Less is more. That little witticism has become the AMG mantra because it’s so very true. Most 75-minute albums are less enjoyable than a 45 minute version would be. Three Taco Bell Hard Taco Supremes are a better choice than six. It’s just how the world works. When it comes to the creepy stoner rock of Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, this rule proves especially accurate. Though I loved their second album, Bloodlust and found their whole night stalker shtick endearing, I’ve never felt the same about any of their later releases. Wasteland is their fourth full-length and the recipe remains the same – drop some heavily filtered vocals over fuzzed out riffs and trippy noodling, shoot for something vaguely old timey sounding and hope for the best. They sound more and more like a sloppier, drug addled version of Ghost as they go along, and though they can generate moments of interesting, enjoyable rock, I can’t help but feel the novelty of their sound is wearing increasingly thin.
Wasteland opens with the prototypical Uncle Acid rocker “I See Through You,” which is one of the most accessible, easy to digest tidbits on the table. This is the side of the band I can get behind. The murky, eerie vibe is there but the song is a straight up rocker powered by an infectious mid-period Sabbath riff and Uncle Acid’s creepified vocals, which add interesting texture without overdoing it. Simplicity leads to memorability and it’s an easy, fun listen. “Blood Runner” opens with the exact riff from Sabbath‘s classic “After Forever”1 before lurching into a NWoBHM rock out that’s pure Di’Anno era Iron Maiden. This works of course, because who doesn’t love Maiden, and it’s the high point of Wasteland energy-wise. Closer “Exodus” cops a riff that sounds like it came from Sabbath‘s Never Say Die opus and mixes it with Sgt. Pepper-like vocals for an effectively offbeat number that keeps you hooked in as it meanders this way and that in a laid back, doped out haze (the extended guitar jam on the back-end is a treat).
Things go sideways when tracks like the nearly 9-minute “No Return” hit with the same simple riff repeated ad nauseam in what seems like an attempt to hypnotize or possibly break the listener’s will. By the fourth minute I’m willing to sing on everyone I’ve known since Kindergarten, so it works as an interrogation tactic if not a song. The title track is another mammoth cut, starting off as a sweet, acoustic ballad and ever so slowly building and building into something more ominous and unsettling. It doesn’t hold my interest despite this “descent into madness” dynamic and by the half-way point I want off the ride. Other cuts like “Stranger Tonight” fail to leave much of an impression one way or the other.
One of the biggest issues with Wasteland is the high-pitched, lo-fi, uber trebly production which makes it sound like Varg Vikernes broke into the studio late one night to master it the Burzum way. Uncle Acid has always had unusual (read as: craptastic) productions, but this one feels more irritating and aggravating, sapping the fun from even the most enjoyable cuts. It sounds like a radio station that isn’t quite coming in and it caused me to spend time trying to determine if my promo was damaged or my speakers were misfiring. In the end it was this thing that was wrong.
Uncle Acid is a weird duck of a singer. His trademark high-pitched nasal croon is fine in itself, but the effects used on the vocals along with the overall production conspire to make him more annoying than he should be. His lead guitar-work is better, and often quite inspired as he and Yotam Rubinger jam their way into deep space and beyond. Their love of Sabbath and NWoBHM is obvious and duly appreciated, I just wish the band would be more consistent in their writing and break out a bit from the template they’ve been slaves to thus far.
Wasteland isn’t a bad album, just a flawed one. When everything comes together it can be fun, but some of it simply doesn’t stick and other parts actively put me off. Perhaps Bloodlust was all I needed from these night creepers and everything since is too much of a good thing, just like those extra Hard Tacos. Mileage may vary but I don’t see myself returning to this for my stoner rock needs. Props to that groovy 70s cover art though!