Ahh, When I saw the Saint Vitus CD come rumblin through the mail slot, it reminded me of a simpler time, back in college when my roommate and I clashed over music styles and we learned the immortal after-school special lesson that we are all different and that's what makes us special. OK, maybe we didn't exactly learn this lesson, since the tale of his hating my music collection is duly told in my review of the Jane album a few months back. What moral I really learned from good old Chuck is that you find a label you like and stick with it. and his label of choice was the venerable SST, soil turned fertile by Black Flag, sprouting forth the Minutemen and Husker Du and 1000 terrible bands Greg Ginn headed only to slowly become more of a clearing house for experimental rock (Universal Congress Of, Blind Idiot God, Steve Fisk) once the bread-winners had either fizzled out or left the nest. His tape case was brimming with Raymond Pettibone graphics and bad recordings of ho-hum guitar godz, but it was glorious in its consistency. His real love was for The Descendants, who never really knocked me out, but every once in a while, he'd pull out something else from the roster, and one day, that something was Saint Vitus, and all was good for an hour.
When the wheels started rolling on their first ep on SST, it set the room aglow with its heavy malevolence, slathering the slipshod punk I associated SST with at the time with buttery layers of Black Sabbath gloom and doom, keeping the evil simple enough to make it succulent. It was maybe the only time either of us had heard that tape ever or since, and the band soon left my mind for whatever hip train I was jumping at the moment. Fortunately, my new label-to-follow Southern Lord, purveyors of juicy doom has re-released their live album from the 90's to school the new breed of bong demons on how its done.
It opens with the caveman groove of "Living Backwards" where you can see that the branches of glam and metal and garage rock all share the same root. "Born Too Late" down shifts the crazy train as it passes through the Sabbath heavy wastelands this band is noted for. Dave Chandler's bluesy flanged guitar dark psyche workout he psummons up is awe-inspiring on this number, and the Blue Cheer-grade boogie apocalypse continues with "The War Starter" and really throughout the whole album.
Visions of Motorhead are drummed up in trashy, thrashy tracks like "White Stallions" and on the laser buzzsaw of "Look Behind You" but the revenge doled out on this stage is best served slow like on "Dying Inside" - deep and low enough you think the earth is going to crack open between your feet. It all culminates for me on "Mystic Lady" a track containing so many of the trappings of sludgey hard rock: quasi-Arthurian imagery, bonehead dirge riff, a stampede of a guitar solo and a running time exceeding 8 minutes, you could almost chalk this up as a Spinal Tap parody, if it wasn't so perfect and awesome. Which could be said about the band as a whole. I'm not sure if Saint Vitus is still an active concern, but if they are, I plead to any OzzFest organizers out there reading this to bring them out on the bill and let some old school hard rockers show the new breed of extremists that less can be a whole lot more when its done right.
Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com