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Be it sabbaths or flags, it's definitely black. - 89%

hells_unicorn, February 23rd, 2010

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.