Tuesday, February 4, 2014

…release your head from the world: SAINT VITUS – ‘Die Healing’

Arguably one of the greatest doom bands of all time, Saint Vitus have crafted an unsurpassable body of work that effortlessly combines themes of horror, madness, and ruination, with an added dose of grimy psychedelia resulting in a potent, singular style of doom that is both timeless and unique. And while there is no denying that a major component of Saint Vitus’ sound stems from the hypnotic riffs and demented, abusive leads of Dave Chandler, the contributions of the other members of the band cannot be minimized or overlooked. After all, Mark Adams is responsible for some of the most memorable, doomiest basslines ever laid to tape, and the languorous drumming of Armando Acosta helped many-a-tune lope towards its conclusion with a barbarian heft or, occasionally, with a sporadic blast of punkish fury. Following the untimely passing of Acosta, the addition of Henry Vasquez behind the kit brought a new element to the band on 2012’s excellent ‘Lillie: F-65’. Vasquez not only proved to be a worthy successor to the vacant throne previously occupied by Acosta in terms of bludgeoning heaviness, but he also brought a percussive groove that was only hinted at on previous albums.

Even though each and every member of the band is responsible—through the contributions of their constituent parts—for making Saint Vitus the reigning kings of downtrodden doom, the band has had no shortage of stellar vocal performances. Over the span of several releases Saint Vitus has seemingly done the impossible by enlisting and integrating three distinct vocal personalities into their sound with great success. Following a three album tenure from Scott “Wino” Weinrich, the band produced the often ignored, underrated classic ‘C.O.D.’ (review HERE) with Christian “Chritus” Linderson—also re-released through Season of Mist. While ‘C.O.D.’ was regarded as a failure by many, the departure of Linderson seemed to signal the end of the band. Chandler and co. rallied to create what was to be—at the time—the band’s swan song, ‘Die Healing’, which completed the circle by bringing original vocalist Scott Reagers back into the fold.

Originally released in 1995, ‘Die Healing’ stands as the band’s crowning achievement—an impressive accomplishment when compared to the strength of the band’s discography, where every release is a classic in its own right. Not only had the band crafted their doomiest, most expansive release to date, but they had also found the perfect sound engineer in Harris Johns. Though there is no denying that the band’s earlier sound, particularly on the initial Reagers-era releases, can be partially attributed to a primitive production job, ‘Die Healing’ is light years ahead in terms of clarity and heft while still retaining a richness and warmth that is characteristic of all Vitus releases. Finally, and with Reagers in tow, the band had crafted an undeniable masterpiece.

‘Die Healing’ opens strongly with the tracks “Dark World” and “One Mind”, each of which could have been handled gracefully and effectively with either Weinrich or Linderson behind the mic, but Reagers’ over-the-top intonation elevates the songs to a level of doom that had been missing from Vitus’ music for nearly a decade. “Dark World”, in particular, shines with its thick, Sabbathy riffs, Chandler’s maniacal lead guitar abuse, and the theatrical, often sinister vocals of Reagers. It is four-and-a-half minutes of doomed perfection. At the center of the album lurks the “Sloth”, one of the greatest doom anthems of all time next to “Burial at Sea” from the band’s 1984 self-titled debut. “Sloth” is a crawling, slow-motion apocalyptic descent into absurdity and madness. When Reagers sings, “Can you feel the evil / can you hear the wail / the sound of destiny / sharpening its nails” it’s difficult not to smirk and shudder at the same time. Perhaps due to the return of Reagers the band gives a reverential nod to the past with “Return of the Zombie”, another crawling masterpiece that finds Chandler in top form as he channels noise and distortion from another dimension. “Return of the Zombie” also finds the vocals of Reagers heavily laden with effects which also continues on the following track “In the Asylum” making each of these tunes distinct within the Vitus discography.

For the duration of the near fifty minute runtime of ‘Die Healing’ Saint Vitus pile classic riff upon classic riff accompanied with wailing protestations strangled from Chandler’s guitar. Acosta and Adams, one of the most distinctive rhythm units in doom, deliver a stand-out performance on each and every track. It is the contributions from every member of the band and the subsequent chilling, crypt-like atmosphere that has made ‘Die Healing’ an indelible classic. Saint Vitus are in a realm all their own, and the return of Scott Reagers coupled with an inspired production job courtesy of Harris Johns have yielded one of the greatest doom metal albums of all time—an album that has been out of print for too long. Thankfully Season of Mist has stepped up and re-released this out-of-print classic on CD and LP along with the underappreciated predecessor ‘C.O.D.’. Live to doom, doom to live…

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