Album Spotlight: Scorpion Child-Acid Roulette
Acid Roulette (2016) by Scorpion Child
Full disclosure: I’ve been a fan of Scorpion Child since the release of their self-titled debut album in 2013. That album gave some hope to those of us who dig heavy, yet melodic hard rock that pays homage to the heavy rock icons of the 70’s and 80’s. As a fan and journalist, I was looking forward to the Austin, TX band’s anticipated sophomore release, titled Acid Roulette on Nuclear Blast Records. I expected more of the same, perhaps with some additional maturity in their songwriting and playing following nearly three years as a national touring act.
What I didn’t expect was to be blown away by the growth both musically and lyrically of the band. Bottom line: with three new members on-board, this is an even better band than the previous incarnation. These guys sound like they’ve been playing together for years.
Scorpion Child has juxtaposed the supposed sophomore jinx, and kicked that cliché’s ass to the curb. This band is paving the way for a resurgence of great songs written with great riffs, within the context of a hard-rocking band. There’s a virtual flood of hard rock/heavy metal bands out there; but not many possess the skill of insightful song-craft in addition to the screams and angst. Many claim it; few actually deliver it.
The album’s lyrical concept is admittedly very ambitious. The material moves through the seasons of a year, with each track representing a specific month. It’s a mental documentary of sorts chronicling an imprisoned man’s psychic journey and descent into madness and despair after losing everything. I recently interviewed lead singer and chief lyricist Aryn Jonathan Black, and he had this to say about the origins of the album’s concept: “It came up in a dream. I had several different dreams that picked up where they left off the next night, or a few nights later. I was able to get through this story about a man who was a travelling writer, and comes home to find out his wife’s leaving him and taking the two kids. This rich and powerful man in their village, in their town, or wherever they’re from was able to more or less get framed for a murder that coincided with his absence, so that he could be with his wife and take the children and at least then they would have money to support the kids. His love was kind of disregarded by his wife.”
The music on Acid Roulette is heavy, yet hooky, will brash guitars, bombastic drums, and infectious melodies. Scorpion Child mixes the heaviness of Black Sabbath; the keyboard-heavy groove of Deep Purple; the funkiness of the Red Hot Chili Peppers; with Jane’s Addiction’s psychedelic-flavored flair. The end-result is mélange of hard rock and (at times) metal that satisfies both the physical and emotional palette of the listener.
01 “She Sings I Kill” – Big drums, big guitars, and big vocals open the album. This leadoff single has a Jane’s Addiction feel (think “Coming ‘Round the Mountain”), with gut-wrenching singing. You believe AJB as he begins to share this dark story of love, loss, isolation, and despair.
02 “Reaper’s Danse” – A raucous, driving rocker with hyper-active dual guitars. New drummer Jon “the Charm” Rice really stands out on this track with aggressive, yet tasty backbeats and double bass drums that keep this thing thumping. This is a bruising track that doesn’t let up, kicking you in the face from start to finish. A superb piece of rock and roll.
03 “My Woman in Black” – A punchy, and even somewhat funky rocker with sharp-edged vocals and guitars that sonically cut right through the milieu to make this track undeniable. Aryn Jonathan Black told me that that this track is basically about a man who lost his wife and two sons to another man. He was convicted of murder and is going through periods of reflection, trying to figure out what happened. “It basically talks about how no other woman has ever measured up to his wife.” And that angst and regret comes through like bullet on this track.
04 “Acid Roulette” – The title track is a mid-tempo and moody piece complete with psychedelic guitars and cutting vocals. This track goes up-tempo mid-song, complete with the “B3ish” organ layers reminiscent of your favorite 70’s classic rockers. While gradually speeding up into a frenzy of organized rock chaos, this track culminates with a return to the hard rock groove as it began. This is the kind of tune you’ll want to listen to again and again.
05 “Winter Side of Deranged” – The proper use of well-placed melody amidst the barrage of in-your-face hard rock music underneath is what separates Scorpion Child from many of their contemporaries. For many hard rock/metal consumers who’ve been slowly drowning in a growing sea of growlers and grunters relying primarily on rhythm, sans any memorable melody, this band is a breath of fresh air. This track is loaded with melodies that stick out on first listen. Counter-melodic bass lines pushed into the forefront of the mix during the bridge is a welcome diversion and distinction in a world full of heavy bands that rarely break from the scream-riff-scream-repeat formula that’s become as tired as it is passé.
06 “Séance” – This entire track is a talking segment against an old record sound simulating a creepy, chanting séance situation.
07 “Twilight Coven” – Think of a modern-psychedelic, yet pissed off Deep Purple chanting “don’t let anyone else see that god’s made a fool out of you” and you’ll get the vibe of this track.
08 “Survives” – A slowed-down piano intro, into a rocking break, and back into a piano breakdown concept makes this track feel reminiscent to Savatage’s classic 1991 Streets: A Rock Opera concept album. This one is power-balladish with lots of layered harmony vocals and guitars that we’ve come to expect from Scorpion Child, showing yet another side to the band that we’ve not seen on previous tracks.
09 “Blind Man’s Shine” – This track delivers a slow, pulsating Sabbathesque intro riff and structure that could be taken directly from a page of Master of Reality. New keyboardist AJ Vincent’s heavy organ riffs are prominent against a modern/retro mix of audio ear candy. This is another track that requires multiple listens to take in all that’s layered into the sonic landscape.
10 “Moon Tension” – A frenzied rocker contrasting the big, melodic chorus against the tasty hyperactive drum rhythms.
11 “Tower Grove” – This one once again channels Scorpion Child’s inner 70’s super group, yet somehow still sounding current. Complete with a driving bass line holding it all down, this up-tempo number sounds like it could have been released circa 1976-1977 and out on tour with Rainbow and Uriah Heap in support.
12 “I Might Be Your Man” – Perhaps my favorite track on the record due to the gratuitous use of groove, along with the illusion of alternating time signatures and tempos cleverly snuck in for good measure. If the rhythm section was any deeper in the pocket, they might never get out. The psychedelic middle-section breakdown features tasty guitar licks, and thick keyboard pads, around a pounding of funky-flavored bass and drums… This track will be a great expanded musical improv in a live setting.
13 “Addictions” – Whereas many of the other tracks on this album consistently feature a heavy 70’s-vibe, this one breaks the mold sounding more 70’s pop with an uppy sing-along chorus which seems to run counter to the track’s title. The album wraps with us left standing on a beach listening to crashing ocean waves; pondering just how much this album kicked our ass musically, melodically, and lyrically.
Acid Roulette is busting at the seams with retro-riffs, psychedelic licks, and lyrical allusions to love, loss, addiction, and despair. But don’t let the depth of the lyrical content fool you, this album rocks. This isn’t easy listening, nor an album to relax to. This is positive in that this collection of cuts keeps you on your toes and challenges you from the opening note, to the last scream. Listening to this record, you feel compelled stay engaged and pay attention, lest you realize what you might have just missed because there’s that much cool stuff going on musically and lyrically as you follow the story’s protagonist into his descent and desperation.
Acid Roulette is the Slave to the Grind of 2016 because it deliberately ventures into much heavier territory than its predecessor, and takes the performance of the new material to a higher-level. High praise I know… but these guys can deliver… BUY Acid Roulette, and dig into it; you’ll thank me later.
This piece was originally published in AntiHero Magazine, June 2016.
Check out my interview with Scorpion Child frontman Aryn Jonathan Black HERE!