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Rank and File

Rank and File: Saint Vitus

Saint Vitus is rightfully hailed as an early doom metal pioneer alongside Trouble and Pentagram among others, but the true scope of their influence seems overstated these days. Guitarist Dave Chandler’s feedback laden solos and psychedelic framework can still be felt in stoner rock groups today, while the minimalist riffing style and down to earth lyrics may have one of the earliest bridges between punk and metal. Vitus’s influence on Black Flag’s My War is also obvious, so you can go ahead and thank them for indirectly inspiring bands like Melvins and the entirety of grunge and sludge metal too.

With a new album featuring original vocalist Scott Reagers seemingly on the horizon, it seems like a good time to see how Saint Vitus’s discography ranks out. You may champion the Biafra on acid style of the Reagers era, the biker doom of the Wino era, or that album with the guy not named Scott, but the riff has always been the most essential component of the Saint Vitus sound. It’s a shame that the band never got the commercial success they deserved in their most hallowed (pun intended) eras, but four decades of sticking to their guns and releasing consistently strong material is something to admire.

8) C.O.D.
Saint Vitus’s sixth album is understandably considered their weakest album, but that’s not the fault of one-time vocalist Christian “Chritus” Linderson or even producer Don Dokken (Yeah, I don’t get that one either). There’s more hard rock and experimental influence than usual and having twelve songs over an hour length isn’t doing the album any favors. There are some fillers and you can tell that the band’s future was looking uncertain at the time. Fortunately, there are some great songs on here, as the title track is the sort of doom anthem that writes itself, while “Fear” still pops up in live sets to this day. It’d be a much better album with a slimmer runtime, but its best of both worlds approach is still worth checking out for fans.
Final Grade: C+

 

7) V
Saint Vitus’s fifth album isn’t their best but it may still be their most accessible. The band’s signature elements remain in place but slow, drawn out songs like “Petra” and “Jack Frost” are outnumbered by songs like the upbeat “Angry Man” and the proto-Obsessed grooves of “Ice Monkey.” There’s even an acoustic breather in the form of “When Emotion Dies” but it’s hardly a sellout ballad. All the tracks are enjoyable, though a couple tracks like the opening “Living Backwards” do feel somewhat thrown together in comparison to the more purposeful numbers. “I Bleed Black” is enough to make this a mandatory listen, but there are stronger entries into the band’s discography.
Final Grade: A-

 

6) Hallow’s Victim
It’s rather amusing to see Saint Vitus follow their trailblazing doom debut with what may be their fastest paced album to date. The title track threatens to reach Iron Maiden or Metallica levels of speed, while the hard hitting “War Is Our Destiny” and “White Stallions” are the most furiously charging anthems of their career. Thankfully the debut’s spooky atmosphere lingers and fits this material surprisingly well. It also helps that the songs still place emphasis on steady riffs and theatrical vocals. Considering how many of this album’s songs were written around the same time as the debut’s, I’d be curious to see how the selection process was carried out at the time. It may be somewhat uncanny compared to the debut or Born Too Late, but it has enough staples to warrant multiple listens.
Final Grade: A-

 

5) Lillie: F-65
As clichéd as it sounds, Saint Vitus’s 2012 reunion with Wino could’ve been released right between Born Too Late and Mournful Cries. The vocals may have less reverb on them than the early days, but Chandler’s guitar tone preserves its organic fuzz while new drummer Henry Vasquez has a spontaneous style respectful to the unfortunately passed Armando Acosta. In addition, songs like “The Bleeding Ground” and “Blessed Night” pack in plenty of classic riffs that avoid sounding too much like repeats (The “Dying Inside” parallels on “Dependence” are as fun as they can be though). The acoustic instrumental “Vertigo” feels a little out of place, and the fuzzy swirls of the closing “Withdrawal” are frankly a waste of time, but such things feel irrelevant when everything else is so good.
Final Grade: A-

4) Die Healing
Recorded as a simultaneous reunion and last hurrah, Saint Vitus went all out on 1995’s Die Healing. Reagers blows his past performances out of the water despite nearly fifteen years out of the music scene, and the other musicians are much livelier than they’d been on C.O.D. The songwriting is also much more focused than its predecessors, with the B side boasting “Sloth” and “In the Asylum” among other classics. The band was at their lowest commercial point, but they used this perspective to make the album that they wanted instead of making a hopeless plea to the mainstream. All this combined makes it easy to see why it’s just as influential in some circles as Born Too Late and why Chandler has repeatedly identified it as his favorite Vitus album. Hopefully lightning strikes twice if the upcoming album with Reagers really is happening…
Final Grade: A

 

3) Saint Vitus
Allegedly recorded live in the studio with no overdubs, Saint Vitus’s self-titled debut is one of the haziest things to come out of 1984. Acosta’s unhinged clanging on the title track and “White Magic/Black Magic” sounds like his drum kit will collapse at any second, Chandler’s guitar tone is uncontrollably fuzzy, Mark Adam’s bass provides an ominous underbelly, and Reagers’ performance sets him up as one of doom’s most eccentric storytellers. The presentation is rawer than most punk, the Sabbath influence is taken to unrecognizable levels on the slow burns of “Zombie Hunger” and “Burial at Sea,” and “The Psychopath” has a haunting aura rivaled only by what Mercyful Fate and Pentagram were peddling at the time. The recording may be demo quality by today’s standards (and maybe even by 1984 standards if we’re being honest) but the songs are essential doom listening.
Final Grade: A

2) Born Too Late
After two albums’ tales of zombie hunger and mystic ladies, Saint Vitus brought themselves to reality with Born Too Late. Such a move was likely inevitable, but bringing Wino on board went a long way in making these themes of alienation, drug abuse, and depression come to life. Wino sounded like a jaded lifer even in his mid-twenties, and the performances on the title track and “Dying Inside” are among his most dynamic. Candlemass may have crafted some mournful stuff around the same time, but I don’t think there’s anything from 1986 that’ll bring your mood down quite like the somber bass work on “The Lost Feeling.” I feel like “The War Starter” may be a little too slow for its own good, but it has its share of memorable riffs. If you don’t like this album, you don’t like doom metal. End of story.
Final Grade: A

1) Mournful Cries
It’s easy to peg Mournful Cries as a Born Too Late repeat due to its similarly emphasized slow riffs and haggard vocals on “Dragon Time” and “Shooting Gallery,” but the band sounds more comfortable here than its predecessor. Wino got to show more of his personality on here, contributing guitar alongside Chandler on a couple songs and even writing the grooves on “Bitter Truth” and “Looking Glass” all by his lonesome. The album’s variety also isn’t as jumbled as it would become on V, granting the album a chance to show a more unified vision. There’s a difference between playing it safe and getting more comfortable and Mournful Cries knows that difference well enough to come out as Saint Vitus’s strongest overall outing.
Final Grade: A

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1 comment

Ian Lovdahl March 30, 2018 at 2:08 pm

Excellent list, great to read some Saint Vitus content. Born Too Late is a personal favorite, basically introduced me to the sludgier side of doom.

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