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…

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VITUS REVISITED: Hallow’s Victim (SST, 1985)

Hallow’s Victim (SST, 1985)

Another record that comes barreling out of the gate, Vitus’ sophomore effort hits us with the one-two punch of “War is Our Destiny” and “White Stallions” right from the get-go, but unlike its predecessor, we don’t see a Black Flag-like B Side.  The only long song (7+ minutes) on here is “Mystic Lady,” and it closes off Side A.  What we do get are more variations in time and tempo, instead of moving from fast-to-slow, this record is a little less predictable.

But first, the opening salvo.  “War is Our Destiny” opens with a burst of guitar feedback, much like “Saint Vitus” does on its predecessor.  This one adopts a similar, snarling mid-paced attack, complete with anthemic chorus—though this song is much more political in nature, perhaps the closest Vitus would come to pure punk-rock preaching.   By contrast, “White Stallions” is a drug-fueled dream about wild horses, this one an up-tempo stomper fully prepped for the pit.  If you combined the lyrics of the former with the attack of the latter, you’d sorta have a Discharge song, haha.

“Mystic Lady” slows things down considerably, ending Side A on a melancholic note.  Great slow-mo riffage from Chandler abounds, Reagers soaring overtop with his trademark wail.  This is about as “doom metal” as it gets, right here.  They do pick up the pace for a high-register guitar solo though, Chandler wailing away like his frontman with eerie effect.

The title track opens Side B, this one another straight-up speedster, somewhat reminiscent of Canadian thrashers Razor to these ears.  It’s almost as if they bowed to the pressure (and the lobbed beer bottles, no doubt) of opening for Black Flag, and chucked a couple fast ones into the set to keep the punkers appeased.  That said, while “War is Our Destiny” works well, “Hallow’s Victim” has never really grabbed me.  On the other hand, “The Sadist” slows things down slightly, but maintains a rollicking groove that’s semi pre-Fu Manchu combined with a Herculean vocal effort from Reagers.  Apparently, this song dates back to the Tyrant days of the late 70’s (as do a couple others on here)…

I absolutely love “Just Friends (Empty Love)”.  Love songs—or even out-of-love songs—are a rarity in non-hair metal, but what we have here is a fine example of the latter.  Reagers doesn’t let her down, easy, either,-telling her “You don’t want to be just friends,” making it clear that option isn’t even on the table.  The drawn-out enunciation of the chorus only further drives the point home.  The best doom-metal break-up song ever written IMO.  Afterwards, the cheekiness of “Prayer for the (M)asses” ends things with a smirk, more of a Satanic pastiche than a call to worship.  Guess they weren’t  big fans of what passed for black metal back in ’85—this song’s a real heavy vegetable, though!

VITUS REVISITED: Saint Vitus (SST, 1984)

By now, Saint Vitus’ massive American tour is well underway.  Tis their first excursion across their homeland in almost 20 years–since 1993 to be exact.  And while there aren’t any Canadian dates on the docket, I will be taking the trip down to Cleveland to see ‘em next weekend.  Thus, I’m making my way through their back catalogue over the next 10 days, hoping they’ll include a few of these chestnuts in their live set, and sharing my thoughts on their past releases in the process.  Stay tuned…

Saint Vitus (SST, 1984)

And so it began.  After kicking around for a couple years as Tyrant, the band would change its name to Saint Vitus in 1980.  Cutting their teeth by opening for Black Flag would earn Vitus a spot on SST Records, which dropped their debut in early 1984.  And thus, the lineup of Chandler, Adams, Acosta and Reagers was introduced to the world.  I’ve long said that Wino was my favourite Vitus vocalist, and I do maintain that to this day, but Scott Reagers has certainly grown on me over time.  While the former’s voice was better suited to the slow, doomy dirges heard on Born Too Late and Mournful Cries, the first couple records often offered faster and more upbeat moments, for which the throaty wail of Reagers is better suited.  And while I’ve got nothing against Hallow’s Victim or comeback effort Die Healing, I feel it’s the self-titled album that showcases Reagers at his finest.

The band starts off in style with signature song “Saint Vitus,” some Chandler feedback leading into to a solid mid-paced chug, Reagers wailing from the get-go.  Hell, you could almost mosh to the instro break on here.  The crashing percussive crescendo announces the classic chorus, gang backing-vocals punk-rock style preceding the first of many divebombing Dave Chandler solos on record.  This is actually the shortest song on here, at a shade under five minutes, but arguably the most memorable.

The other song that could possibly lay claim to that title is “White Magic/Black Magic,” its fuzzy groove-rock riff transported straight from the 70’s as Reagers offers up more magic with some great vocal hooks.  A smidgeon of Sabbath sprinkled in Blue Cheer with those gigantic trash-can drums driving it all home, this is a song for the ages.  And then things slow down considerably—starting with the homestretch on this one, Reagers repeating the song title in ominous tones overtop some evil tritones.  “Zombie Hunger” offers some more slowed-down Sabbath worship, wrapped in that distinctive lo-fi guitar tone that Chandler would make his trademark.  There’s even a shade of early Alice Cooper here, particularly on the part of Reagers.  Just listen to those lyrics, maaaan…

It’s perhaps no coincidence that in ’84, Vitus buds Black Flag would release My War, an album whose slowed-down B Side would give birth to sludge and grunge, by several accounts.  But while Rollins and co offered up a trifecta of six-minute tunes on Side B, Vitus one-ups them in the downtrodden department, with a mere two tracks each spanning well over eight minutes long.  “The Psychopath” starts it off, a slow-crawling ooze gushing outwards like sludge from a lead pipe.  This is the type of tune that Wino would work well with, though Reagers’ extended range does add a little extra oomph here.  “Burial at Sea” lays heavily on the doom and gloom, a slow-motion knuckle-dragger that grabs you by the neck and forces your head to move in time—before briefly and frantically kicking up the pace to a semi-speed-metal attack.  From zombies to pirates, this record runs the gamut, but this isn’t some cheesy Running Wild shtick here.  If there was a soundtrack to the The Pequod being sucked into the belly of the beast, ‘twould be “Burial at Sea”.  Arrrr matey!