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Saint Vitus began as a punk-flavoured doom band with Scott Reagers as their front-man. With him, the band released two albums; the self-titled debut album and 'Hallow's Victim'. These albums are very much doom, but with a very punky edge to them, and more importantly; it worked well and these are great albums. When Reagers quit and talked the rest of the gang in hiring The Obsessed's front-man Wino to replace him, guitarist Dave Chandler was a bit sceptic, because Wino, at the time, had a different style from what Vitus had. However, they put aside their differences and crafted perhaps the ultimate doom metal album 'Born Too Late', as well as the very worthy follow-up 'Mournful Cries' (in the latter one, Wino had more freedom to write and even played second/dual-guitar with Chandler).
Those aren't any of the albums we're talking about now. The reason I came with a little history lesson there is because 'V' is a different Wino-era Vitus album. What happened when Wino joined Saint Vitus was that the often fast'ish tempo of the punkier songs of the band were replaced with more dark, atmospheric; more typical doom songs, as were the strange fantasy-lyrics about zombies and magic (that were replaced with more direct personal struggles i.e. drug and alcohol abuse). It was all very Wino-like. But 'V' is sort of a return to the roots for Saint Vitus. Not that Reagers features on this record or anything like that. It's very much Wino, with Dave Chandler's blessing to write and play more, who acts as the band's front man. The music; however, is a bit more similar to the 'Saint Vitus' and 'Hallow's Victim' days (Reagers-era). Faster, punkier, simpler, but still heavy and doomy.
The first two songs are perfect examples of this. "Living Backwards" is short, very simple, but makes a statement for sure. It has the punk-attitude. "I Bleed Black" has become a classic Vitus song. Like the album opener, it's got the same, simple and repetitive main-riff, but the attitude is raw, angry. There are more songs of this calibre on the album. "Ice Monkey", "Angry Man" and "Mind-Food" are all faster and more aggressive songs with the raw attitude; some more heavy/doom-like than punk (see Mind-Food); all enjoyable and somewhat crazy.
This isn't to say that there is no traditional doom music to find here. "Patra (Petra)" and "Jack Frost" could fall under "extreme traditional doom" that is; the type of extremely slow and crushing doom metal played by bands such as Reverend Bizarre and Pilgrim, both who undoubtedly were influenced by Saint Vitus and these two songs in particular. These two songs are almost agonizingly slow, but with a relieving "crazy-bit" in them (the sudden change of pace in "Patra (Petra)" and the psychedelic drone and wah-fucking in "Jack Frost"). Also, the creepy, extremely dark and menacing side of Saint Vitus hasn't disappeared either. At all. Listen to "When Emotions Die"; sung by Dave Chandler. It's a creepy ballad of some sort with Chandler handling the main vocals sounding like a super-depressed drunk guy about to blow his brains out. His drunken slurs are supported by a rather beautiful assumingly female vocals, creating a dark and beautiful song.
'V' represents Saint Vitus looking back to the Reagers-era, but with Wino as their front-man. And it works. It's definitely the most accessible Vitus album for people who aren't in to this music, or at least not used to it. Though the music is somewhat closer to the early Reagers-era, the production is better, so overall the accessibility is higher here than on for example 'Saint Vitus'. It also comes down to what type of vocals you prefer. Reagers sang with a manic, eerie voice. The crazy undead wizard type. Wino is more down to earth, but in his very own little world, because of drugs etc., so while he might sing about purple dragons and psychedelic sunrises, he's definitely human. His husky baritone suits this type of music just as well as Reagers' howls and wails do.
Something must've went terribly wrong concerning the concept for the cover artwork of this, Saint Vitus's fifth studio effort. Not that I'm complaining, but based on some comments made by the band I'm thinking there was some sort of disagreement or maybe last-minute snafu that caused the discrepency. My brother got to meet Wino recently after a show with Connie Ochs. When presented with a copy of the "V" record and a sharpie Mr. Weinrich said he loved to fuck up the cover of this one, and proceeded to make the V into the form of the yawning legs of a big-titted pregnant woman. When I had the pleasure of seeing the band on tour for Lillie F-65, Dave Chandler introduced "Living Backwards" to the audience as a song from the album with that "shitty fuckin volcano" on the cover. Chandler pronounced the title of the record as "Vee" which was interesting because I had always kind of assumed it was pronounced "Five." Point is, never assume, and don't judge a book by its cover because V finds Saint Vitus in a state of iron-clad glory, and is in my opinion the most solid of the classic Wino-era, even more so than the legendary Born Too Late.
One listen to the rawking opener "Living Backwards" and you will know from whence Kyuss lifted their sound. Straight ahead rock n roll with a simple yet memorable riff, but where Kyuss falls short is their utter lack of balls. This song struts like a gang of leather-lunged long-hairs lookin' for a fuckin unaware square's ass to kick. With "I Bleed Black" we take the tempo down a notch and begin our descent into doom. Ah, and there it is, that goddamned irresistable hammer-on that rounds out the riff and boosts my buzz, every single time. There are subtle synth sounds going on at the start of the tune that are expressive of its lyrical message, and would probably be an accurate aural representation of pupils in the act of dilating.
"When Emotion Dies." Despairing. Melancholic yet somehow uplifting. An acoustic guitar and the gnarled voice of Dave Chandler paired with the soulful siren song of a female vocalist is quite stunning and stark in its contrast; a nice sort of beauty and the beast dichotomy. And then we are plunged into the dark, cavernous depths of "Patra (Petra)". It lumbers forth like a stone-faced brute with the misfortune of being caught up in a magnetic field, but much more slowly, depressed, and drugged. This is undoubtedly one of the heaviest songs ever conceived by Saint Vitus. Actually, this is the concept of heaviness defined, via the sorrow and grief that are conveyed through the lyrics and the massive, plodding riffage. Acosta's leaden bass drum and floor toms anchor the tune to the bottom of the ocean with his tasteful, sparse playing that augments the overall feeling of desolation. The profound psychological weight of the subject matter here, and the ominous, foreboding atmosphere created by the instrumentation combine to form the essence of all that is heavy.
Things perk up a bit with "Ice Monkey." The playful exchange between the thumping drums and guitar mini-solo at the start is kinda like doin' a little bump after the depression of "Patra." Wino takes up the pen this time with some witty and prophetic commentary. The guitar tone of this track goes beyond fuzz into a deeper, more undescribable dimension of psychedelic haze, and the lead work is some of the best on the album. The doom returns, however, upon the frozen winds of "Jack Frost." Interesting that a bunch of dudes from L.A. could so accurately capture the sonic embodiment of winter, but this was recorded in November-December '89 in Berlin, so that may have something to do with it. Mark Adams bass is absolutely chilling, the riff crushing, and Armando's drums beat you down with the numbness of frost bite.
This album makes a gradual descent from hard ass rock music down, down, deep into a barren realm of sadness, bitter cold, and heavy psychology. But fear not, Saint Vitus won't leave you in the void; they snap out of it with some "Mind Food," and some of that infamous Heavier Than Thou attitude. This is from start to finish one of the most consistent Vitus records and a must have for any child of doom.
In an act of deserved self-awareness on the level of Black Sabbath's hastily renamed Vol. 4, Saint Vitus' fifth LP is entitled simply V, for two obvious reasons. It's also their third and last (to date) with Wino. It has become even more central and significant than perhaps even they planned - the end of the second era of Vitus, and the last time the vocalist would be carried over from the previous album. As the closing of the band's second chapter and 80s years, it measures up slightly mottled but generally quite marvelously alongside their essential first four.
The group continue to get heavy metal fans wet for the real world dominance of stoned and retro doom some time later. 'Living Backwards' follows in the vein of an opener like 'The Creeps' - rhythmic and rocking, but with far too much lethargy to be considered a propulsive song for many other bands in 1989. It's like a proto-Goatsnake thing they have going on. Same goes for closer 'Mind-Food'. 'Patra (Petra)' is nothing short of a perfect centre-piece, achingly slow and drawling riffs hauling themselves thickly across your ears, bellies dragging over the bassy ground laid down by Mark Adams and the unfortunately deceased Armando Acosta. The way the solo wails plaintively across the top is fantastic - even more so for the completely improvised and garage-shitty demo awesomeness of it. 'Jack Frost' must be pretty much what Reverend Bizarre based their career on, particularly the ominous bass-led opening and menacing vocalisations of "winter is coming... you better take care, for when I'm released... all mortals beware!" The feedback-drenched, almost ambient mid-section solo, devoid of any other instruments or vocals, is mandatory listening for the spliff-inclined or simply old school devoted doom head.
Chandler streamlines his riffs even further, relying on repetition and atmosphere almost exclusively. 'I Bleed Black' is about as basic as you can get. Just the almost bovine low of a classic Chandler doom riff set to some whooshing effects that in hindsight give premonitions of Ocean Chief, Ufomammut and later Ramesses. The solos are where the man stuffs in more than a couple of notes a minute, wobbling all over the shop with lazy rainbows of licks. 'Ice Monkey' sounds as mischievous as its title, a screechy solo intro and rambling bass motif setting up a Chandler highlight of the album. The madcap solos come across as things he just pulled from his brain seconds before they needed to be recorded.
Wino's every-drunk-man roar is hoarse and imposing on this album, the hint of vulnerable laconicism slightly more pronounced on cuts like 'Living Backwards'. He's a little bit strident on 'Ice Monkey', which contrasts with a much-appreciate weirdness with the rhythm section's meandering. There's an early stain on the album's vocal quality however. 'When Emotion Dies' is extremely reminiscent of an Iommi acoustic instrumental, particularly in his Tony Martin years, with Chandler's vocals reminding or forewarning of Dan Fondelius' narrative mutterings across various Count Raven songs. Unfortunately the addition of a female singer, who sounds oddly like a drugged up Dido, makes it pretty unlistenable. When it comes to negative points, 'Angry Man' might also be a bit of an unnecessary rehash of 'Born Too Late' set to a generic rock riff, but outside of those moments this is another reliable slab - the other tracks are basically flawless.
V closes a trilogy that represents without a doubt one of doom's greatest guitarist-vocalist collaborations. It's probably less accessible than the previous two with Wino, and I must admit the weaker of the three, but still an essential piece. Lock your windows, bolt your doors.
Saint Vitus’ status as principle purveyors of the Sabbath influenced doom metal style has been pretty well noted, but less noted and perhaps not even considered in many circles is the wildly similar mannerisms that their sound began to share with the emergent grunge scene coming out of Seattle. Though one might normally chalk this up to both the Seattle scene and the traditional doom bands going to the same original source ala the fearsome four of Birmingham, (or Black Sabbath for those in the metalcore community who need more training in the history of the music you dabble in), the auspiciously similar character heard on Vitus’ “V” in comparison to several key grunge bands; most notably Alice In Chains, Soundgarden, and to a small extent Nirvana during their darker works, makes one wonder if the Seattle scene wasn’t looking at material that came a bit later than 1970-75.
Naturally there are massive differences to be heard between a respectable band such as this one and a scene with questionable credentials. Vocalist Scott Wenrich (aka Wino) upstages any would be alternative rock vocalist with his dark, husky baritone, making one wonder why Kurt Cobain didn’t get stuck with the “Wino” nickname as it would have been more befitting of the prissy character of his voice. Guitarist Dave Chandler probably had a strong level of influence on Kim Thayil’s wah pedal steeped, noise driven, and often choppy lead work, but a careful analysis of the former’s impressive body of work reveals an old school fret blazer who didn’t put himself into either a creative or time-constrained box in order to keep the flannel toting dummies packing the concert halls. But the most obvious difference is that, like Sabbath, Vitus doesn’t necessarily stylize their songs to be catchy in order to get their message across, but instead will often resort to an extended jam approach that involves heavy repetition alongside gradual lyrical or lead instrument development.
The rank and file Doom adherent might be a little perplexed at bringing up the grunge topic with regard to “V”, but anyone who started out liking the latter, more watered down style will no doubt be instantly drawn to much of what is going on here. A quick listening to the mid-tempo grooving going on during “Living Backwards” and “Mind-Food” will find a sound not too far removed from something heard out of Sonic Youth or Nirvana, though with a much stronger vocal performance and about a balls on, bass heavy, chunky production that runs rings around the sloppy half-sludge heard out of said bands. On those rare occasions when a lead guitar break would occur out of most Seattle groups, what is often heard is a repeated riff in a higher register or a slow meandering mess. But in spite of Chandler mellowing out his playing a tiny bit on here, he still crafts some really impressive solos while utilizing a tinny, fuzzy, almost scratchy sounding guitar tone that is very different from the smoother Hendrix sound heard on all of Vitus’ previous studio endeavors.
In many ways “V” is something of a departure for the band, but in others it is a reaffirmation of their overall sound. Among their faster works such as the swinging and ironically happy sounding “Angry Man” and the lead guitar steeped, muddily deep and thudding “Ice Monkey” is an almost painfully Sabbath sounding formula that is all too familiar to anyone who has spun their personal copy of “Born Too Late” or “Mournful Cries” in the past week or so. Likewise, “Patra (Petra)” brings back another fun yet somewhat cliché homage to Sabbath’s famed creeper of a title song from their debut record, right down to the slow moving trill riff that none shall soon forget. And what album by a tradition-loving outfit could be complete without a long, slow droning musical acknowledgment to “Hand Of Doom”, with an equally memorable though somewhat more depressing sounding bass line to match. In fact, apart from a brief and creepy acoustic number that was probably borrowed for a couple of similar sounding Soundgarden songs later on in “When Emotion Dies”, just about everything between the rocking opening and closing songs are pretty standard for the Wino era of Vitus, minus the tinny sounding lead guitar tone.
If I had to pick a single Vitus album to recommend to people who are not fans of doom metal, this would be the one, both for the accessibility and versatility factors at play here. But when compared to the previous two albums with Wino at the helm, it is just a little bit weaker as an overall listen. Some of it could be chalked up to a more restrained approach out of Chandler during his lead slots, or perhaps a general sense of safeness due to the simplicity of most of the songs on here. But when comparing it against most music being put out today, either under the doom moniker or not, it is a certified classic that can be appreciated by pretty much anyone. I guess my point is that Nirvana sucks, but this doesn’t, so sell off that old copy of “Nevermind” to some kid hipster with $12 to waste and pick up a copy of this. You’ll thank me later.
Originally submitted to (www.metal-observer.com) on March 15, 2010.
People seem fairly set in their ways that other than the major transition in Saint Vitus’s career (the change in vocalist from Scott Reagers to Wino) that the band never really strayed too far from their original sound. I guess there’s always this niggling question in my head as to whether there is any actual inherent difference between mournful cries and distant screams… but still, I get a largely different feeling from the two main eras of the band (let’s ignore the Don Dokken-produced-Count -Raven-singer one for now, okay?). It’s not solely in the vocals, either, it can’t be… okay, it’s largely in the vocals but there are these little distinctions that set the two eras apart. For starters, the Reagers era tends to concern itself with the occult, spirituality and a more overtly horrific style that certainly lends itself to Reagers’s haunting moaning. Whereas, the Wino era of the band tends to focus itself on personal struggles (or perhaps the band were a little more metaphoric in their earlier work, rather than actually having ‘holes instead of eyes’), like addiction, depression and being addicted to depressants. Naturally!
Yet still, the unchanging, stoic factor in all this is Dave Chandler -- he’s always remained the band’s driving force and main writer throughout it all. In the Wino era (which this album, V, is the pinnacle of) we find tales of such real depression and genuine despair that one can’t help but feel that if Chandler didn’t have Vitus as an outlet he’d probably have killed a bunch of people (will playing guitar with his teeth may help him in this, who knows?!). I like to think of him as the Charles Bukowski of doom metal -- except instead of the post office and endless cans of beer (okay, maybe with the endless cans of beer) Dave has Marshall stacks and guitar solos that sound like vacuum cleaners assaulting other vacuum cleaners.
Okay, enough rambling and putting various archaic doom metal concepts in their neat little boxes -- what about the album? Well, V represents Wino-era Vitus at its most robust and fully formed. Whereas, Mournful Cries is an album that feels like a rush-job to me and Born to Late doesn’t quite live up to its “best of Vitus” acclaim (despite a lot of fantastic darkly anthemic touches), it’s V that comes up trumps for the band’s second era. You could point an accusatory finger in V’s direction saying it offers nothing really new for Saint Vitus (ignoring the somewhat startling ‘When Emotion Dies’, at least) and that ‘Living Backwards’ is the same woe-is-me-I-have-flairs-and-no-mullet story as ‘Born to Late’. But that would be missing the point somewhat as Vitus’s fifth album, for the most part, represents the band cementing previously shaped ideas to create a very well-rounded listen and certainly one of Saint Vitus’s most complete albums.
Well-rounded? Something about that might seem a little odd when you come to a Saint Vitus album -- but you can’t forget that everything the band ever did must be understood in their own little maniacal universe (what with all its Ice Monkeys and White Stallions floating about in some psychedelic haze); there will never be another band like Saint Vitus -- both in terms of sound and impact -- and therefore you can’t take the band out of its individual place. For instance, when I say ‘Living Backwards’ is a “fast” song I mean it’s a fast song by Vitus’s standards. I blame it all on the band’s unique chemistry, really. Armando doesn’t really play the drums like anyone else and as such he gives the drums a clumsily swung feel (even if his drums sound less like ice cream tubs here), that’s certainly stressed by Mark Adams’s rather austere bass playing. Furthermore, when I say this is a “well-produced” Saint Vitus -- I mean that in regard to their previous releases (all possessing the somewhat infamous “SST production”), and that this one is perhaps a little more conventionally good with its rather fierce slow-burning guitar sound that still retain's Chandler's usual concentrated blackness.
Yet still, even if there are little nuances for the Vitus freak to pick at like some hungry vulture then there’s also that same resounding quality that you’ll find in every Saint Vitus album (again, possible exception: C.O.D.). While contemporary 80s metalheads (read: Motley Crue fans) might have seen the band as “too slow” or “dated”, I feel there’s just a timeless resonance to their music. The lazy point of reference -- as always seems the case for doom metal -- is Black Sabbath (which certainly isn’t helped by the band’s namesake being lifted from Vol 4., and this particular album’s similarly numerical title) but Vitus incorporate a hardcore edge into their music, which is far more “gutter-level” than Sabbath ever were and the certainly share more than a little common ground with label mates, Black Flag. There’s an almost astounding level of austerity to the music -- with nothing more than a handful of riffs being finely woven into each song -- it almost makes Trouble sound like Atheist by comparison. Just take a song like ‘Patra (Petra)’ for example; it’s the very essence of doom metal distilled into one song -- no frills or flash just inescapably pure emotion. It’s no secret that Dave Chandler might have heard Black Sabbath’s eponymous song, and it’s certainly no secret that he may have lifted its trilled note into more than a couple of Vitus songs (again, it’s probably closer to every Vitus song). But it’s never been more effectively displayed here than in that lingering main riff that underpins a truly haunting tale of unrequited love. I’d love to hear Warning even try to make distraught love sound even half this haunting. Sometimes severity works best, I guess.
As a big fan of Wino’s pre/post-Vitus band, The Obsessed, it’s pretty easy to spot which songs he’s had a hand in. ‘When Emotion Dies’ seems to reek of his style, with something that rings a little more uplifting than Chandler’s usual “stuck in a rut/can’t afford my rut’s rent” lyrics. It acts as a cool little interlude, too, between the opening salvo of ‘Living Backwards’ and ‘I Bleed Black’ and then into ‘Patra’, which some how manages to be even more heavy and even more downbeat than the opening two. Perhaps this is because we’re not so shocked with a Vitus song about self-harm and being almost completely numb to the world like ‘I Bleed Black’ whereas ‘Patra (Petra)’ seems more startling for a happy-go-lucky-still-has-some-hope moron like me.
This seems like a good a point as any to conclude on that Saint Vitus’s 80s output -- regardless of the singer (they’re both ace!)-- is pretty seminal stuff for anyone with even the faintest interest in doom metal. They’ve been one of my favourite bands now for sometime, and I know I’m not alone in my love of them; there’s something very earthy about them and at the same time very mystic. If anything I’d say they’re one of the few bands around that have, simultaneously, so much to love about and with very little to dislike. And if you do dislike it? Well, I guess you’re just a fucking unaware square.
Saint Vitus were one of the most power, influential, important and overall excellent doom metal bands of the 80s. From their monumental first era with Scott Reagers on vocals (1979-1986) to the trilogy of albums with Scott "Wino" Weinrich (1986-1991) they released five undeniably classic albums. "V" was their final album with Wino on vocals, and holds up just as strong as classics like their self titled and "Born Too Late".
Saint Vitus' core lineup went unchanged throughout their entire career, centered around the outstanding guitar work David Chandler. His incredibly dull, hazy, fuzzy tone, plodding, downtrodden riffs and noisy flurry of leads created the backbone of their sound. They had three vocalists over the initial span of their career (they have since reformed with Wino back in the roster but have not made any new releases). The most notable of course were Scott Reagers and Scott "Wino" Weinrich". The three Wino albums ("Born Too Late", "Mournful Cries" and "V") are to me an insurmountably excellent trilogy. While most bands falter and fail at experiments with new sounds over the course multiple albums, Saint Vitus could not be deterred in churning out doomy, desperately mournful, hateful and aggressive albums the likes of which no band has since touched.
Unlike the majority of their albums, V contains many shorter more straight up aggressive ditties. While their pace rarely rises above downright plodding, they work in punkier sections that are still quite sluggish compared to most styles of music. As mentioned above, David Chandler's guitar work is really the driving force of the music. His low end, fuzzy, tube amp usin' rhythms sluggishly crawl along with plenty of Black Sabbath-influenced and stonerish bits and pieces, but with a distinctly harsh, disaffected quality that pushes the generally dark themes explored heavily in the Wino albums. While the leads are pretty typically bluesy and rock n rollish stuff, they're very noisy and distinctive, working into the extremely dull and punkishly aggressive tone of the music. The bass has a very dull, dead, plunky sound and generally follows the rhythm of the guitar, although it occasionally works into its own little parts. The drums are played at super sluggish paces and plod along, thudding on the toms and bass drums, and (as you may have guessed) work into their extremely dull and absolutely perfect low fi analog sound.
Scott "Wino" Weinrich's vocals are especially of note (this album and the two preceding it are referred to as the "Wino era", so he must have been bringing something to the table). He has a lower more baritone voice and passionately belts out lyrics concerning hatred, suffering, self-loathing, and alcohol and drug abuse. He has some very angry delivery and a generally down in the gutter "I'm pissed off and miserable about everything" attitude. This works perfectly with the painfully sluggish, harsh and downtrodden sound of the music.
Saint Vitus released several mammoth, outstanding and legendary in the albums in the 1980s, and "V" is no exception. Every aspect of their sound comes together in a big way, making utterly dismal, pounding and sluggish doom with not only an original style but an innovative approach that would influence countless bands after them. The Wino albums include some of my personal favourites ("Born Too Late" being the overall best), and while their albums with Scott Reagers are undeniably classic, I can't say I prefer them to the utter excellence they achieved with Wino. The only drawback I can conceive of with "V" is the acoustic track "When Emotion Dies" with some female singer. It doesn't match the tone of the album at all and is a bit of an annoyance. Some highlights that really make this album stand out to me are the incredibly pissed off anthem to misanthropy "Angry Man" (covered by Grief on their "Miserably Ever After" album) and the sleazy, down and dirty and catchy "Mind-Food". It's not quite at the classic status of "Born Too Late", but "V" is an essential album in the legacy of 80s doom masters Saint Vitus. If you've never heard this outstanding band, get them immediately. They are beyond essential for any doom metal fan. Forget about Trouble and Pentagram, Saint Vitus defines 80s doom.