When the Kite String Pops by Acid Bath
How do you reconcile some of the most vile and violent lyrics in existence if you still love the music?
I set out to write about this album a few more than a week ago. As it turned out life got in the way and we had to say goodbye to our old black lab, whom I named after a brutal song by the band Acid Bath. Jezebel was with us more than 13 years. Between Jezebel and her departed sister Molly, we had been dog owners for 15 years. It’s just a coincidence that our old girl passed just after I started writing this post about Acid Bath, but it made it kind of difficult to get up the courage to open the draft and finish it.
Anyway, as you do in this day and age, I did tell the world that we lost our girl on social media. This was the bit that I wrote last.
Lastly, because my brain is broken and I spent far too many years listening to Opie and Anthony with Lil Jimmy Norton. All I could think of today was a brutal self-roast joke of myself.
Can I get all the dog owners out there to raise their hands?
Whoa there Craig. Not so fast.
A little hackneyed I know.
I believe the year was 1996 when I saw Acid Bath for the first time. I know for a fact it was at Peabody’s Down Under in the east bank of The Flats in downtown Cleveland. I know Acid Bath was opening for Rotten Records Label-Mates D.R.I., which stood for Dirty Rotten Imbeciles. I found a concert flyer for a different show from that tour, but this is all just the online detective work to help set the stage for my 16 or 17-year-old self having his life changed by a band that’s very difficult to talk about in this day and age. I’m talking about a brutal metal band from the bayous of Louisiana called Acid Bath. I’m talking about a band that represented a level of obsession in my life that drove me to create an unofficial website homepage for the band as the web was really starting to take hold in American culture.
I’m still proud of myself for writing a webpage in a text editor using a book from MicroCenter. Without that, there would be none of this either. The unofficial Acid Bath homepage hasn’t existed for quite some time, but your friendly, neighborhood webmaster has continued to make content since that day. In many ways, it was my start writing on the web, which came in handy much later and to this day. Plus, I can always say I was once a webmaster.
Acid Bath is problematic, at best. Their music is like a horror movie coming to life. Violent fantasy and some of the vilest imagery you can think of were used to extreme effect to create haunting, brooding melodic, metal. I have many favorite songs by this band, but “The Blue,” which opens their album When the Kite String Pops, is definitely my first favorite. However, now that I’m in my 40s and I have children, it’s hard to square music that has outbursts like “eat my dead cock” and “eat my cold shit” as punctuating lyrics. Sure, there are some more lyrical passages, even if they hint at violence and murder, like “I have fallen deep in love with the sky, fragments of a sunbeam glaring on a kitchen knife.” But no matter how poetic Dax Riggs could be with his lyrics in some breaths, he also wrote the words to a song like “Cassie Eats Cockroaches.”
Cassie likes it in her hand, Cassie's dead inside
I came to fuck the open wound, so hold it open wide
Cassie loves to swallow, this bleeding will not stop
I left Cassie hollow, cut you with my cock
That’s just really hard to square, but it’s not like it’s shocking to me anymore after knowing it and listening to it for over 25 years. I’m sure much of the appeal to me when I was a teenager was just how ugly and shocking it was for them to scream these things into a microphone. As I’ve told you many times, I’ve never been a lyrics guy anyway, and the lyrics aren’t what drew me to Acid Bath.
But let’s talk about it for a minute, and maybe death metal as a whole. I can’t defend any of this any more than I can defend the body count of a brutal horror movie. That’s really how I’ve come to think about music like this as I’ve gotten older. Bands with names like Cannibal Corpse and Dying Fetus are unbelievably talented in the way that some special effects person might be able to capture blood spatter in a death scene for film. The key is that nobody has to like it or think it’s real or literal to enjoy it. In fact, you kind of only find ways to enjoy it if you don’t really believe it. Even as I have trouble explaining its defense, when I hear it and bounce my head to it (violently) I know what effect this music has on me and I love it. Just like I love the spine-tingling creepiness of impending doom created in a horror movie.
Acid Bath is a metal band and they can sometimes play fast, but they make their impact when they play slow, sludgy, groove-oriented rhythms. Guitarists Sammy Pierre Duet, Mike Sanchez, and bass player Audie Pitre were following an impossibly slow syncopation from drummer Jimmy Kyle, that’s when Acid Bath was at their very best. Despite the exploding screaming vocals from Dax Riggs and accented by Sammy, Acid Bath was like a slow southern rock band who learned to play metal. They took their time on the record, but when you saw them play live, it’s like they let every single note breathe an extra beat longer than on the record.
Just watch them perform Dr. Seuss is Dead from Boston in 1996. So heavy. So slow to contrast with the speedier parts.
The images of this band playing live will forever be etched in my brain. Sammy and Dax shirtless as Dax would put his hand in the pocket of his jeans so that as he convulsed some of his lyrics in a white noise screech that fit the sludgy sound perfectly.
This band’s highlights list is a long one from Kite String. “The Blue” opens the album and it goes straight into “Tranquilized” that completely changes the pace. It’s upbeat almost like a pop song with normal screaming for the first minute. It hits a verse and heads into another verse all sung like any old heavy rock song. The guitar drone is huge in the background before it explodes into more riffy goodness. But at two minutes, Acid Bath goes full Acid Bath. The tempo drops by more than half. Dax gets more deliberate and sings,
I’m numb yeah, and unfeeling
So I just burn and stare at the ceiling
I’m here but so far away
I can see your mouth moving but can’t hear what you say…
And then the punctuation that they’ve been building for the entire time comes in. Dax screams at the top of his lungs.
And I don’t think I give a fuck anyway.
To me, that was always the art. The contrasts in speed and volume. The band kind of jams their way out of the song in a droning stoner rock refrain.
It goes into a speed metal song called “Cheap Vodka.” That goes into “Finger Paintings of the Insane” which is another six-minute epic like “The Blue” with different movements stitched together. It blends a lot of the screaming and some of the more melodic parts. That heads into the aforementioned “Jezebel” which caused me to think of that name for our black lab.
Now things get really interesting. Acid Bath wrote their own sinister types of ballads. The first on Kite String is a tune called “Scream of the Butterfly.” I’m posting a live version of the song below because you have to imagine a death metal audience not only allowing a band to slow it down, but loving this song as much as the kind that they could slam and mosh to prior. It’s the second-most popular song on the album based on Spotify streams. It shows that Dag Riggs was more than just a screamer. He really could sing beautifully, which was something many in the genre never even tried, let alone pulled off to audience approval. There’s one other ballad on the album toward the end of the album called “The Bones of Baby Dolls” and it’s more experimental with more instrumental and heavily effected vocals.
After “Scream of the Butterfly,” Acid Bath give you the one-two punch and probably my other two big favorites from this album with “Dr. Seuss is Dead” and “Dope Fiend.” These are the types of songs that have everything I love about Acid Bath. The guitars are huge and menacing and slow. Nowhere in the Acid Bath catalog is there more contrast in tempos from verse to chorus than with “Dr. Seuss.” And the live version was honestly the slowest, most deliberate the band could ever be only to explode into the chorus. They look like they’re going in slow motion.
”Dope Fiend” is kind of the opposite. The verse is really fast and the chorus slows it down before they finally hit the big time groove at the end where Dax sings,
Yeah motherfucker I’m high
And I’m thankful just to be alive
Over and over again.
These songs just crushed it live. I could go on and on and finish the tracklisting, but I won’t. I could talk about “Toubabo Koomi,” “God Machine,” and “Cassie Eats Cockroaches,” but honestly I don’t want to paste any more of the vile lyrics.
I still love this album. I still love this band. It’s absolutely a part of my history and I always wondered as I got older if I’d still be able to listen to something so aimed at my youth. Turns out I can. I’ve placed it into a certain category. I don’t really search out any new death metal, but perhaps there will always be a place in my world for this stuff that I listened to as a teenager.
Friendships were cemented by listening to this band. We got to see Acid Bath and meet them at a couple of shows back in those days. It might have been intimated by the band that the group of friends I ran with smoked too much pot. But whatever it was, there was always mutual respect to the point that Cleveland got a shoutout in the liner notes of their follow-up album. I can tell you without a doubt that is because of my friends and me showing them the love when they came to town.
The band didn’t have a happy ending. Their bass player Audie Pitre was killed in an auto accident by a drunk driver and that essentially ended the band. There were always rumors about reunion shows, but it never happened. Sammy was rumored to have said that the band could never reunite without Audie and if they did some shows it would be a tribute band more than anything else. Lead singer Dax Riggs went on to have a successful run as a singer in bands and as a solo artist and doesn’t seem to have any desire to scream into a microphone ever again. He released records as Deadboy and the Elephantmen, as well as under his own name. Guitarist Sammy Pierre Duet has stayed true to his metal roots, playing in Crowbar for a while and then founding the band Goatwhore among others.
My supremely talented friends did put their Acid Bath love to work a few years ago and did a tribute show where they performed Kite String pretty much note for note to a capacity crowd in Cleveland. They’re going to do it again this year for Acid Bath’s second and final record Pagaen Terrorism Tactics.
Watching my friends play Kite String a few years ago and getting to scream along to those songs was one of the musical highlights of my life. It was so special and fun knowing all the people on stage and getting to hear those songs live one more time when I never thought I would get the chance.
Forget the lyrics and what they mean. Like anything, this is bigger than that. This is about people and relationships and what the music does, more than what the music is.
Here are my friends crushing it back in 2019. You can’t see me, but I was just out of view in the lower right-hand corner screaming along.
I couldn’t have put it better myself. This album has been a huge part of my life ever since I first heard it. I was also at that Rotten Records show At Peabody’s Down. What a night. I also saw them at Peabody’s Cafe in Cleveland Heights, of all the strange places to host a southern death metal band. Luckily I had two friends that were as obsessed with them as I was to drive me there. I have a mix cd I made back in 2002. I named it “It’s OK.” I used to trade CD-R mixes back then, and no one understood the murderous sub tones of the phrase that Derrick imparted on those words. I’m sure you do.