Gruesome Tunes Best of 2012 now available for download!



12/30/12 PLAYLIST (TOP 10 ALBUMS OF 2012)

Candlemass – Waterwitch (Psalms for the Dead) 7:04

Candlemass – Black as Time (Psalms for the Dead) 6:47


Sons of Tonatiuh – Plastic Cell (Parade of Sorrow) 2:51

Sons of Tonatiuh – Season of Pills (Parade of Sorrow) 3:26


Sons of OTIS – Lessons (Seismic) 6:55

Sons of OTIS – Alone (Seismic) 8:03


Mares of Thrace – Act I: David Glimpses Bathsheba (The Pilgrimage) 3:53

Mares of Thrace – The Gallwasp (The Pilgrimage) 4:37


Saint Vitus – The Bleeding Ground (Lillie: F-65) 6:07

Saint Vitus – The Waste of Time (Lillie: F-65) 5:39


Corrosion of Conformity – Your Tomorrow (self-titled) 4:07

Corrosion of Conformity – The Doom (self-titled) 4:52


Witch Mountain – The Ballad of Lanky Rae (Cauldron of the Wild) 5:47

Witch Mountain – Shelter (Cauldron of the Wild) 7:26


Blue Aside – We Move to Sleep (The Moles of a Dying Race) 10:51

Blue Aside – The Moles of a Dying Race Part 3 (The Moles of a Dying Race) 5:40


Neurosis – We All Rage in Gold (Honor Found in Decay) 6:36

Neurosis – All is Found… In Time (Honor Found in Decay) 8:51


Ufomammut – Magickon (Oro: Opus Primum) 7:57

Ufomammut – Oroborus (Oro: Opus Alter) 7:55

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Y’know, bands don’t release records quite as often as they used to.  Back in the day, labels demanded a new album, oh, about every six months or so–and thus, when it came to those classic bands from the 70′s, most of them put out at least one new LP per year.  That’s not so much the case anymore, however, as what little money there is to be made in the music business comes through touring; the physical product certainly comes secondary to seeing the band in the flesh.  Anyways, that’s all a big long windup to say that only one band from my 2011 list made the top 10 this year, but the turnover is largely due to the fact that the other artists had no new material to contend with.  Alas, there are many old, familiar names in this year’s top 10… but a couple new ones, as well.  And with no further ado, I give you the full list, in ascending order:

10. Candlemass – Psalms for the Dead (Napalm)

The farewell album from the forefathers of epic doom metallicus might not be a personal best, but it’s still pretty impressive that they’re pumping this stuff out over 25 years later.  There are at least a couple songs on here that should find their way into the farewell tour setlist–here’s hoping they’ve got some North American dates forthcoming…

CHOICE WORDS: As a great gloomy glob of Lars Johansson riffage announces right off the bat, these guys are still no stranger to high-quality doom. “Prophet” is for the most part mid-paced, but the Phantom-of-the-Opera vocals of recently departed (from the band, that is) Robert Lowe elevates it to epicness, almost more power than doom metal, though the crushingly-heavy riff that kicks in just shy of five minutes affirms that these are the epic doom masters we’re listening to, indeed. — review, October 1st.

9. Sons of Tonatiuh – Parade of Sorrow (Hydro-Phonic)

As the pencil-drawn artwork might indicate, this is one crusty sludge slayer of an album.  The Atlanta trio’s debut was a little too black-metal sounding for my tastes, but their sophomore effort is a solid mix of NOLA-infused anger and trippy post-sludge.  Not your typical Georgia sludge platter–not that I’m complaining!

CHOICE WORDS: This record rumbles on, coming off like a head-on crash between EHG and the Melvins on the title track while “Plastic Cell” kicks up a storm of a frenzied hardcore burst that slows down midway through to a gritty sludge stomp.  “Season of Pills,” aside from its awesome song title, also sounds like some vintage NOLA tunage with a hint of crossover for that extra kick.  This is the good stuff, right here. — unpublished(!?) review

8. Sons of OTIS – Seismic (Small Stone)

The first new material from these Toronto lifers following a three-year exile in which they mostly played European gigs, Seismic is, for my money, the best OTIS offering of the 21st century.  With just the right balance between spaced-out fuzz and Saint Vitus groove, this record sure is cruisin’ for a resin bruisin’!

CHOICE WORDS: “PK” dips and dives like a Habs defenceman, a slow-rolling groove that’ll get yer head noddin’ as some cosmic space FX float past on your right. “Never in My Life” hits like a head-on collision between and , Ryan channelling Mitch Mitchell behind the kit and Gene Frenkle on the cowbell in this dirty, distorted blues number. — review, November 13th

7. Mares of Thrace – The Pilgrimage (Sonic Unyon)

This crushing sophomore album from Calgary’s finest female doom duo is a huge step forward for the Mares.  Another vicious blend of angry blackened metal and soaring post-sludge–there aren’t too many Canadian bands that sound like this!

CHOICE WORDS: Man, I can see why they released “The Gallwasp” as a preview single.  This tune crushes, killer intro/chorus riff that’s sort of a mishmash of Windstein and Pike.  This is the straight goods, right here! — These two chicks from Calgary are heavier than you, March 28th

6. Saint Vitus – Lillie: F-65 (Season of Mist)

The long-awaited (17 years!) recorded return from the masters of lo-fi mourning, Lillie is agonizingly short, at 34 and a half minutes, with a coupla throwaway instrumentals, to boot!  But when it comes to the songs, man, a handful of vintage Vitus beats the output of most modern doom bands, any day…

CHOICE WORDS: Lead-off track “Let Them Fall,” which spawned a slightly-silly music video, carries that same dark, brooding mood as heard on Born Too Late, what with the fuzzed-out Chandler riffs, Wino’s mournful cries, the solid yet understated rhythm section of Adams and Vazquez—and another mondo bizzaro guitar solo from the bearded one’s deadly arsenal. Yup, the gang’s all here… — review, May 23rd

5. Corrosion of Conformity – self-titled (Candlelight)

For a band that tends to go a while between full-lengths, the seven-year gap between In the Arms of God and their new record wasn’t incredibly unusual for COC.  What was a little more unexpected was a certain lineup change, the band eschewing Pepper Keenan in favour of a return to their original, three-piece, crossover lineup.  You can certainly hear some of their metalcore (look up the original meaning of the term, yo!) past creeping into this record, but it’s counteracted by a heavy helping of meaty, southern-doom riffage.  I was actually more stoked to hear the new stuff than the Animosity era tunes when I saw ‘em live in the summertime–and that says it all, really!

CHOICE WORDS: This record chugs along with songs like the Motorpunk bitchslap of “Leeches,” the melodic doom/sludge attack of “Your Tomorrow,” and “The Moneychangers,” which kinda recalls The Cult on punk-rock bathtub crank—with mellow, desert-style instrumental “El Lamento de las Cabras” thrown in for good measure. — review, January 7th

4. Witch Mountain – Cauldron of the Wild (Profound Lore)

I hafta admit, I was blown away by this Portland outfit’s comeback effort, South of Salem, which topped my list last year.  Suffice to say, I had pretty high expectations for this one–and its placing in my top five shows that it delivered, at least to an extent.  While I do have some minor quibbles with the record–such as black metal gurgles coming out of the beautiful mouth of Uta Plotkin–it’s still an overall winner.  They just don’t take home the grand prize this year…

CHOICE WORDS: “Beekeeper” stings with its sludgy stomp, Plotkin’s vocals coming in exclusively on the left channel of my headphones. … Her evil cackle on either side of the two-minute mark really puts the Witch in Witch Mountain as Rob Wrong delivers a punishing stop-start riff that’s perfectly punctuated for slow-motion headbanging. — review, June 18th

3. Blue Aside – The Moles of a Dying Race (Hydro-Phonic)

And the award for best album you’ve never heard goes to Blue Aside.  I’ve been a big fan of this Boston-based band ever since they sent me a CDR of their debut EP, The Orange Tree, a couple years back.  Their sound’s a little hard to pin down; on the one hand, you’ve got some seriously heavy stoner doom riffs, on the other, light, airy progressive passages–both executed with equal aplomb.  This record’s pretty heady stuff, too.  It’s over an hour long and contains a three-part titular suite.  But even if you’re normally scared off by concept albums, there’s enough happening here to hold your interest for 63 minutes, believe you me!

CHOICE WORDS: After a couple more robust numbers in “The Electrode Man” and “Will We Remain Tomorrow,” chockfull of crunchy riffs that kinda remind me of vintage Black Pyramid, mixed in with some Neurosis and a dash of Ufomammut (yes, it’s that tasty!), Part 2 clocks in at 10-and-a-half minutes. Starting off with some soothing chords and strings, which nevertheless seem a little spaced-out, this tune meanders along for a bit, oozing vintage prog, before a majestic riff comes down with the force of the best power-metal dragon-slayers to rescue a chastity-belted Yngwie Malmsteen. — review, October 29th

2. Neurosis – Honor Found in Decay (Neurot)

Could my mention of Neurosis and Ufomammut in that Blue Aside review be a bit of foreshadowing?  Perhaps.  In any case, I was pretty stoked for the new Neurosis, the sextet’s first album in over five years.  This is an older, wiser Neurosis on display here, more meandering mellow passages making their presence felt than on, say, Through Silver in Blood.  In any case, they only seem to accentuate the well-placed heavy riffs that deliver a big blow both physically and spiritually.  Man, I’m dying to figure out a way to fit one of their mid-January live dates onto my calendar…

CHOICE WORDS: And here’s where it gets interesting. I swear to Satan I hear bagpipes in the break, though that’s possibly just a digital effect, the riffs pulsating and pummelling with air-raid-siren keys in the background. — review, October 7th

1. Ufomammut – Oro: Opus Primum/Opus Alter (Neurot)

Not content in limiting themselves to just one album, these Italian riffmongers crafted a concept so lengthy that it required two full-length records, issued six months apart, to tell the tale.  Taking cues from their labelmates–label-owners, really–they weave a wild story taking us to far-off lands, albeit with a heartier helping of sludge than their mentors.  Though I prefer the first chapter, Opus Primum, listening to both installments back to back is likely to make your ears melt and your head explode.  Don’t try this at home, kids…

CHOICE WORDS: Let’s face it, you’re not going to hear a wide variety of different styles on here, but for spaced-out doom done right, it doesn’t get much better. — review (Opus Primum), March 20th

Unfamiliar with Ufomammut?  Need more Neurosis in your diet?  Have you been living under a rock for the last 12 months, missing the new Vitus, COC and Witch Mountain releases?  Fortunately, there’s hope.  Tune in to Gruesome Tunes tonight from 6 to 8 pm Eastern Time as I count down, and play a couple selections, from all the aforementioned albums!  The podcast will also be made available to download in the next couple days, so keep checking this space…


Y’know, it almost feels like I didn’t attend as many concerts as I did last year.  Mind you, if I were to count up and tally every local gig I went to, there’d probably be twice as many shows that didn’t make the cut as there are gigs on here.  And hey, looking at this list, there’s really nothing but quality from start to finish.  As it were, the top gigs I saw in 2012 spanned two countries, three states and five cities, although most of them occurred in Toronto, naturally.  Here they are in ascending order…

10. Accept/Kreator @ The Phoenix, September 12th


Accept was one of the bands that first got me into metal back in the day, and I certainly can’t complain about their latest post-reunion album, either.  The subsequent tour saw them team up with Teutonic thrashers Kreator for what turned out to be a pretty bitchin’ double bill.

CHOICE WORDS: And yes, they still played all the hits, “Fast as a Shark,” “Restless and Wild,” “Breaker,” “Princess of the Dawn,” “Balls to the Wall” and “Teutonic Terror”–the latter of which firmly belongs in the Accept canon.  If they can pull a couple more “Terrors” out of their army helmets in the next studio session, I know I’ll be back for Round 4 — Accept: Third time’s slightly less charming… (

Click for more pics!

On that note, check out my top 10 German metal bands.

9. Melvins Lite @ Opera House, July 5th


The Seattle sludge forefathers/idols of Cobain were sporting a slightly different lineup this time around.  Eschewing their recent double-drumkit attack, they went out as Melvins Lite, a three-piece featuring Trevor Dunn (of Mr. Bungle fame) on standup bass.  That said, I can now attest that this incarnation is almost equally excellent as the full-bodied, five-per-cent-alcohol version. ;)

CHOICE WORDS: Having seen the Melvins last time, I sorta knew what to expect.  They went on right at 10, played for 75 minutes, didn’t really do an encore (although both Buzz ‘n Dale left the stage for a Trevor Dunn bass solo) and left everybody satisfied yet wanting more. — AMATEUR CONCERT PHOTOGRAPHY HOUR: MELVINS, Retox @ Opera House, July 5, 2012

They also did a bitchin’ cover of Sir Paul McCartney’s “Let Me Roll It.”  I count down my top five Melvins cover tunes over here.

8. Corrosion of Conformity/Torche/Black Cobra @ Opera House, June 21st


Another reinvigorated, stripped-down lineup performing at the Opera House, and just as couple weeks before the Melvins, as it were.  I’ve really dug COC’s self-titled comeback record–and that new EP ain’t too shabby, either!  When they took their act on the road with possibly the best stoner/sludge/whatever lineup to hit Toronto this year, needless to say I made sure to mark it on my calendar.

CHOICE WORDS: Seeing a good chunk of the record in the flesh a few feet from my face only reaffirms its status as a top contender for Album of the Year 2012 in my books.  And it’s safe to say that Mike Dean isn’t lip-synching on stage, either.  His voice is just as raw, his delivery as garbled as it was in ’85. — COC still sounds good to me! (

More pics here!

7. Iron Maiden/Alice Cooper @ Molson Amphitheatre, July 13th

(This was taken by someone with a much better camera than me.)

Another band that I’ve been listening to for a really long time, and for whom I’m guaranteed to be in attendance at their biennial Toronto concerts, is Iron Maiden.  I’ve seen ‘em at the Amp a couple times now, as well as the ACC.  And while I’ve never been able to get floor tickets at the former, you really don’t need to be in front of the stage to enjoy Maiden in concert, lemme tell ya!  They also got bonus points this year for bringing Alice Cooper along as an opening act; twas worth getting there early, that’s for sure…

CHOICE WORDS: Though they didn’t have me leaping out of my seat by starting their set with “Moonchild,” the elaborate stage production coupled with a classic set certainly won me over by the end of the night.  By injecting the aforementioned “Trooper” and “2 Minutes” into the set, along with “The Number of the Beast,” “Run to the Hills” and “Phantom of the Opera,” it certainly made the material from their 1988 release appear more palatable. — Maiden pulls out all the stops to make Seventh Son number one! (

In case you’re wondering how they stack up, I compared Maiden’s back catalogue to Cooper’s–albeit with a 10-year distance–back in July.

6. Witch Mountain/Blood Ceremony/Castle @ Hard Luck Bar, June 13th


The first appearance of Witch Mountain on Torontonian soil–surprisingly, they’d be back by October–was arguably the best stoner/doom gig this city had seen in 2012.  (OK, maybe second best–more on that later…)  Bolstered by support bands Blood Ceremony and Castle, this three-headed Medusa delivered an unhealthy triple dose of female-fronted doom, capped off by the headliners showcasing the just-released Cauldron of the Wild album in its entirety.  The initial live impression might not have been as overpowering as when I first stumbled across South of Salem, which I’d later crown as album of that year, but it was definitely right up there, to be sure.  You can bet their new record figures on my list for 2012, too–more on that tomorrow! ;)

CHOICE WORDS: I was a little disappointed that they only played one song offa South of Salem, opting instead to play their new album in its entirety, but y’know what, that new record is pretty amazing in its own right–as seen last night. — AMATEUR CONCERT PHOTOGRAPHY HOUR: Witch Mountain, Blood Ceremony, Castle @ Hard Luck Bar, June 13th

On that note, check out my list of the top 10 female-fronted doom bands going!

5. All That Is Heavy II feat. Iron Man, Blood Ceremony, Blizaro, Revelation @ Mavericks, Ottawa, May 12th


Yes indeed, Blood Ceremony appears twice on this list.  (Their gig with Ghost back in January missed the cut, mind you.)  But while they headlined this biennial(?) festival in the nation’s capital, the biggest draw for yours truly, who’s seen BC about a dozen times, was the first-ever Canadian appearance for Maryland doomsters Iron Man.  Hey, if you’re keeping score at home, Iron Man finished two spots higher than Iron Maiden this year. ;)

CHOICE WORDS: New frontman Dee Calhoun is quite the imposing figure, but this band is truly the Al Morris Show, the man channeling Iommi for some serious doom riffage!  And I must say, Mr. Morris and his cohorts were much more animated than the last time I remembered… — AMATEUR CONCERT PHOTOGRAPHY HOUR: All That Is Heavy II @ Maverick’s, Ottawa, May 12th

4. Church of Misery/Hail! Hornet/The Gates of Slumber @ Studio Seven, Seattle, WA, June 9th


I don’t wanna say that Seattle is like a home away from home–fact of the matter is, I’ve only been there twice.  But as a long-time Seahawks fan, I definitely feel a certain connection to the city.  And while I didn’t fly out there back in June solely to see Church of Misery (along with TGOS and Hail! Hornet), you could say I feel a certain connection to the Japanese serial-killer stoner-doomsters as well.  And since the closest date on their first-ever North American tour was Philly, well, I figured I’d head out to the Land of the Hawks instead…

CHOICE WORDS: This being the last date of the tour, Church of Misery brought Karl Simon and T-Roy up on stage for a rousing rendition of “War is Our Destiny” with the other members of TGOS and Hail Hornet lurking in the background.  This is the great thing about seeing the last date of a tour–the headliner not having any merch left, well, that’s the not-so-great thing. — AMATEUR CONCERT PHOTOGRAPHY HOUR: CHURCH OF MISERY, Hail Hornet, The Gates of Slumber @ Studio Seven, Seattle, June 9, 2012

3. Saint Vitus/Weedeater/Sourvein @ The Grog Shop, Cleveland, OH, September 29th


Incidentally, Vitus also took the third spot on last year’s list, albeit their all-too-brief Metalliance Tour appearance left me wanting more.  Fortunately, with a new record in the can, the band embarked on their first North American tour in nearly two decades, and a Saturday night in Cleveland Heights was alright with me, merci!  (That said, trying to catch a cab in Cleveland at 1 am isn’t tons o’ fun…)  You could even say the added bonus of Weedeater and Sourvein made the seven-hour bus ride worthwhile.

CHOICE WORDS: Vitus came through with a solid 13-song set that included all the non-instrumental numbers off their new album, a fistful from Hallow’s Victim, and other classic tunes like “Dying Inside,” “I Bleed Black,” “The Troll” and of course, “Born Too Late.”  Unbeknownst to me beforehand, the 29th was Wino’s birthday, and even though he’s now 51, old age didn’t stop him from stage diving on a couple occasions. — AMATEUR CONCERT PHOTOGRAPHY HOUR: SAINT VITUS, Weedeater, Sourvein @ Grog Shop, Cleveland, OH, September 29, 2012

Leading up to this gig, I reviewed every single Saint Vitus album.  Perhaps that’ll give you some idea of what you missed. :P

2. Dream Death reunion @ 31st Street Pub, Pittsburgh, PA, April 21st


If you’ve made it this far, you’ve probably noticed quite a few big-name metal bands on this list.  However, one of the best gigs I saw all year was when I took a little trip down to Pittsburgh to catch a cult band that only released one album–way back in 1987.  Although they don’t fit its modern-day description, Dream Death actually coined the term “sludge metal,” and like several sludge bands, their sound is somewhat of a head-on collision between hardcore punk and doom.  This home-town, one-off (well, they are playing next year’s Days of the Doomed fest…) gig was sold out in advance, packing a bar about twice the size of the Bovine, and the energy was certainly palpable.  Now this is why I collect Air Miles, right here! ;)

CHOICE WORDS: As Dream Death took an awfully long time to set up, you could feel the anticipation building, along with the urge to urinate–but hey, I was NOT giving up my spot for this.  It was, after all, their first gig in 24 years!  But the band sounded as good as ever, hell, better than some of the dodgy demos and bootlegs in their discography. — AMATEUR CONCERT PHOTOGRAPHY HOUR: DREAM DEATH/ARGUS @ 31st St Pub, Pittsburgh, April 21, 2012

1. Kyuss Lives @ Cherry Cola’s, January 1st


I may have initially balked at shelling out 200 bucks to see Kyuss Lives on New Year’s Eve, but I eventually came around.  Hey, your average New Year’s evening of dinner and dancing costs at least 50–and they don’t have Kyuss.  It turned out to be a good call, especially since this was effectively the outfit’s last gig before the lawsuits started rolling in.  (More on that below–if you’re on the homepage, that is.)  Vista Chino might end up playing venues the size of Cherry Cola’s, but it just won’t be the saaaame, maaaan!

CHOICE WORDS: It’s one thing seeing ‘em on a massive stage, and quite another being in a tiny bar, where the bouncer knocked over half the drumkit while forcibly removing a patron from the premises.  Unfortunately, I did not have my camera out when that happened… — AMATEUR CONCERT PHOTOGRAPHY HOUR: Kyuss Lives @ Cherry Cola’s, January 1st, 2012

A heavy rockin’ Stamps fan’s dilemma…

There are some people out there who really dig music.  Others happen to follow sports.  Me, well, I like both–along with movies, Quebec politics, fattening food and college-girl baseball-bat bukkake (‘cept maybe for that last one).  Thus, there sometimes comes a time when I am forced to choose.  No, not between whether I should go vote or go out for dinner; rather it’s music and sports that often sing to me, Paul Stanley-style.  And it’s not always an easy choice, either.  For instance, last weekend I missed the Seahawks at St. Louis to head down and see Saint Vitus in concert.  Okay, maybe that one was a no-brainer.  Did I mention the Hawks lost?

However, as a supporter of several Western teams now living out East, I gotta say, it gets tough.  A die-hard Leafs fan could probably pull it off (and not just during the lockout), y’know, watch the game, then head out to the gig afterwards.  Almost any major sporting event that occurs on the East Coast is over by 9:30-10, so you might miss the opening band at worse.  It’s a different story when you’re following teams on the left side of the continent, however.  When the Flames are on Hockey Night in Canada, the puck drops just after 10 pm, and by the time the game’s over, well, so’s the gig.  If I’m watching the Flames on a weekend, then that’s what I’m doing that evening–I can’t really make other plans.

Mind you, that point is probably moot.  It’s safe to say I won’t be seeing the Flames, or any other NHL team, anytime soon.  But the CFL stretch run is heating up, and while I’ve been able to squeeze my Stamps games around my concert schedule for the most part this season, there are times when the two go head-to-head for my attention.  Tonight is one of those times.

Of course, CFL games aren’t held to the strict scheduling standards of Hockey Night in Canada.  They can occur any day from Thursday to Monday and start at any time between 1 and 10 pm.  The league is somewhat beholden to TSN’s TV schedule, however.  As the exclusive national broadcaster, they’re able to fit CFL games around their otherwise scheduled programming, though we see a bit less of this now that they’ve also got an alternate TSN2 channel.  In any case, it’s not TSN that’s troubling me this time.  They’re showing some boxing match that took place a month ago in prime-time tonight.  Rather it’s the B.C. Lions’ decision to host the Stamps at 7 pm Pacific Time–combined with the three-hour time difference–that has my plans for this evening thrown into a tailspin.

Y’see, there’s a pretty sweet gig going on a few blocks south of my place tonight, and I wouldn’t think twice about attending–were it not for the big game.  And it really is a big game; the two top teams in the CFL West doing battle in a must-win for Calgary if they want to clinch the division.  This is the kinda game I circled on my calendar once I realized the West would be a two-horse (pun not intended) race this year; must-see TV.  But that day on my day-timer filled up in a hurry when I heard that Monobrow‘s coming to town.

I first saw the Ottawa power-trio at All That Is Heavy II back on Mother’s Eve, and I remember being knocked out by their exuberance, their raw power — and their punctuality.  Paired up with their Torontonian doppelgangers Galaxies in the River and my ol’ buds in Ol’ Time Moonshine, well, that’s one helluva bill.  But the bands will be going on at the same time as the Stamps and Lions do battle, and the bar doesn’t even have a TV.  (Believe me, it wouldn’t be the first time I’d asked a concert venue to put the game on for me.  I’ve got two eyes here, after all.)  So now I’m left with a tough decision to make.  I might as well just flip a coin…

Oh shit, it’s a 100th Grey Cup loonie.  Well, I guess that settles it…


(Sorry guys.  Next time…)

AMATEUR CONCERT PHOTOGRAPHY HOUR: SAINT VITUS, Weedeater, Sourvein @ Grog Shop, Cleveland, OH, September 29, 2012

It had been about 18 months since I last went down to Cleveland for the Metalliance tour.  That bill featured a ton o’ sludge bands, topped by Saint Vitus, Crowbar and, curiously, Helmet.  But their status as co-headliners didn’t earn Vitus more than a 40-minute set, so when I heard they’d be embarking on a full US tour this fall–their first since ’93!–I took another trip down to The Mistake by the Lake over the weekend.

This bill also included a heavy helping of sludge, starting off with Sourvein.  The lineup around T.Roy Medlin has certainly changed a few times over the years, but he’s assembled a pretty solid group for this outing, including, among others, ex TGOS can-basher Cool Clyde, who had a different design on his bass drum the last time I saw him.  (Incidentally, T.Roy was there too–ditto Dixie Dave!)

Weedeater is always good times.  The Three Stooges of Sludge Metal never disappoint in a live setting.  As it stands, I was on the other side of the stage, so I didn’t get as many great shots of Dixie this time, but I’ve captured him on camera on at least a couple other occasions, so it’s all good.

Vitus came through with a solid 13-song set that included all the non-instrumental numbers off their new album, a fistful from Hallow’s Victim, and other classic tunes like “Dying Inside,” “I Bleed Black,” “The Troll” and of course, “Born Too Late.”  Unbeknownst to me beforehand, the 29th was Wino’s birthday, and even though he’s now 51, old age didn’t stop him from stage diving on a couple occasions. ;)

(I know what you’re thinking, “Doesn’t this band have a bass player?”  They do, of course, mind you Mark Adams isn’t terribly photogenic…)

VITUS REVISITED: Lillie: F-65 (Season of Mist, 2012)

(This review was first published on back in May.)

This one’s been a long time coming, that’s for sure. Saint Vitus’ first record in 17 years sees the band with a new drummer (RIP Mondo!), but with the voice of Wino back in the fold for what’s really little more than an EP, seven songs stretching 33 minutes and change—with a pair of instrumentals, to boot! But hey, you know what they say, quality over quantity, eh?

Make no mistake, this is a quality release, vintage Vitus at its finest. Lead-off track “Let Them Fall,” which spawned a slightly-silly music video, carries that same dark, brooding mood as heard on Born Too Late, what with the fuzzed-out Chandler riffs, Wino’s mournful cries, the solid yet understated rhythm section of Adams and Vazquez—and another mondo bizzaro guitar solo from the bearded one’s deadly arsenal. Yup, the gang’s all here…

“The Bleeding Ground” offers another slice of quality Chandler, this one at home amongst the likes of “Shooting Gallery” and “Dying Inside.” Those years away from the recording studio have had no ill effects on his massive tone, to be sure. The man is still very much the engine of this band—which is why it’s just a tad peculiar that “Vertigo,” the first of the two instrumental tunes, features Wino, not Chandler on guitar. (Not that I’m complaining…)

“Blessed Night” is likely the oldest song on this album, as it was a part of their live setlist as far back as last March’s Metalliance tour. A nice, slightly faster-paced teaser, but, as it turns out, far from the best song on the record. I reckon that’s a good thing.

“The Waste of Time” slows things back down; this one’s a real head-nodder with its slinky, slithering pace and pounding drums. The mournful, classical-guitar intro of “Dependence” sets the mood for the penultimate number, another addiction=suicide message that this band relays so well. Instrumental “Withdrawal” is pretty much just squealing guitar feedback, but by then, the damage is done.

As much as I’m digging this record, I’d hate to give it a perfect 10 for being so agonizingly, cockteasingly short. But, y’know, it’s pretty damn close. If you ever enjoyed the Wino era of Vitus, you will definitely dig this.

VITUS REVISITED: Die Healing (Hellhound, 1995)

Die Healing (Hellhound, 1995)

To avoid leaving us with the bitter taste of C.O.D. in our mouths, Vitus brought Scott Reagers back into the fold for this parting shot.  They also trimmed the fat a tad, Die Healing being eight tracks, just under 50 minutes—still considerably longer than any of their 80’s records, mind you.  Some people say it’s their finest effort, and while I beg to differ, they certainly ended off on a high note.

“Dark World” starts things off nice and slow, some solid head-nodding material, and then the voice comes in.  Reagers might be a little hoarser than he used to be, and he doesn’t quite hold some of the notes as long as he used to, but he clearly seems right at home here.  “One Mind” has a bit more Sabbathian groove, a riff structure that allows Reagers’ voice to shine, with some killer doom breakdowns.  Pretty sweet tune.

“Let the End Begin” slows things down again, with Chandler occupying a higher register throughout.  We do get a speedy guitar solo before things are brought back to a snail’s pace.  “Trail of Pestilence” is another slow stomper, Reagers waxing on about the evils of war once again—albeit this time in the past tense.  Likewise, “Sloth” isn’t about a three-toed creature, either.  This uber-slow number also excoriates the evils of man, Reagers crooning over a menacing drumbeat as grinding, growling riffs ring out behind him.  That said, the chorus is actually kinda groovy, while Reagers dispels any notion he can’t hit the high notes anymore.  (Yeah, I take that back…)

“Return of the Zombie” employs some effects on Reagers’ vocals which are a little hit-and-miss, though Dave Chandler delivers a decent doomy riff behind him.  “In the Asylum” tackles mental illness from the experience of an invalid, Reagers sounding like a creepy horror-movie narrator as he tells the tale of a woman who’s been committed—with an interesting twist at the end.  Another slow, sparsely-laid-out tune, some downtrodden, distorted riffs trading off with Reagers’ tale of woe.  This even reminds me of OTIS, just a tad.  “Just Another Notch” ends this one, Vitus’ first out-of-love song since “Just Friends (Empty Love).”  This one’s a little more aggressive and threatening, though, without that catchy chorus—and some weird spoken-word bit in its stead.  Maybe not the best way to end the album, IMO.

In any case, Die Healing was a well-written epitaph to Saint Vitus’ hallowed career.  They sure went out in style here—though this would not end up being the end, after all…

VITUS REVISITED: C.O.D. (Hellhound, 1992)

C.O.D. (Hellhound, 1992)

Before you even put this one on, you can tell something is amiss here.  For one thing, there are 12—that’s right, 12!—tracks listed on the back, for a total runtime of 62:29.  (That’s almost as long as any other two Vitus albums put together!)  Perusing the liner notes, one notices that this record was produced by Don Dokken.  That’s right, the Dream Warrior himself.  And oh yeah, Wino’s not singing on this one, either.  After the successful relaunch of The Obsessed with Scott Reeder and Greg Rogers, Weinrich left his former bandmates behind, who then enlisted Count Raven frontman Christian Linderson to fill the void.

After a two-minute-long intro of nature sounds and church chanting, the de-facto title-track “Children of Doom” kicks in.  You’ll notice the cleaner production here; it certainly doesn’t sound as rough as their past releases.  And while Linderson has a slight Swedish accent, his voice isn’t dramatically different from Wino’s.  Not to mention that those trademark Dave Chandler riffs are still present and accounted for.  Not a bad way to start things off.  “Planet of Judgement” keeps ‘er slow ‘n low, this song slightly Sabbathian in style.  That said, it’s a little lengthy at 7:40, and gets a tad repetitive after a while.  Linderson’s vocals are a bit whiny and toneless, which only adds to the tedium.  “Shadow of a Skeleton” kicks things up a notch, however, kinda feeling like Pentagram meets The Obsessed.  Can’t complain about that!

“(I Am) The Screaming Banshee” is one of just a couple sub-four-minute tunes on here, a mid-paced slog that doesn’t bring much to the table, aside from the lyric “You try to ignore me/But that won’t work, dear/I am the tortured sound/Within your ear”  Tortured sound, indeed!  “Plague of Man” brings back the doom, the longest song here at just a hair over eight minutes.  This one could stand with some of the other super-slow-mo numbers in the Vitus back catalogue—if you can get past the fact that the vocals aren’t quite what they used to be.  Wait, did they really just follow-up a song called “Plague of Man” with one entitled “Imagination Man”?  They sure did!  The latter is another more upbeat slice of Maryland-style doom, Linderson a little more nasal than normal on this one.

“Fear” was the de facto single, a song they even shot a music video for.  A pretty solid riff from Chandler laid upon a bed of glass, I always thought this was a pretty decent track.  “Get Away” begins with some softly-strummed chords, and for a moment I’m afraid we’ll be forced to ingest some power-ballad pablum along the likes of “Alone Again.”  But after a few murmured stanzas, we’re met with an interesting tribal drum beat and what sounds like a cello.  It’s definitely not going the Top 40 route.  Suddenly, a crescendo of crashing drums and slow, ringing notes assures us that yes, this is still Saint Vitus—though it remains a bit of an oddball tune.

“Bela” returns to more traditional Vitus territory, a slow, drawn-out doom number, somewhat reminiscent of “Born Too Late” or “Dying Inside,” albeit darker and more sinister—complete with cheesy vampire lyrics.  “A Timeless Tale” is another two-minute interlude, Dave Chandler screaming about Jack-O-Lanterns amidst a flurry of chainsaw guitar riffs.  Weird.  Even weirder is their decision to exhume “Hallow’s Victim” at the end of this one.  Linderson does a decent job vocally, but he’s no Scott Reagers.

Don’t get me wrong, I can see why the doomsters didn’t much like this album upon its release, clean production and accented vocals notwithstanding.  While Vitus blazed a trail for over a decade up to this point, C.O.D. sees them taking the backseat, carrying on in the style of many other doom bands that had come before and after, not to mention a few of their own Hellhound labelmates.  That said, I don’t think this is a bad record, but it just doesn’t have that trademark Vitus sound.  Not surprisingly, the band broke up after this one, though they’d bring Reagers back into the fold three years later to write a proper epitaph—or so we thought…

VITUS REVISITED: Live (Hellhound, 1990)

Live (Hellhound, 1990)

After five studio albums, I guess it was time for a live record.  Recorded in Germany in November ’89, Live was released both on CD and LP—with the CD version containing an extra three songs, bringing the total running time to 66 minutes.  A pretty solid set, too.  Although the self-titled album is neglected completely, we get three cuts from Hallow’s Victim, four from Born Too Late, “Look Behind You” from the Thirsty and Miserable EP, and only “Looking Glass” offa Mournful Cries, along with a couple from V.  Hey, I could live with that ratio even today (or on Saturday, to be exact)…

“Living Backwards” opens the album after a brief intro (“Hey, we’re Saint Vitus”), then we’re on to a decent rendition of “Born Too Late,” the band bringing out its best song right at the beginning.  Sucks if you came too late, I suppose.  The band slogs along with “The War Starter” and its creatively long guitar solo, then “Mind-Food” is announced as “This is brand new, coming out on Hellhound.”  Can’t say it would really whet my appetite for the new one were I there in attendance, but anyways.

“Looking Glass” is presented as “a little drug song,” and man, it hits the vein with its needle-sharp riffs.  Curiously, Chandler announces “White Stallions” as the last song, when even the vinyl version has a couple songs afterwards.  Either they’re slightly outta sequence, or that’s a long-ass encore!

“Look Behind You” gets an extended guitar intro and a dedication (to Hagar?) before the pièce de résistance, a nine-minute version of “Dying Inside.”  A less-than-spirited rendition of “War is Our Destiny” then leads to an exclusive-to-CD slow burn of “Mystic Lady” and “Clear Windowpane,” each song well over eight minutes long—the latter even including a drum solo and a noodly guitar bit.

The vocals are definitely too prominent in the mix, the instrumentation sounds a little thin, and Wino comes off as a little hoarse sometimes, but this live set was clearly recorded in a way that replicates their studio output, which makes it a decent representation of (some of) their back catalogue.  Worth looking into this one, which was reissued by Southern Lord a few years back.

VITUS REVISITED: V (Hellhound Records, 1990)

V (Hellhound Records, 1990)

Depending on who you talk to, this record either came out in 1989 or 1990, though I suppose that might be the difference between the European and North American release dates.  This was, of course, the band’s first album for Hellhound, a long-defunct German label that put out a boatload of Maryland doom between ’90 and ’95 from the likes of Iron Man, Revelation, Unorthodox, Wretched—and also Count Raven, whose singer would join Vitus for their next release.  But more on that in a couple days.  This fifth effort offers a whopping (by Saint Vitus standards) eight tracks, though aside from the opening salvo of “Living Backwards” and “I Bleed Black,” there aren’t a whole lotta memorable moments on this one.

“Living Backwards” is a solid mid-tempo chugger, a hard-rolling backbeat, head-nodding riff and far-out solo, all in a mere 2:31.  “I Bleed Black” adopts a similar, if slightly-slower pace, with a simple, memorable chorus.  This song has it all, addiction, outsiderness, and a critique on society (specifically that “L.A. game”) wrapped around a weaving, serpentine riff that winds its way through both headphones.  If “Born Too Late” shrugged off the rest of the world, “I Bleed Black” gives society the middle finger.

“When Emotion Dies,” at a shade over two minutes, is sort of that mellow, dark interlude that up to this point did not have its place in Vitus’ music.  We also get female backing vocals on this one, definitely another first.  And that’s about all that’s notable about this song, really.  “Patra (Petra)” takes us back into familiar territory, however, a seven-and-a-half-minute, super-slow-mo number full of longing lyrics and gloomily ringing notes.  This song is awfully drawn out, even by Vitus standards, and sorta sounds like a blueprint for funeral doom in some respects—the eerie instrumental section that ushers in the guitar solo brings Winter to mind.

“Ice Monkey” opens up with an eerie, grinding shuffle, but man, c’mon, “Ice Monkey?”  I suppose it might be allegory, but these lyrics seem awfully nonsensical to me—and there’s nothing that really grabs me musically here, either.   Jack Frost comes next, another seven-minute stomper—and yes, this song is really about Jack Frost nipping at your nose.  Sorry Wino, but even you can’t make this subject matter sound badass.  Hell, gimme “Dragon Time” any day!  Also of note: both of the aforementioned tunes contain sloppy, noisy guitar solos of limited musicality—with the latter’s being particularly grating.  This is not Dave Chandler’s finest hour here, either.

The last two tracks don’t really right the ship, “Angry Man” combining a fairly fast-paced verse with a Lynyrd Skynyrd chorus, albeit with slightly more profanity.  Not a bad number, I suppose, but it doesn’t really sound like Vitus—until we’re hit with that screechy, snivelling guitar solo, that is.  “Mind-Food” is almost grungy in its approach, though grunge was just in its infancy here.  Paired with some bizarre, bad-trip lyrics, it kinda ends the album with a whimper.  Like I said yesterday, these guys jumped the shark with Mournful Cries