Scorpion Child

Acid Roulette (Nuclear Blast)

Texas Platters

Released three years ago, Scorpion Child's eponymous debut mastered Seventies-fried hard rock. Acid Roulette, the homegrown quintet's long-awaited follow-up, adds colorful production and more ambitious songwriting. Studio wizard Chris "Frenchie" Smith, owner of the Bubble and a prolific Austin producer since just after Sixteen Deluxe's initial breakup, also oversaw the group's debut and here stacks a thick, almost claustrophobic sound, like a classic rock act given an alt-Nineties studio makeover. Whatever air pockets guitarist Christopher Jay Cowart and bassist Alec Padron haven't stuffed, organist AJ Vincent fills with the kind of buzz associated with Deep Purple's Jon Lord, and Dave Schiffman's mix gives it a sheen that's almost sensual. As saturated as the arrangements are, they still stay clear of vocalist Aryn Jonathan Black, his ascending howl – somewhere between Robert Plant and Ronnie James Dio – stands as the centerpiece of the band's attack. Acid Roulette applies its sonic slam to songs with a wider reach than those on the first album, venturing beyond the borders of Zeppelin land into realms ruled by Rainbow and Blue Öyster Cult. Digging confidently into metallic ground, the band blasts out headbanging boogie ("Reaper's Danse"), psychedelic aggression ("Moon Tension"), and horns-throwing anthemry ("My Woman in Black," "Winter Side of Deranged") without breaking a sweat. Beatles-esque power ballad "Survives" and the kaleidoscopic title epic expand the range even further, indicating an interest outside of power chords. Black's lyrics tell a vaguely structured story involving wrongful imprisonment, hallucinatory visions, and spiritual surcease, but meaning is less important than delivery. The way his voice climbs his mates' wall of crunge provides all the pleasure the songs need bear. Acid Roulette remains beholden to all things heavy in the Me Decade, but Scorpion Child seems determined to bend the past to its will, rather than be ruled by it.

***.5

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