Of all the doom albums that have come out of America since the birth of the genre, these are probably the two that are the most singularly influential, the most pivotal, and at their base, the most doomed. Saint Vitus released their self-titled debut on Greg Ginn‘s SST Records in California in 1984, and one year later, the East Coast answered back with Pentagram‘s Relentless essentially marking the beginning of what we think of today as Maryland doom. The question of which is the superior album seems ridiculous even to ask, since I feel like what we should be doing is just being glad they were both made, but here goes:
Saint Vitus‘ Saint Vitus flew directly in the face of what was expected both of SST and of the SoCal underground. It was slow, it was lurching, and it was miserable. Saint Vitus did not have Black Flag‘s sense of self-righteous social rage — they had slow suicide with booze and pills. Their message was not of rising above, but of being buried at sea. Scott Reagers‘ vocals remain a blueprint for doom singers to follow, but try as so many do, the same black magic has never managed to be captured. Together with the foreboding bass of Mark Adams, the noise-infected guitar of Dave Chandler and Armando Acosta‘s unbreakable plod, the combination of elements was overwhelming. Even now, listening to Saint Vitus makes you feel like you’re drowning in it.
But if Chandler‘s guitar tone ever had a rival in that era, it came from Victor Griffin. One listen to the churning malevolence of “All Your Sins,” and there’s no question you’re hearing some of the most wretched doom since Sabbath‘s heyday. As much as Pentagram came to be known later for frontman Bobby Liebling‘s fabled drug addiction and a constantly rotating lineup, with Griffin, drummer Joe Hasselvander and bassist Martin Swaney (who had performed together as the trio Death Row), the band’s overdue first full-length was a milestone, and 26 years after its release, the title Relentless feels no less appropriate. “Sign of the Wolf,” “The Ghoul,” “Relentless,” “20 Buck Spin” — these are the standards by which we measure what doom has become since.
I could go on at length about both these records, but you get the point. Here’s what it boils down to: Two epics, two black covers, two of American doom’s greatest, and you’ve got to pick one. Damned if I can choose, but if you’re feeling more decisive, please, have at it in the comments.
Tags: Gods, Pentagram, Saint Vitus