

How’s the album? It’s fantastic, as I wrote in my March Doom Charts submission, which I hope you read here. I didn’t write much, mostly because I couldn’t stand the bullshit going from my brain to my fingers. My love of the album was sincere, but I didn’t know a fucking thing about the band. So I decided to do this project.

Part of the journey included listening to podcasts, watching YouTube interviews and reading various articles over the years. I found an artist who embodies the word “grace” in a way seldom encountered. Someone who’s in complete control of the band and it’s image, but at the same time is incredibly collaborative and ingratiating. I found one interview in particular that shows just how ground, real, and personable Lori S. is, and confirms the personal sense that I got from the albums.

I hope you take the time to watch this interview. It’s one of my favorites, all-time. He’s just a regular (for the most part) dude, talking to a legend. His questions are great, and even though he’s a small creator in the whole scheme of things, Lori treats him with so much respect and enthusiasm that I can’t help but get hooked. I think this interview tells me all I need to know about her, all I need to know about the album, and ties this whole post together. Please watch and then like and subscribe. Josh has the most amazing nuggets of gold on his channel, and your effort will be rewarded.

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So, here it is, July 4th, 2023, and it’s time to let go of this post and hit publish.

Color Trails is on my headphones, the eerie, lonesome guitar floating above the deep drone of the bass, the synthesizer giving voice to a counter-melody. Writing this has re-written history for me. My “Mount Rushmore” of guitarists is being re-arranged. My mind has been altered, my perception sharpened. My entire sense of the history of the heavy underground has undergone a substantial revision.

Acid King strikes me as the quintessential American band. The real America, the one that doesn’t take sides, posturing, or force one’s will upon another. There’s only the open road ahead, full of possibilities and the consequences of our choices and actions. A ragtag tribe of misfits, worshipping the sound of a lone Gibson into an overdriven tube amp, head cocked back, eyes glazed and focusing on the ether as the chord goes ever on, the pulse of drums injecting chaos into the proceedings as the bass rattles our guts.

The only law is what goes around comes around, and if you wipe out, it’s on you, no excuses. No guardrails, no soft shoulder, no easy landings if you lose control. No judgment, but if you can’t handle the horsepower, maybe you should ride something else.

As Color Trails ends, my music software takes me back to the beginning, where it started. I can picture the window frame, paint peeling from the relentless salt in the air from the Bay. I picture bare wood floors, warped with age from the dense, most air. I finally feel the zen of it:

Cracked window paint

Lead paint doesn’t taste so bad

Slow that’s the only way I know.

Indeed, and as it ever was. The once and future Acid King.

2 thoughts on “Acid King: Beyond Freedom

  1. great write up. It makes me want to take a deeper dive into their music, which is the ultimate compliment to your article.

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