As a life-long doom fan, you’re almost required to love long-suffering underdogs like Saint Vitus. They’ve toiled away for decades with the bare minimum of notoriety, despite the fact some of their music is so fucking good! I’ve been on the bandwagon since a friend gave me their Hallow’s Victim album (on cassette) way back in 85. There’s just something about the way they blend early Black Sabbath with huge doses of psychedelic Jimi Hendrix worship, and I’m still captivated by their tales of misery, woe and zombies. Their classic song “Dying Inside” has been the go-to hangover music in the House of Steel Druhm for decades (not that I intentionally abuse alcohol; stuff just happens sometimes). While I may be the only guy who prefers Saint Vitus with original singer Scott Reagers (with the possible exception of Scott Reagers himself), I respected and enjoyed the Wino era too. When I heard there was going to be a new album, the first since 95′s Die Healing, I was plenty psyched, regardless of who was behind the mic. So, after a seventeen year wait, we get Lillie: F-65, which is the name of a powerful depressant popular in the ’70s. That’s appropriate, since these guys were always about massively downcast, depressing music. Alright, enough of the Saint Vitus nuthuggery, here’s the verdict.
“Let Them Fall” greets fans with that warm, comforting Vitus sound. Dave Chandler’s big, fuzzed out guitar and Wino’s world-weary, down and out vocals are front and center and it sounds like they picked up right where 1986′s Born too Late left off. Sounding suitably dark in tone and mood, Wino rants about the evils of society and it’s leaders as Dave’s riffs moan and groan plaintively like a creaky wooden ship. Its nothing revolutionary, but you can feel the conviction in the music and it has a palpable working class, gritty charm. Things get even better with “The Bleeding Ground,” which has a super simple riff that recycles endlessly as Wino spins his hobo wisdom and backstreet poetry. It peaks at 4:33 with a ridiculously feedbacky, distortion drenched solo straight from the late ’60s/early ’70s of rock. “Blessed Night” is more of the same, and while it’s nothing amazing, it’s decent enough and keeps the album’s momentum moving. Sadly, things pretty much break down on the album’s back-end. “The Waste of Time” packs some punch with a tough, angry vibe, but isn’t all that memorable. The one-two set of “Dependence” and “Withdrawal” go flat-line, except for some moments of interesting guitar weirdness.
The huge problem with Lillie: F-64 is, none of the songs show what Saint Vitus is truly capable of. Sure, Wino sounds full of piss and pruno, and Chandler’s riffs are as fuzzy as Ozzy’s memories, but the songs themselves rarely elevate above average doom. Tracks like “Blessed Night” and “Dependence” are nondescript, and only the presence of legends like Wino and Chandler keep them from being totally forgettable (the long, strange solo/noise-fest starting at 4:37 of “Dependence” is an example of Chandler keeping things interesting). It’s also a very short album at 33 minutes and six songs (and a trippy, weird outro). After seventeen years, it’s not unreasonable for long-time fans to expect more material than this.
Another issue is the move away from the ginormous, almost terrifying guitar sound they had on Die Healing. It was such an oppressive, harrowing sound, I can’t imagine why they wouldn’t seek to duplicate it. While the production here is fine, the absence of that looming, dread-inducing guitar sound leaves this feeling a bit flat and limp in comparison.
While I had high hopes Vitus could spark a late career revival with a killer release like Pentagram did, Lillie: F-65 just doesn’t give you much to put in your pipe and smoke. It’s decent, workmanlike doom by seasoned pros, but it feels like they’re going through the motions at times. I hate giving this a poor rating and I sincerely hope they keep on truckin and release more material, but it needs to be a lot better than this to live up to their brand name. Peace.