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When The Kite String Pops

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When The Kite String Pops
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Type: Full-Length
Release Date: August 8th, 1994
Genre: Sludge
1. The Blue
2. Tranquilized
3. Cheap Vodka
4. Fingerpaintings Of The Insane
5. Jezebel
6. Scream Of The Butterfly
7. Dr. Suess Is Dead
8. Dope Fiend
9. Toubabo Koomi
10. God Machine
11. The Morticians Flame
12. What Color Is Death
13. The Bones Of Babydolls
14. Cassie Eats Cockroaches


Review by Benjamin on June 11, 2024.

Metal as a genre is littered with the defunct careers of bands that, purely on the strength of their musical output, should have been considerably more commercially successful than they were, but for a variety of reasons never quite made it. Bands as diverse as Cave In, Warning, and Ved Buens Ende have all produced fantastic records that deserved a wider audience than they ever found, but due to internal disagreements, label politics, and even the prevailing trends at the time, they are destined to be considered cult figures, as opposed to classic bands. In addition, it took many of the more popular bands in the contemporary heavy music scene years or even decades of gradually building an audience, before they attained the revered status they hold today. It took Opeth five albums to break through to the mainstream that they have been ensconced in ever since Blackwater Park, and the likes of Clutch, Behemoth and Devin Townsend have all followed a similarly scenic route to their current elevated levels of success.

It’s easy to wonder if Acid Bath would’ve seen this kind of eventual transition to the metal mainstream, had their career not been prematurely ended by the sad and sudden death of bassist Audie Pitre in the car accident that also killed his parents. Although their wilfully off-kilter and somewhat scattershot sound weights the scales of judgement against them, the fact that they also foreshadowed both the stoner-doom sound that Down and Corrosion Of Conformity popularised only a matter of months after the release of When The Kite String Pops, but also the sludge sub-genre that has dominated underground heavy music in the 21st century, tips the scales back in their favour. Regardless of what the future might have brought for the band, the fact that we are left with only two full-length album releases is a cause for sorrow – there were undoubtedly more superb records left in a band that still resists the allure of the lucrative festival reformation circuit, and will presumably continue to do so.

For all of the attempts to put When The Kite Strong Pops into its historical context, what really counts is whether the music itself is any good, and nearly 3 decades on from its release, it is a startling and fascinating album. One of the most striking elements of the Acid Bath sound is just how sonically creepy it feels. Countless black and death metal bands aim to scare and terrify with their music and overall aesthetic, but very few actually achieve it. Indeed, in many respects, it is only the criminal activities of a relatively small number of black metal’s progenitors at the genesis of the second-wave that continue to lend black metal any sense of danger and transgression a quarter of a century on from the murder of Euronymous. Many of the other key figures (Abbath, ex- of Immortal, for example) have long since resigned themselves to embracing the sheer ridiculousness of heavy metal, and previously extreme musical forms have been embraced and assimilated across the heavy music spectrum. Acid Bath, on the other hand are frequently genuinely unsettling. In particular, the way in which spoken word samples and whispered vocal lines are just audible within a dense mix, but occasionally reveal themselves in a moment of space, before dipping back below the surface again provide glimpses of a true psychosis at the heart of the band’s sound, and a schizophrenic multiplicity of personalities on the part of the outstanding vocalist Dax Riggs.

The schizophrenia is also evident in the musical accompaniment to Riggs’ many voices. Opening track ‘The Blue’ emerges from a haze of background distortion, with the filthy, fuzzed-out bass of the late Pitre giving way to the kind of multi-tempo Sabbathian sludge that Down would soon make a career out. Perhaps a result of their immersion in the swampy sounds of Louisiana, where Dixie jazz and delta blues share musical space with fertile hardcore and doom scenes, the drums of Jimmy Kyle really swing. As influential as Black Sabbath have clearly been to heavy metal as a genre in terms of their riffing style, it’s noticeable that frequently the influence is confined to the guitars. The smaller number of bands that really invoke the feel of Ozzy-era Sabbath (Sleep, for example) convey this through a drumming style that recalls Bill Ward’s heavy jazz-inflected swing, and Acid Bath are no exception. However, as soon as the opener comes to a conclusion, Acid Bath immediately wrongfoot the listener that might be expecting an hour of Iommi tribute riffage, with the addictive and propulsive riff of ‘Tranquilized’. It’s not exactly ‘Angel Of Death’, but it represents one of several moments on the album on which the speed dial is raised far beyond the kind of crawl that might be in evidence on a more traditional doom record.

On other stand-out tracks, the band move seamlessly from monolithic stoner workouts to the dissolute and raging punk-metal of ‘Cheap Vodka’, and the more brutal, almost death metal, tremolo-picking of ‘Jezebel’, which pummels the listener musically, but also intrigues with Riggs’ spectral vocals adding a demonic dimension to the sound that more rudimentary growls would fail to add. Elsewhere, the sludge of ‘Dr. Seuss Is Dead’ feels like the band are wading through tar, evoking authentic terror in a way not unlike the disorientating sounds of Today Is The Day managed on Temple Of The Morning Star, and ‘God Machine’ adds some surprisingly deft twin guitar to a song that effortlessly switches between a head-bobbing stoner groove, and despairing slow-motion noise. Most intriguingly, ‘Cassie Eats Cockroaches’ sounds a little like a proto-Skipknot, utilising a thuggishly monstrous groove, in which the syncopated off-beat snare rhythm gives an unusual feel to an otherwise basic riff, overlaying static noises and disembodied voices that agitate the listener into final submission as the album draws to a close.

When The Kite String Pops, sporting chilling John Wayne Gacy artwork custom-designed to evade mainstream acceptance (not that this proved problematic for Marilyn Manson only 2 years later), was probably never destined to achieve the kind of break through that many bands would achieve over the next twenty years with a more streamlined, commercially acceptable take on the Acid Bath sound. That’s certainly no criticism of this endlessly captivating, and deceptively complex album though. Unusually, it offers both immediate thrills, but continues to reveal new facets on every listen, forcing the listener to return time and time again to this majestic masterpiece. Rarely do a band sound this fully-formed and cohesive on a debut, and given the ground covered by Acid Bath’s eclectic melange of styles, it is a minor miracle that it offers such a definitive statement of intent. When The Kite String Pops may never reach the audience that it deserves, but virtually everyone who hears it will be profoundly affected, and that is a more than respectable legacy for Acid Bath to leave.

Rating: 9 out of 10

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Review by Mandeep Arora on May 5, 2024.

Abstractly speaking, if an album was to be a serial killer, this one would be it. You see, for more than an hour, it creeps behind you, shrouding your every step, leering at your presence, forever in possession of that blood-stained knife and making subtle yet chilling remarks about gashing your throat open, all the while smirking menacingly... It's a heavy, intimidating feeling listening to this menace of an album - the opening song with its nasty bass creeping in on you is enough to give you the chills and make you realise these aren't going to be the easiest 69 minutes. Words like ugly, uncouth and nasty aren't nice in real life usage but super-worthy praises in the metal world and this album is every bit of those. And then some...

On my first-time listen, I had a pretty hard time coming to terms with this impious monster. It seemed so unhinged, sinister and creepy that I felt totally fagged out by the time it ended. I did not expect much from the sound since I'd never listened to the band before, but a good look at the album cover drawn by the infamous American serial killer John Gacy made me conjure up a rough idea already. The actual album was far more intimidating. The opening song The Blue leaves an indelible impression with its thick and groovy bass, almost molesting you with its nastiness and then the slow and heavy riffs are deployed to telling effect, meandering for a good while before opening into a vast expanse of faster riffs, angry vocals and tight drumming. It doesn't matter whether you like it or not, you aren't going to forget your first acquaintance with this song and the undeniable impact it has on you.

The other songs follow suit and seem pretty influential in their own right, drawing heavily from the aforementioned formula of slow and fast riffing but each one having its own distinct personality. You can hear the switch between sludge and doom metal styles primarily, convincingly and organically. But it's not confined to that and you also hear mild death metal influences. There are two ballads, much softer in comparison and totally at odds with the flock of mean, angry songs plaguing this album. Scream of the Butterfly especially is a beautiful one on account of its overtly acoustic overtures but packing some truly horrifying lyrics. Some of the slower sections sound sublime and they're interposed with the frenzied, fuming bits from the guitars, drums and raspy vocals; the cleaner vocals on top of the growling ones impart the album a certain chilling demeanour. The bass is thick, nasty and overpowering but appealingly so and the drumming's pretty tight and one of the high points, with a fair bit of double bass and a meeker form of blast beats in a few instances.

I have rambled well-enough about how this is a daunting album, not least because of its atmosphere but also because of the lyrics - profane, violent and straight up creepy. Some of them are pretty knotty and hard to decipher, kind of open to your interpretation while some are simpler in comparison and more obvious about their meaning. An excerpt from Finger Paintings of the Insane says the following:

"Come on and sterilize me
Kneel down and idolize me
Suck me
Fuck me
Resurrect me
Rut me
Cut me and infect me
Slice me
Dice me
I want to die screaming

The thoughts of dead babies
Wiped away with my semen

Bleed me
Feed me and inject me
Feel me
Kill me
Then dissect me"

I personally find this kind of stuff far more unsettling than death metal's stupid gory mania or black metal's constant and hilarious reverence of Satan. It doesn't help that nearly every song on this album has lyrics of a similar nature and makes my brain go hazy.

Now to its Achilles Heel: its length, or rather the number of songs in it. When I first saw it had 14 songs, I was kind of skeptical if it was a bit much and whether all 14 of them would engage consistently and thoroughly. They did not. Provided it was my first time, I gave it many more chances and multiple listens later, I can affirm the second half is boring and in stark contrast to the excellence of the first; tracks 1-7 are original and groundbreaking whereas tracks 8-14 are repetitive and unnecessary, with some being straight up filler. I'd still say Dope Fiend, The Bones of Baby Dolls and Casie Eats Cockroaches are mildly interesting but the rest is best avoided. These songs seem like quick rehashes of the first half's greatest tunes, albeit nowhere near as nicely executed and sounding generic in comparison. The last 30 or so minutes on the album, in my opinion, are unnecessary, underwhelming and unmemorable and that mars the listening experience for me.

If we cut the excess flab, there’s a truly fantastic album hidden somewhere in there. But sadly it can't be ignored there's a good amount of filler material that unnecessarily bloats the album and kind of drags it down. I prefer its sweeter lil' brother Paegan Terrorism Tactics as the better album by the band and whenever I do listen to When the Kite String Pops, I tend to skip the second half most of the times if not all the time. But that's just me. For a pioneering sludge metal sound in the mid-nineties when it wasn't as prevalent, this album takes some beating and indeed is the landmark of the genre. Love it or hate it, you are NOT going to forget your first-ever acquaintance with it, so strong and memorable is its mien, and for that, it deserves full marks.

Rating: 8 out of 10

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Review by Allan on September 8, 2002.

Bands that transcend genre’s in their music is something that is quite popular in the metal scene today, and rightfully so. It’s certainly not a new thing, seeing as Acid Bath, along with others, was doing it in the early 90’s and far before. The difference between today’s bands that like to toss every influence under the sun into their music and Acid Bath is that where former fail, Acid Bath make the connection with manner and grace. “When The Kite String Pop’s” is Acid Bath’s first full-length contribution to music and it’s a very good beginning to their short career.

When we put all the sounds and influences of Acid Bath into one convenient tag, it becomes known as what many people call ‘Louisiana Swamp Metal’. They’re about as thick as the southern end’s humid air and almost as welcoming. Building that atmosphere are their references: early doom metal ala Black Sabbath, Rock & Roll, death metal, and other various outputs.

When Acid Bath finally starts to rev the engine of their fine craft, you will witness one monstrous album of monolithic proportions. The way they achieve this is by a little thing that I like to call ‘variety’. Acid Bath can and will perform those intense rides that hammer against your skull, but they’re all aware that a break from the intensity is being called for. They don’t have any doubts about grabbing an acoustic guitar, taking their distortion down a level, or changing the tempo. Those tempo changes are a necessity for making the songs appealing, and it’s no surprise that the band nails those swift transitions with ease. Not just transitions of tempo though - they do everything well. From sludgy riffs into mood enhancing cleanness, Dax Rigg’s howls to his singing that sounds as calm as a prayer, and from each song into the next. Yet even with all the different motions that Acid Bath go through, they still make way so that with every note you can feel that emotion of each member. Acid Bath have taken all of the important things about music and taken them to new heights, and personalized them in the form of “When the Kite String Pops”.

If you didn’t get the indication that each of the members are important in Acid Bath yet, then know now that they are. Let me explain. Every member’s presence is felt here strongly, but nobody takes more than their fair share. So when Audie Pitre churns out those bass lines at full force in front of everyone else, it’s not because he wants to impress you. It’s because that’s what the song needs. And when Jimmy Kyle beats you with his precision drumming, he isn’t worried if you think he doesn’t use enough of his double bass drum. His ideas are more than fantastic for everybody and everything. Guitarists Sammy Duet and Mike Sanchez work together section after section, not trying to out due each other, but to just do the best that they can. And Dax Riggs, the member who arguably owns the larges share in the bands stock, makes all those loose ends come together at the end. When you put these five into the same room they will always continue to blossom.

Bottom Line: Even though “When the Kite String Pops” is very good it’s not as awesome as the follow up, “Pagan Terrorism Tactics”. This is still a worthy album to be in your collection.

Categorical Rating Breakdown

Musicianship: 8
Atmosphere: 7
Production: 7
Originality: 8
Overall: 7

Rating: 7.4 out of 10

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