San Fransisco veterans Acid King have abided by the principle of ‘quality over quantity’ throughout a career spanning over 20 years. The stoner doom warriors, led by vocalist/guitarist Lori S. finally returned to the studio after a self imposed hiatus following the release of their excellent III long player a decade ago. The result is this anticipated fourth full-length album, entitled Middle of Nowhere, Center of Everywhere. So where do Acid King stand in 2015? Has a lengthy period of gestation resulted in a drastic detour from their long established and rarely tweaked formula? Well, the answer is a resounding no to the second question. As for the first question, as long as drawn out, thick, hazy, psychedelically altered stoner doom still floats your boat, there’s every reason for longtime fans of the band to be excited by the return of these seasoned cult legends.
I regard Acid King’s 1999 sophomore album, Busse Woods as something of a stoner doom classic and III was a not too shabby follow-up some six years later. So when the promo came through I jumped on the chance to reacquaint myself with a band I consider somewhat underappreciated (perhaps due to their limited output). In many ways, Middle of Nowhere, Center of Everywhere picks up where III left off, albeit brightening the darker edges and exploring spacier territory. The power trio, featuring the aforementioned Lori S. along with drummer Joey Osbourne and bassist Mark Lamb, may not be stretching themselves stylistically on this long awaited release, but that’s hardly surprising. Bands plying this style generally aren’t big on the idea of innovation. Otherwise Acid King sound rejuvenated and equipped with a familiar yet fresh sounding batch of new tunes which ticks all the right boxes and does more than enough to justify their decision to reignite the creative fires and return to the studio.
Acid King have long managed to separate themselves from the overcrowded pack of stoner metal bands over the years through their masterful grasp of subtle song-writing dynamics. Slight deviations in tempo and smart riff changes are cleverly deployed, while Lori S. wields her guitar with free-spirited glee, whether delving out thick doomy riffs, unleashing fuzzy waves of spindly melody or getting downright exploratory with her extended, effects-laden jams and solos. Furthermore, as a frontwoman of a heavy band, Lori is the genuine article. The droning melodicism of her distinctive voice fits Acid King’s music like a velvet glove, lending the album another comforting layer of ethereal glaze. Not to be outdone, the all important rhythm section provides so much more than reliable anchorage. Joey Osbourne’s busy drumming livens up the most plodding of tempos, with creative fills and snappy cymbal work as particular highlights, while Lamb’s fat, probing basslines frequently take center stage.
“Silent Pictures” has a classic Acid King vibe to it, comfortably carrying its near ten minute run-time through some inspired extended jamming and laid back heavy grooves. Wisely, Acid King follow-up such an epic journey with the punch and swing of the groovy “Coming Down From Outer Space.” Elsewhere, intoxicating, stretched out songs “Red River” and sublime psych jam excursion of “Center of Everywhere,” are prime cuts that show Acid King still do slow, long and heavy better than most.
The production is pretty much what you’d expect from an Acid King album. Natural sounding drums and slightly buried vocals are surrounded by thick, discernible layers of fuzzy distortion, best absorbed through a good set of headphones.
Scoring this album has proven particularly difficult, as initial pangs of disappointment promptly dissipated and the album’s colorful charms grew on me like some magical fungus plucked from an LSD wonderland. All the classic elements are in place, and wedged in with some solid Acid King workouts are a few shining nuggets that stand amongst the band’s finest moments. It’s not quite Busse Woods levels of excellence and it more often sways towards the solid rather than exceptional, but Middle of Nowhere, Center of Everywhere is an inspired comeback, marking a welcome return from Acid King that should satisfy the band’s longtime fans and reel in some new devotees.