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On the closing edge of the Reagers era of that looming throwback to depressively slow rock gone metallic Saint Vitus is this rather intense fit of angst in “The Walking Dead”. While the name in itself might suggest a slow trudging excursion into early 70s hopelessness as exemplified in the first Wino album “Born To Late”, this is still pretty well intertwined with the mixture of fast paced punk and dark, post-60s rock that was “Hallow’s Victim”. Although this combination might seem contradictory according to current understandings of what so-called traditional doom metal should be about, one should take into account that there is no such thing as a tradition until it is actually set into practice, and usually said traditions represent only part of the original design.
While the signature aesthetic that is associated with this band has been consistently maintained throughout the SST era, this album probably represents the most concentrated dose of what this band was about at that time. The first two songs on here are indicative of the parallels between them and their frequent tour and label mates Black Flag, moving fast and furious with a few methodical rock based riffs, and a really bass and middle heavy guitar tone. “White Stallions” is more of a strict, percussive speed metal song while “Darkness” is more chaotic and drum heavy, but both songs ooze with that latent punk spirit that was heard on “Hallow’s Victim”. But on the other side of things is the towering anvil of slow moving minimalism “The Walking Dead”, which goes between being dark and psychedelic to being dark and menacing, like the decaying body of a hippie zombie back from the grave.
The divide between the two very distinct eras of SST era Vitus is on full display here, perhaps even more so in that of the two full lengths that came before this EP. Not only stylistically, but in how everything is approached. Chandler’s guitar soloing is not quite as noise based, though still quite heavy on the post-Hendrix mayhem, and Scott Reagers is at his nastiest vocally. Essentially what you get in Wino’s predecessor is something of a middle ground between a really gritty 60s vocalist and a messy late 70s punk shouter, though often his shouts can get a little gratuitous and even grating to the ears of anyone who prefers Wino. It’s not quite as enticing as the debut LP, and it is somewhat derivative of that of the second full length, but those who travel in old, blues based doom directions will want to check this out.
Originally submitted to (www.metal-observer.com) on March 18, 2011.
In the original Reagers days, Saint Vitus did two things very well. Catchy, crunchy traditional heavy metal songs that sounded grimy and down-tuned enough to be doom, and huge viscous epics too bloody stoned and slow to be anything but doom. This EP has one of each, as well as one of the best cuts from Hallow's Victim.
'Darkness' should have been on that album. The verse riff is almost Venom-like in its whirring, tripping attack, the drumming of Armando Acosta has become highly sophisticated and damn exciting to boot with a very cheeky drum solo on this track, and overall it's a potent and headstrong shot of NWOBHM knocked quickly back and slammed on the bar. 'White Stallions', as featured on the aforementioned full-length, was a diamond there but doesn't really add much to this EP for those with access to Hallow's Victim. In fact, seated between these two gems it doesn't look quite so shiny.
'The Walking Dead' might be the most ambitious thing attempted during Reagers' first tenure in the band, and is their longest song. The fact it is imprisoned on a rare 12" and on the web is a bit of a bitch as it deserves a more central place in the mythology of early Vitus. Reagers' vocals are typically ludicrous (and great), howling and lamenting shrilly above the strangled, intermittent drone of Chandler's very simple riffs. It's about as grim and depressive as they got in this era and sets a standard for long, slow doom songs in the following decade, from all sorts of bands. Even the guitar solo is a harsh screech, far from the usual flamboyant pedaling. Huge, majestic, pretty terrifying and must-hear material for the Vitusian.
With the band having reformed recently, one can hope that Hallow's Victim might see the light of day as a CD at some point with the two exclusive tracks here added. This EP was seemingly not just a release schedule filler, but an exercise in stretching creative capabilities in two different directions and scoring perfect marks. I can't really score it very high as it features one unnecessary track, but the other two are worth tracking down to add to your very old school and true collection of doom mp3s. Good for you!
First, this is a ripping disc. Second, I should qualify that by adding "if you can tolerate Scott Reagers' vocals." For some people, the vox on the first two albums and this EP greatly diminish the band's listenability. If you, like me, prefer vox like those of Quorthon (Bathory) or Jeff Becera (Possessed), then you will be probably disappointed. Similarly, if you like the powerful melodic style of say, Bruce Dickinson or Eric Adams (Manowar), or even Jon Oliva (Savatage), you will also likely be disappointed. Reagers' vocal style is extremely hard to describe, but it might reasonably be classed with Living Death, or The Crucifucks in terms of its irritation potential.
That being said, the material is superior to alot of other Doom bands, and better than most of the stuff on their second full-length album "Hallow's Victim". The title track is around 11 minutes long, and is a superb example of metal's slow gloomy side. The guitar alternates between arpeggio-style riffing and power chords, skillfully altering the dynamics of the song as it progresses. This is important, because it's easy to lose your audience when you're playing one song in slow motion for 11 minutes. As it is, they found the perfect balance between the mega-slow older stuff with the more complex arrangements of the shorter, faster new songs they were writing. The song "Walking Dead" is in my opinion the best of their ponderous early compositions.
The track "White Stallions" was a preview of the forthcoming "Hallow's Victim" album, and is in most regards very appropriately situated on that album. It reflects the evolution of the band's songwriting style, in that it, like most of the material on their next two albums, was generally shorter, and more moderately-paced than older songs like "Burial at Sea" and "The Psychopath". The other track on this EP, "Darkness", is outright fast by doom metal standards, and yet despite the departure from their usual motif, it's a really excellent song-- one of their best, in fact.
One thing about the early Saint Vitus stuff is that it was all on SST Records. Almost all the bands on that label have a very signature guitar production, like that of Black Flag guitarist Greg Ginn, who I believe owns or owned the SST label. That sound is one in which almost all the treble has been mixed out of the guitar sound, leaving a dull, fuzzy type of distortion. While such a sound isn't always appropriate for every band, they make it work. Some people, however, don't care for this sound, and if that's a major issue for you, you may not be able to appreciate Saint Vitus. But if you want to hear a representative sample of the band's early Scott Reagers era, then "The Walking Dead" does them the most credit.