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Doom metal pioneers Saint Vitus released their self-titled debut in 1984, and this album is considered one of the very first true doom metal releases. Many people associate bands such as Electric Wizard and Sleep as the ones meant to carry the doom torch, which Black Sabbath founded way back in the days, but both of those bands have to thank the likes of Saint Vitus, Pentagram and Candlemass for carrying doom metal into the 90s, where today's stoner/doom originates.
Saint Vitus and the other 80s doom acts didn't play a super trippy and stoned type of doom that Electric Wizard and Sleep play. Candlemass played an almost epic, power metal influenced type of doom that reeks of sophistication, when compared to the more traditional heavy metal influenced style that Pentagram adopted, and of course, the very punk influenced origins of Saint Vitus.
The 'Saint Vitus' record is an album that can be considered a crossover. A mix between Black Sabbath's dark doom riffs and Black Flag's pacey and wild hardcore punk rock. The opening track, also called "Saint Vitus", is definitely more punk than doom, but as the album progresses, the band lets the doom element become stronger and stronger. "White Magic / Black Magic" is perhaps the 50/50 track. A relatively short song with a mid-paced tempo. From there on, the album gets darker and darker with a chilling atmosphere that throws the Black Flag influence to the back and let's the eerie doom elements take over.
"The Psychopath" is a downright creepy tune about a psycho on the loose. The simple melodic riff weaved by Dave Chandler is infectious and makes this track the longest and perhaps the most memorable out of the bunch. Album closer "Burial at Sea" contains an equally menacing and very doomy riff that is cut short about halfway through the song, when the band decides to up the tempo to an intense groovefest before returning to the creeping main riff.
The production is very raw and bleak, and is comparable to Eyehategod's debut album 'In The Name of Suffering', as far as the dark, chilling atmosphere goes. Though not a particularly fantastic production, the instruments and the vocals are all audible. One would think that Dave Chandler's guitar style; a combination of aggressive punk and slow doom, as well as some wicked, psychedelic soloing, would be the stand-out factor, but it's vocalist Scott Reagers who steals the show with his haunting wails. Bobby Liebling of Pentagram is a strange man with a very distinctive vocal style, but Reagers is equally mad, as far as vocals go, and they suit the music damn well.
Like with most other Vitus albums, 'Saint Vitus' is just over the half-hour mark, which leaves you craving for more; and despite the raw production and the dirty guitar-tone, the album is surprisingly accessible. There is no bad track to be found nor even tiny bad moments, and to this day, 'Saint Vitus' sounds as fresh and unusual as it undoubtedly did in the mid 80s, when thrash metal was king.
Saint Vitus’ eponymous debut cannot be seen as anything other than a massive landmark in the development of doom metal. Indeed, this work was unparalleled for its time, taking the bleakest elements of early Sabbath and essentially elevating them to an entirely new plateau of heaviness. Although it differs very little stylistically from their later records, “Saint Vitus” is marked by a slightly more epic, or grand atmosphere at times – something which can perhaps be attributed mainly to the presence of vocalist Scott Reagers. His wild operatic wails, combined with some longer than usual songs (by Vitus’ standards), do seem to lend a grander tone to the music, which is not as prevalent on the more familiar records with Scott “Wino” Weinrich.
Quality and consistency are defining features of Vitus’ debut, which comprises 5 tracks clocking in at 35 minutes. Listeners should not be discouraged by a cursory glance at the track list, upon seeing how the songs gradually increase in length; the album flows remarkably well, and never feels like it’s dragging on for the sake of filling minutes. The title track is one of my favourites by Vitus, an aggressive opener that amply demonstrates Vitus’ creativity; who else in 1984 was channeling the spirit of Sabbath through such punky speed and emotion? This is certainly the fastest paced song here – one of the fastest in the band’s entire discography, actually – and probably the one that reflects a punk influence the most. Yet, the basic feeling one gets listening to “Saint Vitus” is that the riffs and melodies are mostly Sabbath-derived, albeit turned up quite a few notches. One only needs to take the main verse riff from “White Magic/Black Magic”, and compare it with the one from “Tomorrow’s Dream” from “Vol. 4”, and the process of evolution is readily apparent. Still, it’d be quite a stretch to suggest that everything here had already been dabbled in by Sabbath, as even the Sabbathiest moments are still imbued with a fresh intensity and evil vibe.
Guitarist Dave Chandler is, of course, central to this fact. This guy’s guitar tone is absolutely frickin epic, with its muddy, buzzed-out roar that can be best described as your Fender on acid. To say it’s unique is simply not enough – it’s MEAN, really, mean, and has always endured as a defining feature of Vitus’ sound. Indeed, Dave stands as one of the most important figures in all of doom, an excellent player and songwriter second to none in the doom realm, other than mighty Iommi himself. Vocalist Scott Reagers also shines on this record, performing in an operatic style that contrasts with Wino’s more oldschool, hard rock-oriented voice. Strangely enough, the first time I heard this record, I was almost immediately put off by Reagers’ vocals; not only was I accustomed to Wino’s style from later records, but I just simply thought he sounded goofy, wailing dissonant notes in an amateurish fashion. I can’t quite pinpoint how it happened, but I remember picking up “Saint Vitus” for another listen one gloomy day, and then it hit me: Reagers IS awesome. Not just his voice itself – but the way it complements the music. Maybe I just needed time to grow accustomed to his voice, but hearing him sing, “Listen for the sirens…screaming loud and bright!” at the beginning of “The Psychopath”, is an example of a dark, epic atmosphere being so perfectly conjured up on this record, which I had never really felt on any of the Wino recordings. Don’t get me wrong, I worship Wino, but a song like this just wouldn’t be able to achieve that same quality of grandeur with his vocals over it.
Furthermore, it could be argued that a few of the compositions here are a little more ambitious than most on subsequent recordings. Like “The Psychopath”, “Burial at Sea” is a longer track, almost nine minutes long, and features a similarly dark atmosphere. This is another all-time Vitus favourite of mine, a hulking, perfected slab of doom that is but one of many that secures these guys a comfortable spot amongst the gods of the genre. The section where it picks up speed near the end is brilliant, like a sudden rush of violent rain on a ship that’s steadily beginning to crack, under a pitch-black sky, lost at sea. Everyone goes nuts – Dave with a frenzied solo over Armando Acosta’s thundering drums, while Reagers calls out in despair over Mark Adams’ barrage of bass. The imagery of distress and hopelessness this song paints in my mind is unbelievable, proof enough to me that these are masterful musicians. They all put on a tight, commendable performance – technique here rules over technicality, but that should not imply that there’s none of the latter: check out Dave’s unbelievable solo in “The Psychopath”, or Armando’s precise skin bashing on the title track.
Saint Vitus are undisputed pioneers of doom metal, who took the most dreadful elements of Sabbath and accomplished the uneasy task of making them even more bleak, more miserable – and more heavy. Some feel inclined to see this as one of the good cases of band worship, although I avoid that line of thinking. As Sabbathy as the sound may be here, who really heard anything as heavy, as clearly doom as “Zombie Hunger”, or “Burial at Sea” before this album was released? Moreover, the limited perception of Vitus as the preeminent Sabbath clones is at odds with the outright quality of their music, and “Saint Vitus” is far from being “Vol. 4” rewritten, being a highly creative and influential work in its own right. It is an essential part of the band’s discography and the history of doom metal, showcasing the transformation of Sabbath’s early doom into an evil, unprecedented strain.
Those who are only familiar with doom metal via it’s deepest roots in Black Sabbath wouldn’t come to connect any of it with punk rock, particularly the early hard core variety as put forth by bands like Black Flag, but a careful review of Saint Vitus’ self-titled debut lends itself pretty heavily to that character of sound. Naturally, as was the case with Sabbath, there is a huge contrast against the crunchy and trebly character of most punk bands here, as it exudes a bass ridden, low end depth that might have been compared to a sludge pit circa 1984, and the tempo drags pretty well behind the standard skinhead rocker. But the repetitive and simplistic riffs, the loose arrangement, and Reagers’ plainer and punkish vocal delivery (in stark contrast to Weinrich’s speaker busting baritone) definitely lend itself to Rollins’ former band heavily.
From start to finish, this album progresses musically from being mildly cynical to downright pessimistic and vindictive. Littered within the varying sections of slow rocking goodness and Sabbath inspired trill riffs lay a consistent theme discontent, varying from personal feelings of misery to socially aware protests at how dark life often is. Sometimes things phase in and out of being droning and hypnotically catchy as is the case in “The Psychopath”, which largely sounds like an exaggerated offspring of several songs from “Master Of Reality”, and at others things hearken back to Sabbath’s debut in “White Magic/Black Magic”, which isn’t quite as creepy as said band’s self-titled occult shocker, nor as methodical as “N.I.B.”, but embodies many of the best characteristics of both.
This consistency proves to hold throughout the entire listen, manifesting in some fairly unique beasts of melancholy burden. “Saint Vitus” takes some heavy influences from Black Flag in its delivery, but is still recognizably influenced by the band implied in the song name with its dreary guitar tone and mid-paced rocking goodness. “Zombie Hunger” throws out a riff that is halfway between the outwardly rocking sounds of “Vol. 4” and the trilling dissonance of Sabbath’s debut that always seems to pop up somewhere in Chandler’s riffs on this album, all the while fitting together with Reagers’ somewhat mundane vocal range. But “Burial At Sea” is where things really get interesting, as a smattering of psychedelic guitar effects, muddy bass drones, and one hell of a chaotic speed section at midpoint just slay the listener like a bullet through the head of the living dead.
Though perhaps a bit green by the standards of this band, this album is an essential historic pickup for anyone who wants to understand where bands like Sleep and Electric Wizard came from. Their sound wouldn’t fully mature until they took on Wino as their front man, but the foundation of what makes them a standard is on full display here. It’s much more lead guitar happy than its punk influences would suggest, as Chandler has been very fond of meshing Iommi’s traveling pentatonic shredding with the noise driven insanity that Hendrix pioneered during his live performances, but it isn’t really hard to see how these guys were mixed in with the same scene as Black Flag.
Originally submitted to (www.metal-observer.com) on February 23, 2010.
Initially I couldn't find the right energy or channel to praise this album with, basically to describe, or more importantly to enamor on the same level the stubborn reader who's never heard it, because I felt it would have come out too straight forward and individual passages start to become skippable. The literal might come out as dribble, so you can instead take everything I'm about to say as the 'opposite' of my true meaning. Saint Vitus is clean, inorganic, not likeable and if someone would happen to describe them as "earthy," they would have the personality of a rock. This album sucks. This recording blows. I can't believe anyone would listen to it PERIOD! No, the antithesis of an exclamation point, the Spaniard one, eh whatever...When I think of this album I want to put ear plugs in and abstain from rubbing one out all over its surface. Dozing is on my mind and staying awake is almost impossible. I can't even feel a single sensation.
Wah pedals are for military-crew-cut-sporting chaps and LSD is for near-sighted feminists. I like my life, does Saint Vitus? Doomed, why even bother with the C of vitamins? Gulp, gulp, gulp, becoming over nutritionalized by this water-soluble wonder popper used as a trippy enhancer. On the other skeletal hand, they play it un-safe and are completely withdrawn from Black Sabbath worship. 'Electric Funeral' huh?, 'Hand of Doom' what?, 'St. Ascorbic Acid's Dance' never heard of it! So barren from The Sab, fast tempos were aflame with burning speed and blazing ambition. The band was the quickest of quickest-ist for its time, trying to beat out all the snooty Lombardos and telling the technical technicolor Lars he was the best thing for the band, no really he was. Seriously. Big time.
Clean singing and holding extended notes with melancholy is for chumps and head-bands are only for the head-wounded and nationalistic Japs. Punch the guy in the back who decided to put the outrageously non-heavy voodoo drums in 'White Magic/Black Magic'; he could be shot for such idiocy. Stand out cleaner bass on 'The Psychopath' is clearly for guys who car pool in Ford Pintos and are ultimately short changed on putting a Har Dav chop in between leather secured legs, with arms raised high by unreasonable handle bars. An irrational bunch, to think it would add extra enhancement and rhythm, and then "psychedelic" innuendos than "psychopathic" tendencies, Hitchcock is turning in his grave. In Manson's cell he snuggled closer to his teddy bear and kissed its similarly X-ed forehead. Someone who's clearly missing a few screws and writes short and to the point songs; total trend jumpers. I hate them, I really do.
Disdain to those un-awesome reverb sound effects that slowly infect and move like dark-colored lava lamps into the music and just plain have the atmosphere of walking hand-and-hand with Mickey at everybody's favorite: Disneyland; instead of zombies, double negatives in 'Buried at Sea,' and looming ambiguous crosses, if they could get any more un-cool they would have embraced crumbling graveyards and curiously pricked themselves on the Reaper's scythe. Darwin would be upset by the breeding that went into the guy who overdid the wah pedal effects, attaching them to every solo, and then some; might as well have the token keyboard/organist. The album would be truly stimulating without pedal effects, such a shame. And I can't believe that palm muted, weight crushing guitar tone where distortion crapped its pants and pissed down it legs into swirled pools of muddle and reeking miasma. Maybe I can, I just truly don't know anymore. 'Tis I know Scott Reagers is meager and the next word I can rhyme is beaver. But his medium tone, his girly voice, ("Skull and Crossboooones!" oh noooooo!) is no where near carrying these songs, he should have been a scream queen with the emotion. Freddy would have loved him back in '84.
Sounding like your music should have come out about a decade or more prior is just retarded. And letting go of the golden period of metal is a piece of cherry topped cake. Who missed it? Did I mention that hand drawn lyrics should have stopped at DIY punk. Yeah, well, I'm mean no, I'm mean yeah, this album is the pits of the pits and anyone who doesn't listen to overt '70's inspired '80's metal should listen to '80's inspired '70's metal or do the right thing and cherish and highly support organic and natural music such as pop, glam, or even un-, nu-, nun-, and other metal derivatives as such. No really, love 'em.
In ’84 it was an odd alliance indeed for a mostly punk/HC label like SST to sign a crew of hippie doom metal stoners. But music makes really weird bedfellows, and so it was. See Saint Vitus were (alongside The Obsessed and Pentagram) one of the U.S.’s first post Sabbath doom metal bands to scurry out of the marijuana haze and record.
And in the course of only five cuts, Saint Vitus made a louder sonic doom boom than any other band to that point. Hell, now that I think of it, I dunno if the term “doom metal” had even been invented yet! But I, as almost always, digress. Vitus’ sound at this stage was full of sonically appealing aspects. Whether it be Dave Chandler’s fuzz and wah drenched handling of his Gibson SG, or Scott Reagers’ odd, but fueled vocal style, or the massive THUD of a rhythm section that Armando Acosta and Mark Adams create. For one half of their debut the band keep matters fairly up-tempo, and both “Saint Vitus” and “Black Magic / White Magic” storm along with decent heads of steam and some truly massive riff-age as well. But for their second movement, Vitus begin their long and slow slouch towards sonic oblivion. Both “Burial at Sea” and “The Psycho Path” hover around ten minutes each, and lay on the DOOM like nobody’s business, especially the former. But in spite of their girth, both are memorably constructed, and reveal the tight versus loose style that Vitus would continue to excel at.
Much like Pentagram’s debut, the sound is pretty mud-caked and worn, but that only adds to the album’s live feel, kinda like if the band set up in your family's TV room and started jammin’. (If only!) More good work would follow, so be sure to tune into channel Vitus for more fun as their discography unfolds!
I love this band. Their music is so simplistic and sludgy, almost cumbersome, yet so completely appealing on multiple levels. Dave Chandler's guitar sounds as if it's being played through a broken amplifier which fell off the back of a pickup truck one too many times, and the bass is just a plodding distorted rumble. This can be said of every Vitus album. They never changed much, and they always could be rlied upon to create the most utterly minimalist and creepy Sabbath inspired doom. You won't find any of the psychedelic antics and mammoth riffs of Trouble here. What this actually sounds like, oddly enough, is a Hellhammer who threw away all their Venom records and decided to worship at the altar of Sabbath exclusively, but maintain that weird off kilter Hellhammer sound. I realize it's an odd comparrison to make, since both this EP and "Apocalyptic Raids" came out during the same year, but damn, listen to "Third of the Storms" and this release's opening track, aptly named "Saint Vitus", and tell me that the guitar tone and the riffs themselves aren't eerily similar. Saint Vitus do possess a modicum of musical skill, though, and Dave Chandler is very fond of his wah wah pedal, which he uses to great effect during just about every song to create some noisy and offensive guitar solos. Actually, when I first heard this band, I couldn't stan them because of these same solos of squawky excess, but at this point I have to slap myself for giving away the "Heavier Than Thou" compilation, since the leads actually fucking rule.
There are five songs on offer here, and strangely, each one is slightly slower than the last. We start off with the aforementioned eponimous song, and it's obviously a highlight, even though it's the fastest song here, as it's completely catchy and headbang worthy. And the vocals! Man, I like Wino well enough, but Scott Reagers is just amazing. He has a really melodramatic voice that reminds me, in a way, of creepy Italian horror films, or maybe of a less histrionic King Diamond without all the falseto. It's strong and powerful, and at totally unexpected times (usually in the middle of a phrase) he'll suddenly switch from a chilly melodic wail to a demonic rasp/snarl. Interestingly, the band decided to print the lines Reagers screams in large, capital letters on the lyric sheet. I'm not sure if this is intended to help us wail along with Scott, but whatever the reasoning behind it, it's pretty neat and somehow gratifying to know that the band has paid this much attention to detail. Anyway, "White Magic/Black Magic" is more midpaced, reminding me a little of the song "Living Backwards" from this band's "V" album, but with a less predictable riff. The vocal melody in the verses is absolutely great and will ensure that this song remains in your head for days.
"Zombie Hunger", of course, confirms the real horror feel of this whole EP, and it is here that I feel I should make an observation about Christian doom (yes, this band is Christian, though they certainly don't preach even as much as Trouble does on "Psalm 9"). The reason Christian doom bands seem so much more appropriate than bands that are clearly Christian playing in other genres of music. Christian doom is like the opposite of Mercyful Fate's ideological outlook. Whereas King Diamond would write a song like "Into the Coven" with obvious glee at the subject matter, wanting the listener to realize how exultant he should be at crushing the cross and denying the Christian lies, a Christian doom band would write about the exact same topic, only in reverse, describing how the inductee is forced to deny his faith and is damned for all eternity to be a servant of the dark one...pretty fucking depressing if you ask me, at least if one happens to be Christian and believes that Satan brings not liberation but the ultimate slavery. So, "Zombie Hunger" doesn't mention anything about a satanic coven, but let's extrapolate that the zombie narrator in fact sold his soul to the devil, and his reward is to become a decaying, shambling creature out of a George Romero film that will live on in torment for ever more. "I creep by moonlight / I hide when the sun starts to rise / I sleep with the dead things / I have wholes instead of eyeeees!"...oh yes, what a supreme feeling this song possesses.
"The Psychopath" is similar, tempo-wise, but seems the most obviously Sabbath inspired of all of them. It's also, I think, one of the best doom songs ever written. Plodding, menacing, like a stalker in the bushes behind you, the psychopath creeps..and when Reagers cries out in his clear melodic voice, "watch out / be ware / the psychopath is loose", you'd better goddamn well believe it and start running. Except you can't, for the psychopath is really you, and you can't escape, all you can do is plod, with a bloody axe raised in your hands, crying and snarling in frustration at the moon. And finally, there's "Burial at Sea", which is probably, next to "Triumph of Death", the slowest metal song written up until that time at least. It starts out with a creeky, infirm sounding bass riff that seems a little familiar (again, Saint Vitus used something pretty similar on "Jack Frost" from "V", only this one is more ugly and sick, somehow). The cumbersome sludge continues through pretty much the whole song, and the Celtic Frost/Hellhammer comparrisons really come to the fore again in these atonal, oddly juxtaposed chord progressions. And make no mistake, it's brilliant, and not at all catchy as the other four songs here tend to be.
Yes, this is another metal release that conjures up a really powerful feeling in me. There are some albums which you just put on and totally sink into, totally feel that you understand absolutely and that resonate on some deep, subconcious level that goes beyond mere ideology. This is one of them. It's short, but feels like a complete work as it descends gradually into the bowels of sludge and decay and leaves you there until you can pick your jaw out of the mud. There's no complexity, no technical wizardry, but the emotional content wouldn't be served by such an approach, and after all, this is doom of the purest, most minimalist variety, ready to lay its burden on you and scrape your cranial layers with a trowel until you understand what it's trying to say. There's melody aplenty, though, provided mostly by Scott Reagers' incomparable vocal performance, which really has to be heard and praised, and is probably what will convert most first-time listeners into appreciators of this style of music.
As a side note, anyone who appreciates the black metal band Countess definitely needs to check out this band, as in my view, Vitus, and not Hellhammer, is clearly where Orlok got most of his inspiration from.