Way back in 1986, when i was a weird kid with hair dyed blondish-orange and hanging in my face but with the sides shaved, i moved from listening to heavy metal (well, early hair metal really) to punk rock. Ratt and Poison and Slayer weren't as cool as Black Flag and Suicidal Tendencies. Such are the whims of teens.
That year a kid who lived down the street from me, who had stayed with metal and wasn't that into punk, offered a cassette trade. He would get my copy of Ratt's Out of the Cellar (which i was too punk to listen to anymore) and i would get a cassette called The Blasting Concept Volume 2, which was released by Black Flag's SST label (cool points) and featured Black Flag, The Minutemen, Husker Du, and a bunch of other presumably punk bands i had not heard of before. A good trade, so my well worn Ratt tape moved on to a new home.
The first track on The Blasting Concept Volume 2 was not a punk rock song at all. In fact, it really sounded like an old Black Sabbath tune. I was cool with that, but it was not what i expected. The song was called Look Behind You and was by a band called Saint Vitus. Huh. Bauhaus sang about that Saint dancing, but even as a Catholic teen i had no real knowledge of Saint Vitus. It was an interesting connection for a band that seemed out of place on the tape. But i was of that age where i trusted Greg Ginn. In retrospect that was foolish, but in this one instance it served me well.
I eventually tracked down a cassette of an album by Saint Vitus, the out of place metal band on the punk compilation tape. That album was called Born Too Late and it was released in 1984. The title track was about how weird it was that they were a metal band born too late and stuck living in the punk era. That cassette stuck with me through the end of the 80s, but then i moved on to indie rock, an evolution of punk cool. I hadn't thought about Saint Vitus in a long time, until i was reading an article about the band Sleep and the article mentioned that Sleep love Saint Vitus.
I went and dragged out my old cassette, but i don't have a functioning tape deck at the moment. So i found Born Too Late streaming on YouTube and played it loud on my computer. Good, sludgy stuff.
And then i went and looked for a website for this old band. And, it turns out, they are still going at it! Wow. They now have a different lead singer than on Born Too Late, but the guitar is still a masterful sludgy drone, all messed up and distorted to heck and back.
So i ended up pre-ordering this record. And it is awesome!
The band is, well, not the same band from 1984. They have a different singer -- Scott Reagers sings now. Turns out he was replaced by the guy (Wino Weinrich) who sang in 1984, so they have actually looped all the way back around to their original vocalist. Drummer Armando Acosta died in 2010 from natural causes, and bassist Mark Adams had to retire because he has Parkinsonís Disease. (Wow --metal bands are getting old!) But guitarist Dave Chandler is still plugging away with a new rhythm section, and this sounds like what i remember from the 80s.
One thing to note: metal is often kind of formulaic, and in that sense it is a lot like jazz. One or more instruments starts of each song with an interlude, then the whole band comes in, and then later there is an often lengthy solo, usually by guitar. Lather, rinse, repeat. Add distortion and lyrics that are menacing and dark.
If you don't like that sort of thing, you will not find anything to enjoy here.
Remains kicks off the record with Reagers singing clearly, out front, dramatic and emoting. He uses his voice to good effect here, and then Chandler kicks in with a guitar solo that is a wail of distortion. Wonderful.
A Prelude To... is slow and sparse, the guitar strummed, the bass a slow rumble, and Reagers really emoting. This is pretty and odd and tense. So of course as soon as it fades out, bassist Patrick Bruders starts a fast thudding bass riff, the drums tear off, and Chandler wails a fast roar on the guitar. Reagers joins in, and Bloodshed tears forward almost like a punk song, as if they are still arguing the theme of Born Too Late, in a way. On the chorus, Reagers howls like Dio.
12 Years In The Tomb is a similar fast number, drummer Henry Vasquez really pounding it out as Chandler tortures his guitar. Reagers' voice is a foreground growl that wavers at the end of the lines. But it is the guitar riff here that makes it. (One side note: Reagers keeps mentioning "Creepers" in the lyrics, and i guess he means enemies ... but all i can think of is the exploding penis-shaped monsters that are the bane of my girlfriend's 11 year old's Minecraft existence. And then i imagine Minecraft creepers chasing a bunch of metal guys around ... Hilarious! They need a video of Saint Vitus and Minecraft creepers!) Anyway, Chandler gives a great, distorted solo at the end here. Another powerful tune.
Wormhole again starts off with a powerful Bruders riff that leads to a nice staccato rhythm that pairs well with Reagers' voice. Hour Glass is nicely mid-tempoed, with Chandler playing thick distorted sludge on guitar.
The next tune is weird. It's called City Park and is Reagers reciting some kind of creepy story with odd sound effects. Not my favorite thing here, and the looped laughter at the end is kind of disturbing.
They lay the sludge heavy on Last Breath, which is a classic doom metal tune. It is slow, heavy, and distorted to hell and back. At the end there is an extended instrumental coda with Vasquez and Bruders keeping a mighty beat going as Chandler tries to play every effects pedal at once. It is a glorious noise.
And then finally the record ends with a short (under two minutes? unheard of in Doom Metal!) fast, punk tune called Useless. Chandler's playing is a fast blur and the rhythm flies forward. A nice end to the record.
So: this is a doom metal record by one of the giants of the genre, who are still going at it after many many years. I enjoy this, and play it loud. If you enjoy this kind of thing, then this is a good album to pick up.