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misery never felt so good - 92%

Abominatrix, February 18th, 2004

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.