What a long strange trip its been for Saint Vitus. One of American’s oldest doom bands, they’ve been grinding away since the late 70s. Contemporaries of Pentagram and Trouble, they’ve always stood apart, doing their own thing while maintaining an enigmatic outsider status. They’ve released some important albums over their long career, like their self-titled debut, Born Too Late and V, but after 1995’s Die Healing opus, the band called it quits, with a few sporadic reformations occurring since. After a 17 year layoff they released 2012s Lillie F-65, and then they waited another 7 years to drop this, their second self-titled album. Beyond the fact that having multiple eponymous platters is awkward and confusing, there’s a nagging feeling that since reforming, the band is just going through the motions. The lineup keeps shuffling from album to album, with legendary frontman Scott “Wino” Weinrich out once again in favor of original vocalist Scott Reagers. There’s been little to no pre-release hype, and there’s just something a bit apathetic about the way they’re going about things these days.
None of that extraneous nonsense matters though if the music is good. Sadly, Lillie F-65 was a big disappointment, feeling lackluster and unfinished. And as excited as I was to hear new material from these doom geezers,1 I was dubious about the band being up to the challenge of releasing a respectable album at this tenuous point in their lifespan. Opener “Remains” gave me hope, recalling their classic, fuzzed out, 60s-worshiping, Black Sabbath through a Woodstock filter sound. Dave Chandler’s heavily distorted Blue Cheer on steroids guitar tone feels like an old friend you’ve missed, and Scott Reager’s downbeat, Danzig-lite crooning sounds as solid as it did way back in the 80s. It’s a very respectable example of their sound and easily the best thing they’ve done since Die Healing. Followup “A Prelude to” is like a depressive ballad by The Doors, full of grim mood, but it feels more like the beginning of a song than a song in itself, and when it ends it feels anticlimactic and unsatisfying.
A few songs like “Bloodshed” and “12 Years in a Tomb” aren’t bad but can’t take that next step to really grab your attention, though the latter has some interesting moments as it rambles this way and that. “Hour Glass” is better, sounding like a lost cut from Born Too Late, but it’s still average at best. Besides the opener, only penultimate tune “Last Breath” truly impresses me, bringing back the uber creepy guitar sound from Die Healing for a song that feels like the soundtrack to a horror movie as much as a compelling, slow-moving doom spectacle. Chandler and Reagers both excel here, delivering performances that prove the band can still produce solid music when adequately inspired, which makes the rest of the material’s lack of inspiration so frustrating. Of the nine tracks, only two are high-level, and the remainder is either average or outright bad. “City Park” is a strange, ineffective spoken word piece full of distorted guitar and cheesy wind effects, and closer “Useless” is a short, primitive punk rock song that sounds like a bunch of high school kids did it, ending the album on a confused and dispiriting note.
Dave Chandler always had a very distinctive playing style, half drugged out Jimi Hendrix and halfTony Iommi. He’s penned some amazing doom riffs in his time, often complimenting them with crazed feedback and fuzzed out, chaotic soloing. He does plenty of that here, and it’s always great to hear him wailing away, but except on the few standout cuts, much of his playing feels predictable and even a bit rote. Scott Reagers sounds great and his voice hasn’t changed much at all since the 80s. I’ve always preferred him to Wino as the voice of Saint Vitus, and he does what he can with the material, but much of the writing here is just too flat and generic, especially considering the band had 7 years to work on it. Much like Lillie F-65, there’s an inescapable feeling that the album is either rushed or unfinished. Either way, it’s definitely not Saint Vitus anywhere near top form, and that’s so damn depressing.
With back-to-back sub-par albums, it seems like one of America’s original doom bands just doesn’t have it anymore. Saint Vitus is a 41-minute album with perhaps 15 minutes of worthwhile material, and that just doesn’t cut it. If this is all the band can deliver after so much downtime, then they should just close up the doom shoppe and give up the ghost. I’m disappointed, but at this point I can’t say I’m surprised.