Friday 17 May 2019

Saint Vitus - Saint Vitus (2019)

Country: USA
Style: Doom Metal
Rating: 5/10
Release Date: 17 May 2019
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Time does fly when we don't pay attention and this self titled Saint Vitus album comes no less than 35 years after the last one, their debut release from 1984. It's only their ninth studio album, following Lillie: F-65 from 2012 and the early seven from the eighties and nineties. Surprisingly, the line up isn't much different, as the band has never featured less than two founder members, which is what we have here.

Dave Chandler has been the guitarist all the way through. While there have been seven eras of vocalists, that only amounts to three different singers and the original, Scott Reagers, is back again for a third time. Mark Adams played bass through to 2016 but sadly had to retire because of Parkinson's; Patrick Bruders is his replacement. And there have only been two drummers over the years; Armando Acosta handed over to Henry Vasquez shortly before his death in 2010.

Now my tastes in doom have always fallen a lot more on the European side than the American, from Black Sabbath at the beginning through doom/death bands like Paradise Lost and My Dying Bride to classic era Candlemass and the Monasterium album that knocked my socks off earlier this month. Of the pioneering American bands, I'd lean far more towards Pentagram and Trouble than Saint Vitus or the Obsessed, but I know who they are and I've enjoyed some of their work.

Part of that is the punk influence that's overt here not just in the rapid fire punk song that closes the album but in the deliberate looseness of the rest of the track listing. This feels like Saint Vitus got themselves into the studio and played whatever they wanted without much care about whether, put together, it constituted something that made sense. And, frankly, even though I love variety in my metal albums, this feels disjointed.

Remains is a highly promising opener, an elephant of a track given acid and let out to run loose. Chandler's wild soloing only gets wilder as the album runs on, but it all starts here. It gets even more wild on Bloodshed, then more prominent on 12 Years in the Tomb as Vazquez slows down so that he can showcase his manipulation of feedback without interruption, before joining back in at a faster pace. Then Chandler returns for more of this in Wormhole and Hour Glass, like he's a zombie Jimi Hendrix reanimated to wail away on an old guitar in the middle of nowhere as a conjuration of elder gods.

While Chandler's gloriously insane soloing is consistent, the songs around him aren't. A Prelude to... is intriguing but it doesn't lead anywhere. It sounds very much like an intro, with subdued vocals from Reagars and a folky bass run from Bruders, but it doesn't feel like a prelude to Bloodshed, which is far more up tempo and vicious. 12 Years in the Tomb and Wormhole have that punk doom vibe too, like they're recording live in Chandler's back yard. I appreciated Bruders's contributions here, especially leading a Sabbath-like intro to Wormhole.

Things get stranger though. City Park is a set of ambient textures with an eerie narration and a very slow plodding bass. It's half horror soundtrack material and half stoner take on Tom Waits spoken word poetry like What's He Building? Given that the voice is often lost behind the wind and the lyrics aren't really why we listen to Saint Vitus albums, the effect is lost and I have to wonder why this track is here. It's as out of place as the blitz of Useless, which ought to be a cover version but not one I recognise.

It's good to see Saint Vitus back and this is worth it for the solos alone, but there are only really two, maybe three fully formed tracks worthy of a seven years in the making album: They're Remains and Bloodshed, with Last Breath as the maybe, given that it slows down gloriously but sounds rather like a doomy Glenn Danzig song. I've been positively surprised a lot this year but this one runs the other way. It should have been much more.

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