ACID – Acid / Maniac / Engine Beast (Hear No Evil/Cherry Red)
The metal version of famous parlour game ‘name a famous Belgian’ (normally headed up by the fictional detective Hercule Poirot) would be to name a famous Belgian band. And whereas I’m sure the more learned could probably come up with a couple of dozen without too much difficulty, at the top of any such list should be Acid. The five-piece of vocalist Katrien de Lombaert [Kate], guitarists Donald Deevers [Demon] and Dirk Simoens [Dizzy Lizzy], bassist Peter Decock [T-Bone] and drummer Geert Riquier [Anvill] burned brightly for a short spell in the early Eighties and were hugely influential – to the extent of even picking up coverage in ‘Kerrang!’ at a time when it appeared almost impossible to lever the magazine’s writers out of London.
Arising from the more prosaic Previous Page in 1980, Acid were gloriously metal. All spandex, bullet belts and titles like ‘Hooked On Metal’, ‘Five Days’ Hell’ and the straight-to-the-point ‘Satan’, the band were deeply enmeshed in the sound of the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal. OK, Bitch didn’t sound too dissimilar, seemingly a million miles away to the west in Los Angeles, or Warlock, a couple of hundred miles to the east, but Acid seemed to have a certain affinity with the sounds of the NWOBHM. And as with so many acts of the NWOBHM, Acid’s lack of finances meant that Giant Records – their own label – had to ensure that no expense was spent when it came to studio time or cover art. As a result their self-titled debut, released in January 1983, is a splendidly unfocussed affair, but one which retains the enthusiasm and spontaneity of a young band high on adrenaline and dying to impress. Tracks like the aforementioned ‘Hooked On Metal’ and the band’s self-titled anthem (“Acid is the name / heavy metal is the game”) not only crackle with energy but also capture the zeitgeist perfectly; if you want a snapshot of the spirit of early Eighties metal, this album encapsulates it. ‘Acid’ had been preceded by a 7” single featuring original versions of ‘Hell On Wheels’ b/w ‘Hooked On Metal’ (released in March 1982) and this has been added to this CD release, together with a two-track, rough-as-a-badger’s-backside demo from the same year. The extremely informative sleeve notes quote Kate as saying “to be honest, if we had done [the album] a year or so later, it would have turned out much better”; but had they done it a year or so later, they wouldn’t have recorded THAT album and it wouldn’t have sounded THAT way. And that would have been a great shame.
September 1983 saw the band back in the studio and ‘Maniac’ appeared the following month. Probably THE Acid album, ‘Maniac’ saw the band in their collective stride, and does a better job of balancing the exuberance of the musicians with the time constraints of a limited budget and never enough studio time. Opener ‘Max Overload’ sets the scene nicely and while the band’s influences are still there for all to hear (the title track might have spent too long in the company of Blitzkrieg’s ‘Buried Alive’ single; and ‘No Time’ and the slower ‘Prince Of Hell And Fire’ both tear sheets from the Motörhead songbook) ‘Black Car’ is an infectious, heavy duty guitar-led work-out. Three additional songs came from the ‘Maniac’ sessions and were released with ‘Black Car’ as a 12” single in December 1983; these tracks round off this CD, and the frenetic riffery of ‘The Day You Die’ easily holds its own against anything else in the band’s catalogue.
In a similar way to many NWOBHM acts, the problem with Acid was that they weren’t able to break far enough out of their homeland to spread the word. Had they had major label backing willing to splash the cash on a decent tour the suits could easily have recouped their investment, but instead the story of Acid live revolves around some high profile support slots and festivals, and as such they weren’t actually building much of an international following. By the time the band returned to the studio in January 1985 the cracks were beginning to appear, and although ‘Engine Beast’ isn’t that far removed from its predecessors Kate’s comment in the booklet that “something had altered. It wasn’t really Acid anymore…” shows that things were no longer as cohesive as they should have been. It’s certainly a more polished release, which does place constraints on its aggression, but the trademarks are still there, and to assume that – like so many NWOBHM bands – they’d thrown baby and bathwater out of the window to capture that elusive US sound is not at all evidenced here. ‘Lost In Hell’ and the title cut pack a mighty punch, and the album is certainly worth investigating. (Don’t be put off by the cover: whoever thought the photo was an improvement on their previous sleeves was obviously lacking in judgement.) The re-issue is rounded out with a variety of odds ‘n’ ends, including ‘Rats’ and a take of ‘Hooked On Metal’ left in the can from the ‘Engine Beast’ sessions and some very early demos (including a real rarity in ‘Power’, an Acid version of an older Previous Page song).
However, by late 1985 it was pretty much all over: T-Bone was the first to give up his stake in the band, followed by Demon. Although both were replaced, any chemist will tell you that if you take a compound and replace some of the original elements, what you’re left with is a totally different substance. Within a year it was all done and dusted, and Acid were no more. A great shame; as these three re-issues reveal, this was a band of enormous potential who, had there been any justice in the world, should have gone all the way. Not so much a ‘three act tragedy’ – that’s one for Poirot – but a three album celebration. Enjoy.
© John Tucker August 2015