The year is 1994. I am 15 years old and telling my parents that I’m staying over my friend’s house that night. She tells her parents she’s staying at mine. Instead, we’re going out.
Dressed in our flowery babydoll dresses and cherry DM’s (which I should add is precisely what I’m wearing now, 26 years later—I love it when I’m fashionable again), we’re going to one of the most notorious pubs in Swansea—The Coach House—to see some bands play.
The Coach House was a phenomenon of its own. The street-level pub was mostly full of rough middle-aged men that girls my age definitely did not want to make eye contact with. Thankfully, where the bands played was straight down the stairs as you entered, so I barely had to go into the pub at all. Downstairs, in this stony basement was my own little piece of heaven. You could get smashed on cider for a fiver back in those days, and you could score an LSD blotter for about two quid — £ 3 for a taxi home; a great night out for a tenner. Ah, I do miss the ’90s. I also don’t at all.
Packed like sardines into this dungeon-like room, were maybe a hundred kids from 15 years and up. Girls always look older, so we got away with it. Skaters, metallers, punks, grunge kids, goths; we all congregated down there in noise and harmony. Swansea produced some really great bands back then (and now). Most notably the sludge metal band, Taint, and the band I’m going to wax lyrical about today: Acrimony.
Swansea’s greatest boy band, Acrimony, formed in 1990, led by Dorian Walters (vocals), Stu O’Hara (guitar), Matthew Lee “Roy” Davies (guitar), Paul “Mead” Bidmead (bass) and Darren Ivey (drums). They released their first album, Hymns to the Stone in ’94. They were a few years older than many of the other bands and with that, they garnered massive respect from the audience. It wasn’t just their elder status though; these guys were seriously good. While every Coach House gig was a mass group of mates having a laugh, when Acrimony played (always at the top of the bill—at least when I saw them), everyone took notice. Chatting stopped, the fuzz got louder, and the music was absorbed through every pore. Even as an uncouth youth, this felt like a spiritual experience.
Acrimony were doing something very different for the time. Grunge and post-punk, and pop-punk were the rage, with most bands trying to sound like Nirvana, Rancid or NOFX, but not Acrimony. They were as stoner as stoner gets. I think it’s fair to say that Hymns to the Stone was one of the first of its kind on Earth. While there were certainly other British bands playing doom-laden Black Sabbath-esque riffs, Acrimony had a different sound. It had a groove; it was psychedelic space rock, and when you heard it live, it would totally take over your senses. Everyone in that dungeon basement would move in a synchronised wave, captured in the moment in heavy, hazy bliss.
Some might say that Acrimony’s sound was more American than British, and I would agree to a point. Yes, there are hints of Kyuss, and Blue Cheer and MC5 heavily influenced the band, but the sound was still their own. It was the sound of Wales—of ancient Celtic fantasy. Riffs and lyrics created under the influence of homegrown weed and shrooms that would take you back to another time and place. There’s something magical about our lush green hills and rugged beaches, and that is a fact.
With song titles like “Leaves of Mellow Grace” and “Herb”, there’s no dancing around the fact that these boys enjoyed a smoke, but it’s called Stoner rock for a reason you know. There are some truly excellent tracks on this album, “Cosmic A.W.O.L. and “Spaced Cat #6” being my personal favourites.
Over the next couple of years, the band would gain a very loyal following and released The Acid Elephant E.P. and a split with Iron Rainbow. Then in ’97, they released Tumuli Shroomaroom, one of, if not the greatest Stoner album of all time. Am I biased? Yes. Am I right? Also yes. Few Stoner fans would deny it. This album has everything you could ask for; sludgy classic rock grooves, voracious acid-rock trips, epic space-rock excursions, and pounding metallic aggression during this nine-song journey of staggering creative depth.
I can’t even tell you which track is my favourite because as I listen through I pick each one, remembering just how brilliant every second is. Maybe it’s the transcendent “Turn the Page” with its delicate, pleating acoustic guitars. Or is it one of the planet-bursting behemoths, “Hymns to the Stone,” “Heavy Feather,” or “Firedance”? But then what about the anthemic “Million Year Summer”?—A pinnacle of the album which encapsulates the entire Stoner genre of soaring fantasy and enlightening power into four minutes of pure brilliance.
But the album’s main event—for me anyway—is the thunderous, hilariously titled, “Motherslug (The Mother of all Slugs)” which is aptly named as it is huge. I listened to this in the gym the other day (yes, I am a gym knob these days), and I nearly had a heart attack trying to keep up with Darren Ivey’s incredible drumming. It is sublime. It is one of the few tracks I’ve listened to at the gym which actually drowns out that ridiculous rave horn they press every now and then—I think just to make sure none of us have died, and it’s not just the momentum of the treadmill keeping us moving. I digress. “Motherslug” is a tempestuous, tribal ritual of cosmic worship, culminating in glorious shock waves. You can really hear Mead’s trance influence here more than ever. And, oh my god, this remastering is divine. No song better epitomises the mind-expanding, dimension-bending and now decade-spanning importance of Tumuli Shroomaroom.
I could go on and on, but at this point, you may be wondering what the hell happened to Acrimony then?
Well, while the band did not get the mainstream success they deserved (the world just wasn’t ready back then), they did receive much critical acclaim. They called it a day in 2001, but still have a cult following within the metal scene, and their albums reportedly sell for vast sums as collector’s items. In 2007, a compilation album, Bong On – Live Long! was released.
Since they split, the lads began new creative endeavours, with Dorian, Stu and Lee forming Black Eye Riot and Mead and Darren forming The 9ine. Lee later joined Lifer, which made him unavailable to join up with the other members of Acrimony again. Instead, Darren, Dorian, Mead and Stu formed Sigiriya in 2009, who are still going strong but without Darren and Dorian.
Then in November 2019, Acrimony’s two full-length albums, Hymns to the Stone and Tumuli Shroomaroom, plus a third disc of off-album tracks, including an unheard cover of Doom’s “Exploitation” were remastered and re-released as a three-disc compilation, The Chronicles of Wode—Wode being a planet in another universe that regularly features throughout the lyrics of Acrimony’s songs, in the bands’ made-up mythology. It was Wode from which the Celts brought back the stone and the riff, (so the mushrooms say). The new album artwork was designed by the very talented and wonderful Jimbob Isaac of the sludge/stoner bands Taint and Hark.
So what more can I say? I think you should listen to this if you like your metal with a groove and an odyssey. Chronicles of Wode is available here on 3CD, or you might want to treat yourself to the remastered versions of Hymns to the Stone and Tumuli Shroomaroom on vibrant black and orange vinyl, soon to be released on Burning World Records. Recognition rightly continues to grow, for the gone-too-soon visionaries Acrimony—the grand shamans of British stoner rock.