Uncle Acid and Ghost B.C. Try to Stay Mysterious in the Information Age

Sometimes the best publicity is no publicity at all. When the British band Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats released its second album, Blood Lust, in 2011, the group was shrouded in mystery—no interviews, no photos, no concerts, no names, even. Each limited-edition vinyl pressing sold out in minutes; original copies of Blood Lust showed up on eBay for hundreds of dollars. It helped, of course, that Blood Lust was a great album—druggy, psychedelic hard rock with occult references, spooky atmosphere, and more awesome riffs than an hour of classic-rock radio. But the lack of information about the band led to inevitable speculation among those who stumbled across Blood Lust: Who were these weirdos? A side project from some other, better-known band? A genuine Satanic serial-killer cult? Or cagey media pros managing an impressive anti-publicity campaign? Is that a man or a woman singing?

Whatever the band’s plan was, it worked, even if the plan was no plan at all. Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats soon signed a deal with the venerable British label Rise Above and got U.S. distribution for Blood Lust through Metal Blade. Those of us who couldn’t, or wouldn’t, pay eBay prices for semi-official CD-Rs could finally replace our pirated downloads with legit mp3s.

But the finely spun web of secrecy that had surrounded the band started to come apart in the months leading up to the release, on May 14, of Mind Control, also on Rise Above and Metal Blade. That’s what happens when you sign with a label—accessibility is the price you pay for getting your music out there.

Here’s what we’ve learned so far in this publicity cycle: the four-piece band hails from Cambridge, a suitable headquarters for its distinctly British, Hammer horror-inspired sound; the members all look just like you would expect, with shoulder-length hair, mustaches, and vintage knee-length coats; and Uncle Acid’s name is really Kevin, and he’s the guy singing. So not much more than we knew two years ago, really.

Not much has changed with the music, either. The production on Mind Control is slightly cleaner—which is to say, slightly less scuzzy—than on Blood Lust, and the songs are just a little bit longer. But even if the biggest questions about the band have been answered, the new disc is still haunting and enigmatic; the heavy bottom-end and guitar fuzz is matched by the same high-range, multi-tracked vocals and big pop harmonies that made such an impression on Blood Lust. The new disc makes a few subtle advances on its predecessor—the raga-style drone on “Follow the Leader” highlights Mind Control’s sun-baked, widescreen vibe. (Where Blood Lust was, according to at least one recent interview, based on a fictional 17th-century witch-hunter, Mind Control is inspired by Jim Jones, Charles Manson, and American exploitation movies from the 1970s.) The hooks might not be as readily apparent—there’s nothing equivalent to “13 Candles” or “Ritual Knife” here—but a few listens suggests the band’s songwriting and pop instincts have just gotten more sophisticated.

The Swedish band Ghost B.C. has followed a similarly mysterious—if perhaps also more cynical—path leading up to its new album, Infestissumam (Loma Vista/Republic Records), also released in April. (Formerly known simply as Ghost, the band has been forced to add “B.C.” to its name in the United States for legal reasons.) Ghost B.C. is led by a singer in papal robes and a skull mask who goes by the name Papa Emeritus, and the other five band members are simply referred to as Nameless Ghouls. The band’s 2010 debut, Opus Eponymous, was a joyously blasphemous jolt of candy-coated classic rock, as if all of Tipper Gore’s worst fears about Blue Öyster Cult’s “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” were actually true.

There was nothing truly scary about Opus Eponymous, but the rigor mortis-faced delivery of its Satanic liturgies and choral harmonies made you wonder just what the band was up to; that you could never really settle on an answer is a big part of what made the disc so satisfying. On Infestissumam, the weirdness is taken to such ridiculous extremes that it stops being weird. The sound, thanks to producer Nick Raskulinecz, is much improved, but the songs are so overstuffed with circus organ, medieval chants, proggy keyboard freak-outs, and saccharine melodies that there’s no mystery left. (A partnership with Dave Grohl on an ABBA cover before the album’s release didn’t help the band maintain its enigmatic, puzzling nature.) Maybe a few months from now Infestissumam will sound like the grandly evil subversive pop the band seems to have intended. For now, though, it’s just kind of silly.

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