Southern Lord Records
It’s easy to see why Black Flag worshipped these guys. Shit, I worship Saint Vitus slavishly and unreservedly. And V serves just as well as a primer on how doom should be as it does as a near-holy relic of beauty and sadness. V boasts the classic Vitus lineup, in fine red-eyed and nonconformist form.
Opener “Living Backwards” is a revelation in heavy trance-like simplicity. Do you want to know why Dave Chandler is a genius? It’s because of the deceptive restraint in the super-downtuned three chord chugging central riff here. Man, sometimes it doesn’t even sound like a guitar. Chandler is also an innovative soloist, all discordance and guitar strings being pulled loose off their pegs, pained moans of feedback and electrified hum. It’s as much sixties psychedelic rock as it is the spacier end of free jazz. Brilliant atonal stuff. For the rest of the time, he was like an autistic Hendrix; he knew less was more and everyone else was wrong, so he just plugged into his own fucking brain and beat fuckers into submission. And that stomping rhythm section? These guys were more precise and restrained than Slint or Shellac or any of those fuckers would ever be, and they were ten times as heavy and twenty times more powerful. This band is the model of restraint/minimalism, wringing ungodly bleak emotion out of every single note, drilling into the very viscous, blood red core of the blues.
From there it only gets better. “I Bleed Black” drains all the energy and blood right out of your ears. It’s an aural void, a black hole, the guitars suck in all light and heat. A perfect counterpoint to Wino’s cold, emotionless drone that occasionally rises when railing against his hatred of the human herd — a lyrical conceit that rears it’s head surprisingly often, making Saint Vitus not only the children of the grave, but inheritors of the revolutionary ideals of the sixties. Careful though, my friend, these hippies drink blood.
“When Emotion Dies” is a stunner: swampy, blood-simple acoustic blues. A vicodined Wino sounds exactly like the sunken-eyed Blixa Bargeld. The only respites of melody come from gospel-tinged female backing vocals. “Mind Food” is an unabashed salute to the lysergic drugs that no doubt made much of the Vitus collective’s sound possible. “Jack Frost” is terrifying. Wino gives the performance of a lifetime, actually embodying nature’s sprite, who, in Vitus’s vision, is recast into a murderous force of nature, trapping all life within his cold embrace and draining it slowly, savoring every drop of frozen blood. He out-menaces Ozzy and basically sets himself up as the fucking prophet of the doom genre, lengthening out every line of hollow intonation and whisper for extra evil. And when his voice actually flutters at “and frostbite sets in,” followed by hellish waves of thick viscous guitar feedback dissonance, I defy you not to shudder in fear. The bassline is just punishingly heavy, it actually shudders as played, from being so downtuned and wrong in every way, almost as if the speakers are trying to reject it.
“Petra (Patra)” soundtracks a slow trudge into desperation and loneliness. Wino wails about a love gone sour and the rest of the band compose a ghastly, listless march into quicksand. The tempo picks up slightly for guitar abusing solos, but for some reason that feels even worse.
One thing I never realized about Vitus is that they brought a healthy dose of iconoclasm and nonconformity to their lyrics, along with the requisite despair. Saint Vitus were trying to suggest that there was a third way to live your life; along with this thundering, thudding roar they were questioning everything and trying to set forth viable alternatives for a new society. There was this heroic nobility to their struggle; Wino sounds like a modern Thoreau belting out lines like “Why must you always stare/I ain’t no fucking clown/Just want to live without somebody bringing me down/All I wanted to live my life/Easy and free.” Fucking righteous man. Vitus hated the square world and the trappings of the consumerist society. “Angry Man” is the soundtrack to the new outcast revolution (“I refuse to be like them”) accompanied by ancient pillars of prehistoric guitar/bass/drum fusion, battering down the very walls of the 9-5 drudge.
Vitus took their time because they knew they had all the time in the world. This is music distilled to its purest, most despairing essence. Immerse your fucking self.
Southern Lord: www.southernlord.com