I have always been aware of Saint Vitus and respected what they do, but my ears have generally gravitated toward their more musically restless predecessors, peers, and successors (e.g. Sabbath, Trouble, and Cathedral respectively). Last year, however, I had the good fortune to see them in a headlining slot backed by doom torchbearers Witch Mountain and doom royalty Eric Wagner’s The Skull. Reunited with original singer Scott Reagers and anchored by guitarist and heartbeat of the band Dave Chandler, along with relative newcomer bassist Henry Vasquez (Blood of the Sun) and new drummer Patrick Bruders (Down), Saint Vitus absolutely slayed live. When 60-year-old Chandler, doom metal’s heavily tattooed, the wizard-haired answer to Willie Nelson, jumped off the stage in a fit of excitement and had to walk all the way around the side and back up the stairs, I realized that this is how a metal band truly grows old gracefully. To quote the great rock theologian Ian Anderson, “you’re never too old to rock and roll if you are too young to die.” Considering the band’s raw and explosive live show, their new record essentially amounts to a victory lap for this rejuvenated lineup.
Record opener “Remains” is the kind of foreboding, dyed-in-the-wool doom-metal track that the band has perfected. When Reagers croons the opening lines “take a look at the sky it’s crimson red” over a suitably post-apocalyptic dirge, you know exactly what you’re in for in the best way possible. Chandler’s rhythm-guitar-less, noisy atmospheric lead break mid-song highlights the effective, unfussy, live sound of the record.
Elsewhere, “Hour Glass”, builds on the kind of classic heavy blues riff that Chandler likely writes in his sleep. Reagers emotive vocals ride the expertly swung shuffle of the verses before leading into the hammer-on laden riff of the bridge where he indulges a gritty, rasped, minor-key freak-out that serves as one of the LPs catchiest moments. From there, Chandler takes center stage via an extended Hendrix-ian feedback and wah-wah drenched solo.
‘A Prelude” takes its time with slow, ominous, ringing chords and a spare pulsing bass line before Vasquez drives it home via a melodic bass figure, before the one-two punch of “Bloodshed” and “12 Years in the Tomb” crack things open with thick slabs of aggro-doom. Bruders and Vasquez expertly steer through the heavy rhythmic haze of these tunes while Chandler alternates between chunky riffs and unhinged leads, with Reagers’ wild ruminations rising above the din. The latter tune marries some particularly tasty tom-tom work to a feral buzz saw riff. Chandler, the undisputed star of the show, wisely avoids 80s guitar shred in favor of a more psychedelic pre-/proto-metal approach. The pyrotechnics of the “Bloodshed” solo show efficient restraint, in contrast to the cacophonous approach taken in “12 Years in the Tomb,” where Chandler seemingly wrestles the tones out of his guitar.
Pseudo-instrumental “City Park” breaks things up via found-sound atmospherics overlaid with light poetry. It all feels suspected disingenuous with Reagers carrying-on like an antique hipster at a local occult bookstore, but after several listens I’ve given him the benefit of the doubt and have embraced the weird as genuine.
The slow crawl of “Last Breath” is an “exorcise” in pure doom. The affected madman shriek of the Screamin’ Jay Hawkins-like vocals adds a touch of welcome camp to the proceedings and gives a slight inkling of the unbounded enthusiasm and energy Reagers brings to the stage. Exemplifying the refreshingly straightforward arrangements of the set, the track fortifies the less is more spirit of a record that has a vintage yet the timeless quality that pays off in spades.
“Useless” closes things out with an out of place, yet not unwelcome, burst of tongue-in-cheek punk-rock nihilism.
On their new self-titled record ‘Saint Vitus’, a revitalized Saint Vitus have crafted a solid, stripped-down record that transcends decades and bucks genres and trends.