Twenty-nine years after ‘Obnoxious’ appeared in the shops UK thrash pioneers Acid Reign are preparing to unleash a new album ‘The Age Of Entitlement’, which vocalist Howard ‘H’ Smith refers to as “a contemporary thrash album with an old-school twist, or an old-school thrash album with a contemporary twist,” on the unsuspecting public later this year. With a four disc retrospective scheduled for release in October as well it’s reigning metal once more.
Kerrang! once described Acid Reign as a “thrash act with a sense of humour – a rare commodity – but ultimately was their own downfall when trying to broaden their fan-base.” ‘Obnoxious’ – awarded a 4K rating in the same article – followed in the footsteps of the ‘Moshkinstein’ mini album and ‘The Fear’ and featured hard-hitting riff monsters with thought-provoking lyrics encased in less-than-serious sleeves with the famous UK Apple Core spoof logo. Unfortunately the metal media of the day seemed more concerned with the humour than the messages within the songs, and just eighteen months after its release, on 28 October 1991, the band called it a day after one final jamboree at London’s Marquee, probably one of the few gigs where people were crowd-surfing before even entering the auditorium.
“That final gig at the Marquee,” begins Howard, “we sold t-shirts and sweatshirts for £1.00 and £2.00 each. We were headlining and we sold it out with Fred Aylward, otherwise known as Les from the Vic Reeves show, supporting us and performing one of the most surreal sets I’ve ever seen. Almost as surreal as seeing people stage-diving in the foyer. The people who got to the front of the merch stand bought a t-shirt and/or a sweatshirt – they were only allowed to buy two items each – and the only way of then getting out was to climb onto the counter and dive onto everybody to get to the back! And that was that. We played the gig, where I did my one and only balcony dive to date (which was fun) and I shut the door on Acid Reign and never looked back. As far as I was concerned, that was the end of it and I moved on. Aside from being harassed by people occasionally to get the band back together for solely selfish reasons – their selfish reasons,” he laughs – “I never really wanted to do anything again with the band. Then, it was, I think, 2013 when Kev [Papworth – guitar] turned round and asked if I fancied doing some gigs in a couple of years’ time as ‘Obnoxious’ would by then be twenty-five years old, which took me totally by surprise.
“And that was the beginning and the end of Kev’s involvement in the whole re-emergence of Acid Reign,” Howard continues. “The next thing he had to do with the whole process was being stood sidestage when we played the Underworld in Camden with Xentrix in October 2015. I guess we knew he was never going to be around all the time, so Paul [Chanter], who’s in the band now, was kind of a reserve guitarist as a replacement for Kev. But then Kev never surfaced and the rest of the members one by one all dropped out. So then it was me, Paul and Mac [bassist Ian MacDonald], and then it was me, Paul, Mac and Marc [Jackson] – although Paul and Marc never met Mac – and then Mac realised he couldn’t do it so it was just me, Paul and Marc. Then finally it was me, Paul, Marc, Cooky [Dean Cook] and Pete [Dee], and on we go!”
I presumed that apart from the upcoming twenty-fifth anniversary of ‘Obnoxious’, something in Howard must have been subconsciously pushing him back to the band, but he’s quick to dispossess me of that idea. “No, not at all. It had nothing to do with me. It was all Kev’s idea. All I did was pick it up and run with it. But what I did find, and I’ll be honest, at the end of the run when, well, Ramsey decided to leave first, then Adam left, and Kev was all over the place, for one last throw of the dice I suggested a one-off gig and various members said no and I was thinking ‘this is really weird because none of this was my idea but I really want to do it now!’
“So I said to Paul, ‘we’ll definitely work together’ and was thinking of putting some kind of thrash project together, using all the various people I know in the industry, and then I went to bed one night and thought ‘why not call the new project Acid Reign?’ So I rang Paul, said ‘got an idea: why not call the thrash project Acid Reign?’ And he just laughed, so we kind of knocked ideas about and the rest is history: Acid Reign is back!”
Any musician will tell you that finding like-minded people to complete a line-up can be far from easy, but re-invigorating Acid Reign wasn’t as difficult as it might have been. “Well, Paul was already there, I’ve known Paul for years. Paul actually played in the four-piece version of Acid Reign; on the Joke’s On Us tour he actually played ‘Motherly Love’ with us at the Marquee and he’d been badgering our management like crazy to join the band, so he finally got the job twenty-five years later! So he was around already. Then Jeff Williams from Onslaught suggested I get in touch with Marc, and then Marc came down and the three of us jammed and we had a drummer. Cooky posted a video to the Acid Reign Facebook page… The weird thing is that one of the reasons Kev wanted to get the band back together again was that he lives in Bridgend now and he said there’s loads of Acid Reign fans and they keep going on at him about the band and he said ‘one of them keeps going on that it’ll be twenty-five years in 2015 since ‘Obnoxious’ came out and that hit home with me,’ which was what started the whole thing rolling again. It turns out that one of these people that had been badgering Kev to get Acid Reign back together was Cooky. Anyway, he posted a video of himself playing ‘Goddess’ on our Facebook page at just the right time, when a previous audition had failed, and it was, like, ‘hey, alright, let’s have a chat with this guy,’ which was really weird because it turned out he’s one of Kev’s best friends. And then Pete was suggested to me by Si From Annihilated. I asked if he knew any bass players and he said ‘Pete Dee is awesome’. I thought he was a guitarist but Si said that he was bass player first and foremost. And so that’s how we all got together.”
The first release for the new-look Acid Reign was ‘Plan Of The Damned’, a digital single release in July 2015. “Well, to be honest ‘Plan Of The Damned’ was already written and done before the band got together. Basically, ‘Plan Of The Damned’ is myself and Paul – we wrote that in Paul’s front room in 2014, so it’s coming up five years old. I told him about the lyrics, imagining this really heavy crunchy riff, and I went round to his house – which is quite a way because I’m in London and he’s in Exeter! – and he said ‘I think I might have a riff for that song you were talking about,’ and he played me it and I thought ‘yep! That’s it! Right, off we go!’ And I remember when we were writing it we were writing the slow part and then he just left a chord hanging and we looked at each other and we both pretty much said at the same time ‘right, now it’s got to go fast as fuck!’ and funnily enough that’s indeed what it does! But yes, that was the first thing that the new line-up put out. I pulled off the marketing coup of calling it a reboot, by the way, the idea being to take the emphasis off ‘reformation’ which it isn’t. You can’t be calling something a reformation if it isn’t a reformation, so I said ‘why not call it a reboot?’ And I wanted to have a song to come out so that people could hear the new line-up and know that everybody was on point, as it were. Basically, I was trying to pre-empt a load of internet trolls which we never ended up getting, so it must have worked! I was quite pleased, actually!”
A second digital single followed in March 2017. “Ah yes,” says Howard, “the spookily-titled ‘The Man Who Became Himself’. I say that because I was watching a film called ‘Lobster’ and there’s a scene in it where everybody arrives at this hotel and the main character, played by Colin Farrell, is given a task that he’s got to write a poem which has got to be in some way about him. So he writes it and the woman comes in the following morning and says ‘we read your poem and we think it’s quite funny and we think we should call it ‘The Man Who Became Himself’,’ and I just thought ‘that’s an awesome title, I’m having that!’ so I made a note on my phone. We were going on tour in 2017 and I thought it would be really cool if I got some of that dialogue from the movie to use for the intro tape. So I went back to ‘Lobster’, watched the whole thing and the scene which I wanted to nick the dialogue from wasn’t there. So I figured it would be in the extras. So I found the extras on YouTube – nothing there. So I told Paul, and Paul explained that you can Google lines of dialogue, there’s a specific way you can do it, and said ‘leave it with me.’ He came back to me the following day and just said ‘the only reference anywhere on the internet for the title ‘The Man Who Became Himself’ is our single.’ So, anyone reading this, I’m not a man who believes in spiritual bullshit or any of that, but there’s obviously something at work here. I’ve probably remembered the wrong movie, but if anybody can figure out where that line comes from please, please, please, fucking tell me because it’s annoying the living shit out of me. I can promise anyone who can give me the answer my undying thanks!”
In the second part of this feature next month Howard talks about album covers and cover versions.
‘The Age Of Entitlement’ is set for release through Dissonance on 27 September.