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This is not an album. It's a time machine. Try listening to this and Born Too Late in juxtaposition (Hallow's Victim first) and you'll see what I mean. Although the music of Saint Vitus is invariably an anachronism whether it was written in 2012 or 1984, this is an otherworldly and down right bizarre piece of wax.
I'm gonna start with the drums. First of all, this is some of the most creative and expressive work of the late Armando Acosta, but you'll need to crank it up in order to feel it. The drum sounds here suffer a bit from the murky, distant production, so play the doom loud. Or is it doom? Acosta demonstrates a showcase of styles from d-beat to straight ahead heavy metal to balls-out thrash and everywhere betwixt. The bulk of the tempos here are fast and there's a fair amount of double bass to augment the ass kicking.
Now for the riffs. Mystic Fucking Lady. This is the doom that I want to hear. On their tour for Lillie F-65, Vitus treated us to not only "War Is Our Destiny," but "White Stallions" as well, which were bad ass and total curve-balls, but left me moist and wanting for "Mystic Lady." I would suppose that they chose those two fast songs to keep the energy up and the audience engaged while pleasing the old-schoolers, but past reviewers have said it and I agree: Hallow's Victim is worth it for it's Sabbathian centerpiece, "Mystic Lady."
The fast stuff is strange and kinda makes me want to take a second look at that genre that I have always thought of as the anti-metal: punk. The title track here employs the same beat that is present in every single Slayer song, and I will admit that there probably could not have been Slayer without punk. I was initially taken aback by all this energy from Acosta and crew, but it's a part of what makes this record so unique. Crazy Dave's solos are a fuckin riot. I challenge any guitarist to replicate his lead work. Impossible. That is unless you are the son of Tony Iommi AND Jimi Hendrix.
Let's talk about Scott Reagers. This dude fucking rules! Definitely higher than Wino and I'm not talking about pitch or timbre. Reagers soaring voice adds a grandiosity that is simply not present in Wino Vitus. There really is no comparison between the two; both bad motherfuckers in their own right. I had a chance to talk with Mark Adams at length after the show in Lawrence, Kansas back in October '12, and asked him what Reagers is up to these days, to which he retorted, "makin' babies."
Reagers' lyrics are fantastic and intelligent and quite underrated, as is this version of the band. I'm not gonna say it's two different bands because the guitar work of Dave Chandler is an absolute constant. Be it riffs or psychedelia there is simply no mistaking this guy. That brings us to an interesting point of discussion in "Prayer For The (M)asses. The opening riff is clearly derivitive, so much so that one almost wonders if Chandler was unaware or just didn't care. Probably the latter, but once you get to the heavy fucking blues of the chorus the point is moot. Some of the best riffage of the album can be found on this closing track, so it's easy to overlook the similarity between that lead riff and the first eight notes of some 1975 tune by some band from England.
As for the Christian thing going on here, it's a bit whimsical to me. "White Stallions" is an ode to smack while "Prayer For The (M)asses" approaches some preachy territory about those who "scorn the good book." I'd like to think that any religion has some basic "good" to it, so if a dude wants to shoot up and read the bible, that's fine by me.
In summation, buy this record. If you don't have a turntable then let this record be your reason to get one of those too.
Crossover is a term that has come to typify the intermingling of the underground hard core scene with thrash metal, as typified by bands such as D.R.I., Suicidal Tendencies, Cro Mags, and Corrosion Of Conformity. But what is less associated with this concept is the idea of two seemingly less compatible styles meshing together, namely punk with the dreary thickness of Sabbath inspired doom metal, as is the case with Saint Vitus. While this tendency was very much present in their self-titled debut, “Hallow’s Victim” exaggerates the extremes of both styles well beyond any notion of subtlety.
Perhaps the best way to illustrate just how the sound here comes together is to remark on the utter shift in tempo and feel between the debut and here. If “Saint Vitus” were a musical representation of a decomposing zombie wailing at its fate, this would be an army of pissed off ghouls starting a mosh pit and literally slamming and tearing each other to pieces. The slowest song on here “Mystic Lady” rests in the upper-mid tempo echelon of Sabbath’s material circa 1973 (and gets a bit faster as it goes), while overt cookers like “War’s Out Destiny” and “Hallow’s Victim” come close to surpassing the chaotic nature of Black Flag’s most extreme songs. At times, one could attribute a Thrash-like nature to this, albeit without the crunchy, high end palm muted speed riffs and a feel that is as loose as an early 70s jam band.
Surprisingly enough, in spite of the often frenzied nature of this album, it proves to be among the more strictly structured of Vitus’ offerings. The character of the guitar sound is still bass heavy and muddy, but the riffs that set the tone for each song are somewhat more elaborate, yet follow very idiomatic patterns. The lead breaks are a bit shorter and somewhat less noise driven; actually tending to resemble Iommi more than Hendrix, where the opposite is usually true on other offerings. Reagers’ vocals are a bit more aggressive and exaggerated, but still noticeably punk influenced. The rhythm section is a bit more driving, but still littered with drum fills and even a few more bass runs than usual, as proven out by upbeat musically yet lyrically cynical anthems like “The Sadist” and “White Stallions”. In essence, one could say that these songs are depressingly fun, or somberly enjoyable, if that makes any sense.
To this date, this album has never been released in CD form, though naturally some very rare original vinyl pressings are likely collecting dust in someone’s collection of early 80s metal antiques. But whether this be too a lack of interest on the band’s part in propagating this somewhat uncharacteristic part of their history, or that of the fans who were likely perplexed at the idea of a fast doom metal album, this is worth seeking out, if nowhere else then in mp3 form. It is a sizable departure from the precedent set on their debut, and doesn’t bear a massive amount of resemblance to what they’ve done since, but it still carries a sound that is noticeably theirs, and is a fun listen if you want to hear what “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” with the guitar tone of “Master of Reality” and an overdose of amphetamines.
Originally submitted to (www.metal-observer.com) on February 25, 2010.
The second album by those bastards in Saint Vitus is not actually available. Not widely, anyway. Bastards. They are condemning their fans. There are bootlegged CDs on the shelves of a couple hundred dingy bedrooms around the world, but outside of that and whatever remaining wax versions there are, you're fucked. You will have to commit that most heinous of crimes, that odious manifestation of all that is impatient and ungrateful about society, and download it from the wretched hive of scum and villainy known as the internet. People have hanged for less. Should you risk your eternal soul for the music here?
Hallow's Victim sits between the debut and Born Too Late as an incongruously energetic and balls-out bit of Black Sabbath via Black Flag. Black Flabbath. 'War is Our Destiny' is a more streamlined, anthemic opener than the raw dirtiness of 'Saint Vitus.' The riffs are catchy and thunderous and the chorus is big and powerful. Interesting backpedaling there. Chandler's guitar tone is a bit...bouncier. 'White Stallions' certainly has a nice racing groove to it.
Unlike the debut which started at full throttle and gradually lost steam towards the epic doom climax, Hallow's Victim lurches back and forth in its pacing. There are also a couple more fast songs than before; not a bad thing, the Saint write NWOBHM-doom hybrids to put Witchfinder General to shame. 'Mystic Lady' is where they finally get round to the main course though, and it's a bloody standout in their discography. A slow and big-assed rolling riff, groaning into a sublime fast climax with one of Chandler's most respectable solos. One of the best things they recorded, with or without Reagers, a classic of '80s doom.
'Just Friends (Empty Love)' is suspiciously like 'Children of the Grave' in terms of riffy there, and as it is Hallow's Victim's mid-paced selection and the penultimate cut on the record it is partly responsible for something of a sizzling out. The thrashing title track seems a little underdeveloped, even if it is quite fun, and the album itself just seems unfinished in places. However, Reagers puts in a mightily diverse set of performances for his last full album with Saint Vitus for a decade, and Chandler's mastery of riffs and wah-assisted solos is enough make up for the dips in quality and to clinch the deal.
It can't match up to the original, not quite, but it's well worth paying the ultimate price to download it. Worth it for 'Mystic Lady' alone. At least when you get to hell, there is a good chance Satan will be learning the guitar solo from 'White Stallions' while watching Blackadder II. If you're going there, it probably helps to have a common interest with hell's human resources manager.
Keep it simple, keep it good. Saint Vitus certainly put faith in this principle when they recorded Hallow’s Victim, but Scott Reagers’ and David Chandler’s melodic excellence turns everything to gold. Both vocalist who were in Saint Vitus in the 80s are incredible, but I prefer Reagers to Wino by a long shot. He has a multifarious and expressive voice, unlike Wino he mostly can be found in higher registers and sometimes there’s a strong NWOBHM-vibe going on, certainly comparable with Witchfinder General. You’ll be surprised how gripping the vocal lines are. Soon you’ll find yourself conspirationally grumbling the first couple of words from ‘Mystic Lady’ even when the music’s not running:
Black smoke rising, yes, let the doom commence. The main/verse riff of the song literally oozes with hopelessness, everytime the guitar goes up the scale a bit, a crushing downfall follows instantly. Three minutes in, it suddenly speeds up and there’s a fuzzy solo before Saint Vitus show again why they’ll be remembered as one of best doom bands. Without the solo part there’re two riffs in more than seven minutes, but when the song’s over, you don’t want to hear anything but those two riffs and you’ll press the replay button. ‘Mystic Lady’ is the only song which most people would instantly label as doom metal, because the other ones may have a couple of slower parts, but the average pace varies between mid-tempo and fast, like the unexpectedly short title track.
It’s hard not to notice the strong Black Sabbath influence, especially on ‘Prayer For the (M)asses’. When I get to hear a riff which sounds extremely familiar to me, I usually can’t put my finger on what’s the original song, but in this case it was absolutely obvious: ‘Symptom of the Universe’. The sensation is intensified by the fact that in the beginning it’s exactly the same drum pattern (minus the cymbal work).
It’s astonishing how Saint Vitus can write such incredibly catchy songs and still be evidently minimalist, just like Motörhead, actually. The rather extensive and versatile soloing ranges from gloomy melodic leads to frenzied shredding with an extra dose of distortion and wah-wah. The bass fortunately can be clearly heard all the way through and sometimes just doubling the guitar does the job pretty well and proves to be the most effective way of contributing to the sound. The drumming is solid, never gets boring and perfectly fits the riffs.
There’s almost no filler-material, it’s just that ‘Just Friends (Empty Love)’ isn’t remarkable at all. It’s a decent song, but if it wasn’t for Scott Reagers’ amazing voice, it’d seem that it’s the only song they wrote in a sober state of mind, it’s that unmemorable. Out of the other songs, only the aforementioned ‘Mystic Lady’ sticks out, but that’s solely due to it being the only crushingly slow doom metal tune. Well, it’s my favourite Saint Vitus song, but that’s because it was the first one I heard by them. Shamefully, Hallow’s Victim hasn’t been re-released on CD yet, but if you can find the LP, by all means go for it! You’ll be holding a metal classic in your hands.
Upon initial listening of "Hallow's Victim", one might be forgiven for asking in a puzzled manner, "so, you say this is doom metal?" In many respects "Hallow's Victim" resembles the Vitus debut: nearly identical production values, a similar grainy and warm guitar tone, the same incomparable vocals of the mighty and woefully underrated Scott Reagers, and a similar propensity for interspersing their gloom with energetic up-tempo numbers that would sadly never work as well with Wino in the band. Where the debut, under concious direction of the band or not, felt like a whole work, transcending from the celebratory and magical title song into the bowels of degradation and despair at its conclusion, this album sees Vitus pulling back a bit and concentrating on writing individual songs that pack a huge amount of punch. Thus, the faster songs are more evenly spread throughout the album (well, a bit, anyway), but oddly the album feels shorter than the debut even though the lengths are nearly identical because it does not appear to embrace a concept or tell a story using the narrative of sound. The band could easily have thrown another few songs on here and made the album even better (hey, how about that "Walking Dead" EP for a re-issue?), but I won't complain, because despite being a somewhat odd album in Vitus's discography due to its comparrative affinity for nimble-footed speed, it contains what is probably my favourite work from the band!
"War Is Our Destiny" is a flawless opener; and probably the catchiest song Saint Vitus ever put together. It begins with a bit of a deception: a rapid gallop where the verse riff that dominates most of the song is played at a rather frenetic speed, before suddenly the chain is pulled and things lurch and settle into a steady rock tempo. This does sound very much like early 80s British metal, and the song is so energetic and concise that its minimalism never really registers. The second song is a bit of a surprise and is probably my favourite piece on this album. I like it all the more for its atypical nature ... atypical of a miserable doom metal band fueled by alcohol and magic angst, anyway. This song is fast, all the way through, and it sounds like the band is on fire! There are some metal songs that I just can't sit still for no matter what my surroundings might be, songs that get the feet pumping in that irresistible double bass action (it's worse if you're a drummer!) and have you screaming along with the lyrics or ululating in whatever passes for a singing voice emerging from your throat. For me, this is one of those songs. Dave Chandler seems to be riding his wah-wah pedal and the riff and drums gallop appropriately with whirlwind speed .. yes, the riff itself isn't a fast one, but the song's velocity seems somehow incredible and the energy on display from all four members will knock discerning listeners off their feet. The other real surprise here is the title track, which is if anything even a little faster than "White Stallions" and could almost be a punky sort of thrash metal. Unfortunately it motors by so quickly that it doesn't leave as much of an impression as it possibly should, but as usual the vocal delivery is notably commanding and strong. He may not have even the range that Wino does but by sheer charisma and zeal Reagers stands as one of the paragons of metal singers.
For the remainder of the album's duration, the band "settles down" to playing doomy metal, and there are certainly a couple of stand-outs in this regard as well. "Mystic Lady" features a very simple main riff, but one that you're not likely to forget for a long time. It also is graced with a monstrous Dave Chandler solo that winds on and on through corridors of noisy psychedelic bliss. "Prayer for the masses" rumbles along in menacing Sabbathian style (in fact, I'm pretty sure I've heard this riff before, but certainly not with this diabolical tone, so never mind) and includes some rather startling christian lyrics in the tried and true "evil man, better watch out because implacable Jehova is going to get you in the end" style. I don't recall Vitus being this preachy before or since ... maybe they realised there was a certain hypocrisy in delivering zealous warnings to others, no matter how impassioned and glum they could be, whilst simultaneously poisoning "god's own temple" with their own reportedly heavy use of alcohol and other drugs. Who knows, and this is doom metal, so it doesn't really matter does it? Neither is it terribly important that one song here, "Just Friends/Empty Love", isn't really as strong as the rest of the album.
This is certainly mandatory listening for almost anybody. I guess we shouldn't hold our breaths for an official re-release, let alone with that EP tacked on as bonus material, so go ahead and download the album as I did. Saint Vitus parted ways with Scott Reagers after this point for a gap of ten years, and the subsequent era was a lot more trudging and morose for the most part.