Review & Track Premiere: Saint Vitus, Saint Vitus

saint vitus saint vitus

[Click play above to stream ‘Bloodshed’ from Saint Vitus’ upcoming self-titled album, out May 17 on Season of Mist. They’re on tour in Europe starting next month (dates here).]

Some 35 years ago, Saint Vitus defied the punk scene to which they mostly played at the time and issued their self-titled debut, an all-black cover with the band’s logo emblazoned on top, as though there was nothing else to say. And the raw doom that pervaded that 1984 release met that same barebones standard — as purely derived Sabbathian heavy as has ever existed outside the forebears themselves. With an undercurrent of hardcore punk’s upfront middle-finger-raised confrontation-prone attitude, Saint Vitus became one of modern doom’s formative and essential acts. They’ve come and gone over the years since and changed members and shape, but Saint Vitus are still Saint Vitus, and that would seem to be the message of their second self-titled release.

Also their third outing for Season of Mist behind 2012’s comeback studio offering Lillie: F-65 (review here) and 2016’s Live Vol. 2 (review here), it immediately enters conversation with the band’s earliest days thanks as well to the return of vocalist Scott Reagers, who rejoined the band in 2015 after a split with Scott “Wino” Weinrich (The Obsessed, etc.) — who had fronted the band since their reunion began at Roadburn Festival in 2009 — thereby keeping the proportion of original members in the band to two, as guitarist Dave Chandler remains the core of the group, while drummer Henry Vasquez (also Blood of the Sun) marks a decade with the group and bassist Pat Bruders (also Down, ex-Crowbar) makes his first appearance. For Reagers, it’s his first time fronting Vitus for a studio record since 1995’s Die Healing (discussed here), which was the band’s final LP until the 2012 reunion release. That makes the new Saint Vitus — a candidate for all manner of nicknames taken from its cover art, whether it’s ‘The Fog Album,’ ‘The Murk Album’ (I like that one), ‘Grey Vitus’ or any number of others — all the more an event than it even would be arriving seven years after Lillie: F-65, and as it brings the band back together with producer Tony Reed (also of Mos Generator), its nine-track/41-minute run succeeds both in capturing the feel of classic Vitus and pushing their sound to places it hasn’t yet gone in the 40 years they’ve been a band.

Two examples to that point, both late in the album: “City Park” and “Useless.” Following the swaying noise/crashfest of “Hour Glass,” “City Park” is not at all the first time Chandler has taken on the vocalist position in the band — one recalls “Just Another Notch” from Die Healing and “A Timeless Tale” from 1992’s C.O.D. (discussed here), as well as “When Emotion Dies” from 1990’s landmark V, and so on — and of those, it’s probably most akin to “When Emotion Dies,” but “City Park” is on a different mission. Its noise is set to the purpose of atmospherics and drama in a way that Saint Vitus have never done before, and Chandler‘s spoken word, almost a whisper, is dark and narrative and backed by guitar noise in an experimentalist way that makes the four-minute piece much more than just an introduction to the subsequent “Last Breath,” which serves as a six-and-a-half-minute culmination of Saint Vitus‘ doomed persona, with a signature riff and lumbering groove and Reagers telltale vibrato over top.

“City Park” sets out to embody that murk on the cover, that feeling of unease of being alone someplace in the darkness with a shapeless and probably imaginary malevolence. “It might be illusion,” Chandler speculates. Indeed it might, but “City Park” is one example of Saint Vitus trying something new for them. At the same time, after “Last Breath” has answered back to the filthy churn and tension of album-opener “Remains” — sure to be a crowd-pleaser — a feedback introduction to album finale “Useless” takes up 13 of a total 91 seconds of what’s both the fastest and most outwardly punk rock song Saint Vitus have ever written. Gang shouts, blazing speed, and a social comment lyric that reminds of early C.O.C., it’s a stripped-raw moment of thrust that, especially in the context of the band’s four decades, seems to be done in good humor. One can almost imagine Chandler introducing it from the stage: “Well it took us 40 years, but we finally wrote a punk song.”

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Saint Vitus are no strangers to playing fast. The eponymous track that opened the self-titled is a prime example, or even “Blessed Night” from the last record, but “Useless” goes a step further in a very similar way that “City Park” takes what they’ve done before and brings it to a new level. Even the earlier “A Prelude To…” — which is actually longer than “Bloodshed,” which it would seem to have been composed to introduce — steps beyond the limits of what one might expect from them, with a minimalist creeper of a guitar line and a vocal showcase from Reagers that drifts to about the 2:20 mark before Bruders‘ bassline enters to begin the introduction to “Bloodshed” in earnest. And while “Bloodshed” — arguably the most outwardly catchy inclusion here — and the subsequent “12 Years in the Tomb” both have good speed to their push, the latter finding Chandler taking a particularly noisy solo as Vasquez dutifully holds the track together, they’re still well within Saint Vitus‘ wheelhouse.

Likewise, the mid-tempo centerpiece “Wormhole” — which would seem to be a complement/update in lyrical theme to the opiate-minded “White Stallions” from 1985’s Hallow’s Victim, the band’s second record and the last of Reagers‘ original run with them — does well in fusing faster and slower methods and brings nuance of layered vocals in the verses to standout lines like, “I always feel safe in a sacred place/Far away from the human race,” emphasizing a perspective that is no less quintessentially Vitus than Chandler‘s ultra-low guitar tone, which is not only intact throughout these songs, but reestablished as the foundational component that it is of everything they’ve ever done. Especially as this is the first Saint Vitus full-length not to feature original bassist Mark Adams — whose Parkinson’s diagnosis was revealed last year — Chandler seems all the more the center of what makes the band who they are. That doesn’t, however detract from Reagers‘ performance across this material, as from “Remains” to “Useless” (notwithstanding “City Park”), he brings the most classic feel to the material that ties together the album’s diverse presentation. He surfs the groove of “Bloodshed” like a master and is no less at home among the filth and sleaze of “Hour Glass” than in the lurching final verse of “Last Breath.”

Thus it is a two-pronged righteousness to be found on Saint Vitus‘ Saint Vitus. They bring to bear the sound that’s made their legacy span generations as it has while also pushing themselves to try ways of working they’ve never done before. It’s difficult to look at this album out of the context of Saint Vitus‘ past output, but I’m not entirely sure we’re supposed to. Rather, even the title — or lack thereof — seems to hint at the band coming full circle, both in terms of Chandler and Reagers re-teaming for a studio album, for their ongoing flirtations with punk, and for their reclamation of the style and tone that was so much their own from the very start. Saint Vitus‘ Saint Vitus could stand alone, but it doesn’t have to, and especially considering how much the band has done to shape modern doom, it is all the more admirable that the creative restlessness that drove their earliest days would still be so vibrant these many years later. Why rest on your laurels when you can fully embody the miseries and disaffection of our age?

Saint Vitus, “12 Years in the Tomb”

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One Response to “Review & Track Premiere: Saint Vitus, Saint Vitus

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