My first experience with San Francisco’s legendary psychedelic riff merchants Acid King goes all the way back to the summer of 2000 in Seattle. I was still well-entrenched in my past life up there and had begun re-discovering ‘heavy’ after a half decade listening to garage rock and punk. It just so happened the CMJ Music Festival was being held in Seattle that year, and while most rockers and hipsters about town chose to attend the Sub Pop showcase, myself and a handful of friends made our way to the now, long-gone (destroyed in the Nisqually Earthquake in February of 2001) OK Hotel for the Man’s Ruin Records showcase.
Stoner rock, as a genre, was still in its infancy at the time, and Frank Kozik, through his label Man’s Ruin was a champion of the genre releasing waves of now-classic LPs, and in that hot summer of 2000, he showcased three of his finest. High On Fire, Porn (Men of) and Acid King, as Kozik had recently released their now immortal album Busse Woods. Needless to say, I became an instant fan.
Fast forward twenty-three years later, as a fan for over two decades, I was eagerly anticipating the release of Beyond Vision, Acid King’s first since 2015’s criminally overlooked Middle Of Nowhere, Center Of Everywhere. Led as always by founding member, riff-goddess, and portal-opener Lori S, whose guitar playing and tone, to say nothing of her ethereal, echo-y vocals are among the very best the genre has to offer, Beyond Vision feels to me like the next logical step in the heavy, cosmic evolution of Acid King. For Beyond Vision, Lori S recruited some new musicians for this trip, including Jason Landrian of Black Cobra on guitar, Bryce Shelton from Nik Turner’s Hawkwind on bass and effects, and drummer Jason Willer from Jello Biafra’s Guantanamo School of Medicine, and the end result is some truly mountain-moving, cosmic heft.
Opener, One Light Second Away takes its time, slowly building with some cosmic synth and effects from Shelton, before Lori‘s familiar tone invades the listener’s consciousness. The track is both heavy and somber, throwing the gauntlet down early, as Acid King invokes a mood and energy that really has been all their own for almost three decades. Lori‘s lead work washes over the listener, both warm and heavy as it serves as the appetizer for the fuzzed-out riffage, and melancholic note choices that is Mind’s Eye. This tracks tempo, heft and fuzz can easily have the listener imagining slow-moving lava with its smooth, dense and heavy riffs making it practically molten. As always with Acid King, Lori‘s vocals float, almost ghost-like, above the dense fuzz, and heavy riffs she creates, providing one of the most original sonic dichotomies in the genre.
90 Seconds, which features some almost industrial noises, invokes a mood that is both melancholic and triumphant, Lori‘s wicked guitar tone and vocals once again hitting the perfect balance between heavy and ethereal. The rhythm section here is truly glacial moving as well, as Willer’s drums sound massive, the slower tempo allowing him to really lay into the heaviness. The industrial-ish effects add to a feeling of claustrophobia, with only the vocals cutting through the cosmic heft.
a massive, sprawling, uneasy, heavy, cosmic, psychedelic, and at times claustrophobic, sonic experience that should be absorbed as a single entity…
The track eventually gives way to perhaps my favorite cut on Beyond Vision, the massive, melancholic weight of Electro Magnetic. The guitar tone and note choices floating parallel with the huge bass thud, and industrial synth that pound the listener into a trance, before they erupt into a massive wall of crushing riffs. Electro Magnetic is as massive, in both tones, emotional heft, and heavy riffage as anything I’ve heard in a long time. It’s a massive sonic journey that the listener can truly get lost in.
Destination Psych (indeed) is a tripped-out and warm synth interlude that unfolds into Beyond Vision, the massive, crushing title track, that is so huge, I literally thought my headphones might actually explode. Beyond Vision is HEAVY with the drums from Willer, Shelton’s fuzzed-out bass, Landrian’s guitar, and of course Lori’s mastery of both riff and tone, while her voice floats spirit-like. All four musicians’ tone is impeccable, and with the added cosmic effects, the listener can truly get lost in the massive sonics conjured by Acid King.
Speaking of getting lost, behold the guitar and synth that introduce closer Color Trails. The tone and note choices are perfect in setting up the massive, unearthly, cosmic riffage that soon envelops the listener’s psyche. The drums are so massive and the tone so perfect, I cannot stress that enough, the portals the band opens to achieve these sounds is cosmic, and I don’t think that’s hyperbole. Color Trails is as dense and massive as a black hole, which is appropriate because Acid King literally draws the listener into their gravitational pull, and it’s a fifty-fifty bet if all will get out alive.
Beyond Vision feels like the perfect next step in Acid King’s evolution. All the tracks on Beyond Vision flow fluidly from one to the next, feeling more like separate arrangements, or movements than actual songs. As well, it’s an album that is best listened to as a complete aural experience. No need to skip around looking for the catchy track, Beyond Vision demands the listener’s full attention. It is a massive, sprawling, uneasy, heavy, cosmic, psychedelic, and at times claustrophobic, sonic experience that should be absorbed as a single entity. It’s been eight long years, but Beyond Vision is well worth the wait. It’s also worth noting how cool it is to see one of the genre’s original bands continuing to evolve their sound without giving up one iota of what makes them unique in the first place. An essential release.
Scribed by: Mark Hunt-Bryden