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SST is a minimalist when it comes to presentation. Their records come in nothing more than a cover and plain white inner sleeve, this double lp being no exception. When I got my copy of Hallow's Victim, it was warped. When this arrived at the record store, one of the discs was chipped on the edge. Disheartening, yes, but it augments the crustiness of bands like Saint Vitus and Black Flag.
So what we have here is representative of the first two eras of Saint Vitus and a little heavy on the Born Too Late stuff. Since that's their most well known (and probably best selling) album, it's to be expected in a format such as this. Sides A and B consist of Born Too Late in its entirety with the inclusion of "Thirsty and Miserable". They shuffled the original track listing so that "Clear Windowpane" plays first, which is a little weird as most Vitus fans would probably cite the song "Born Too Late" as the band's anthem. Personally, I've always thought "Clear Windowpane" is a bit goofy and forgettable. Oh well, fuck me and what I think. The reason I bought this was for the album art, which has an almost black metal aesthetic to it. Simplicity is the beauty of this compilation's cover. Once you see it, you won't soon forget it.
Saint Vitus have one of the most bad ass logos ever, period. In this stark black and white design it is even more stunning, and with the clever, bold, and 100% accurate title Heavier Than Thou, well, it honestly can't get any heavier as far as appearances are concerned. This thing belongs in a frame.
As a big fan of Scott Reagers, I wish they would have split things a little more evenly here between the first four records. Perhaps the Reagers stuff is more obscure and the Wino era more accessible, but the first two records are to this day criminally overlooked. Side C features what I would pick as the three best tracks from Mournful Cries and side D has four songs from the first two albums, so you can see how things are a little unbalanced concerning the track selection.
This is a good introduction to these doom metal titans, albeit a bit lopsided. However, all of this band's records are well beyond worth it, so Heavier Than Thou may come off as a tease (as compilations tend to do) or an item fit for a completest. That said, this album kicks ass simply because of the cover art and the title, which is utterly the three word definition of Saint Vitus.
Saint Vitus are gods of doom. They sounded roughly the way Black Sabbath should have after their first few albums. Heavier Than Thou is a compilation album of their best work from the Reagan era. Unlike the aforementioned president, this is a first-rate album.
It features nearly all of Born Too late, and a few songs each from Saint Vitus, Hallow's Victim and Mournful Cries. This is some dark and sad sounding stuff, both in lyrics and instrumentation. “Born Too Late” is about alienation, “Dying Inside” is about alcoholism and “Shooting Gallery” is about intravenous drug abuse. These are just some of the more notable examples of tales of sorrow set to Sabbath-style riffs here. This was definitely not the feel-good album of the year. Unfortunately, it doesn't have Burial at Sea. This is a sad omission, but there are still plenty of great songs.
Two vocalists perform on this album, Wino and Scott Reagers. Wino has the more traditional style, and Reagers sounds a bit like a lounge singer. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. It adds a unique vibe. The rhythm guitar parts are classic doom and are quite enjoyable. The tone is quite nasal, featuring plenty of low-end and midrange without sounding muddy. It's aggressive and sinister sounding, without going overboard. The lead work is competent, but sometimes seems bland when compared to the excellent riffing that serves as the meat in the sonic sandwich. The bass and drum work is good, but isn't as refined and funky as the early Sabbath albums. The bass doesn't usually stray too far from what the guitar is doing. It mainly seems to be there for support, and not a significant part of the song structure. There aren't a lot of drum fills here, but rather a steady pounding to keep the beat. It would've been nice if Vitus added a little more focus to these aspects, but the guitar work is so good I suppose it's not so bad that the bass and drums add reinforcement, as opposed to accompaniment.
This album documents the bridge between the beginnings of doom and the more modern doom of today. It's an important piece of doom history, and a pleasure to listen to.
Doom and stoner metal have the closest link to the hard rock origins of heavy metal, both in their respective sound and lyrics. By all respects, when Sabbath first pioneered the genre of heavy metal they were basically nothing more than a rock band that played either just a little too slow or wrote songs that were far too dark for your average hipster of the day to tolerate. Particularly in regard to their first two albums, Sabbath really established both the dark and the psychedelic aspects of these two styles through a combination of simple musical ideas, a really dense and dark atmosphere bolstered by an emphasis on low end heavy guitar sounds, an active and present bass and a powerful sounding drum set. Combine with it the looseness and jam-like qualities of late 60s and early 70s hard rock, and you have the birth of doom metal, and thus with it the concept of heavy metal.
I bring all of this up because in terms of adhering to these original principles, the closest you will get is Saint Vitus, a Los Angeles based doom outfit that rose out of the late 70s with a much slower and somber answer to the faster and angst ridden NWOBHM and it’s early thrash metal offspring. While definitely much closer to the original ideas put forth by Sabbath than bands like Judas Priest and Diamond Head, they definitely did some tweaking to the original sound to make it their own. This mostly comes in the form of exaggerating the dark and muddy quality of the guitar even more so and utilizing feedback and noise as a way of further coloring the atmosphere. What results is something that the average thrash metal fan might mistake for hard rock, but let me assure you that no rock n’ roller type of a 60s or 70s persuasion would likely touch this with a 10 foot pole considering how depressing its feel is and how much noise is a factor in the sound.
This collection of songs is the culmination of all their 80s efforts, which mostly spent under the mainstream radar, and are the absolute essentials for anyone who might like Sabbath and wonder if anyone out there did anything to expand upon the original ideas on their debut album. From the down paced swinging pile of mud “H.A.A.G.”, to the really slow and creepy sounding sludge pit “Dying Inside”, this sonic casserole of low end pentatonic and chromatic based riffs and depressed mid-ranged singing will instantly make you relive the somewhat less atmospherically dense but at the time really haunting works Ozzy and company put out between 1970 and 1972. Even when things go faster on songs like “Look Behind You” and “White Stallions”, the only image that you can conjure up is the process of your own life speeding up and death doubling his pace to catch up with you.
There is obviously a little bit of differentiation between the various albums represented on here, particularly in that the noise factor becomes less present in their later stuff. It could be concluded that people that aren’t drawn to the muddier sort of stoner metal that has been popular in some quarters today might want to look more into the material on “Born Too Late” and “Mournful Cries” rather than the first two albums, although the first two albums are much closer in terms of style to the original Sabbath sound. If you’re already a fan of Electric Wizard or Sleep, you’ll be better off skipping this album and going straight for “”Hallow’s Victim”, which is an obvious ancestor of both of these bands in varying respects along with Trouble’s early material. But if you’re new to the doom genre and you want to take a look at this band, this is a good place to start as it may not be your cup of tea. From my own personal experience, this sort of music takes time to grow on you and is thus an acquired taste, and this is a cost efficient way to develop that taste.