As with 2012’s Lillie: F-65 before it, Saint Vitus’s ninth full-length album comes with a mix of excitement and trepidation. The return of original vocalist Scott Reagers is rapturous news for any doom metal diehard, but it was inversely unfortunate to see longtime bassist Mark Adams step down due to struggles with Parkinson’s disease. The decision to release a second self-titled album is also pretty questionable, especially when you consider the iconic status of their 1984 debut.
But rather than serving as a straight nostalgia trip, 2019’s Saint Vitus is the band’s most experimental offerings since 1992’s C.O.D. This is established early on as “A Prelude to…” sets up on a spacy, moody sequence that is counteracted with punk vigor by “Bloodshed.” Alas, there are a couple misfires in the mix; the dark atmosphere on “City Park” feels like it should be leading to a “Psychopath”-style creeper only to play out like four minutes of a Halloween spooky sounds CD and the hardcore blast of “Useless” seems ill-fitting as an album closer.
Thankfully there’s still enough classic doom to go around. The blues swing of “Hour Glass” feels like a more down to earth take on Black Sabbath’s “Damaged Soul” and “Last Breath” is a haunting dirge in loving Vitus tradition. There’s still room for some reminiscing as “Remains” starts the album off in a “Dark World” fashion while the lyrics on “Wormhole” seem a bit more referential.
The band dynamic is also excellently preserved despite the changes at hand. Reagers still sounds good with his manic wail taking more gravelly turns than before, but guitarist Dave Chandler continues to dominate with his slowed down punk riffing style and psychotic solos. The rhythm section does justice to the band’s established template as Down bassist Pat Bruders puts down a ton of simple but firm lines and drummer Henry Vasquez’s hits are as hard but loose as ever.
It would be foolish to expect the second coming of Die Healing but Saint Vitus is holding up adequately in 2019. While this album’s more experimental tendencies can make for a rocky listen at times, I think it has more to do with a few awkward transitions between tracks than any outright poor songwriting. The performances offer the same beloved quirks and there are some great tracks for your classic doom playlist. Longtime Vitus fans should be fairly comfortable, even if it takes a little extra adjustment to get there.