Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Beastie Boys - Paul's Boutique (1989, Capital Records)

"Paul's Boutique" stands a clear ten times as interesting musically as the Beastie Boys debut, "License to Ill", was. There's very few outright rock samples compared to last time (a Beatles sample being a prominant exception) with lots of older, obscurer funk records being sampled. While the Beastie Boys themselves are still doing more or less the same boastful routine as last time, it's a lot better thought out (none of the songs are just for shock value) and while the songwriting is never really intelligent as some reviewers have claimed it is (like it matters) it is always interesting and usually with at least three things going on at once. The album really is a true feast on the ears, offering a diverse variety of music on each track. Some parts of the record, for example "Shake Your Rump" and the "Hello Brooklyn" portion of "B-Boy Bouillabaisse", point to the G-Funk sound that was so popular in the early 1990s yet the "Mike on the Mic" portion of "B-Boy..." sounds like a better produced "License to Ill". "Car Thief" is a great funky song but with very driving vocals, which gives the song a lot of energy. "Shadrach" is a triumphant, faster song that remains a total highlight of the album for me. In short, the album is so varied and easy on the ears that it's a pure joy to follow from beginning to end, making along the way revelations like "Looking Down the Barrell of a Gun" which features an original recording (I didn't say "original music") and "B-Boy Bouillabaisse", the twelve minute closing suite, which matches up a series of perfectly sustained 1-2 minute pieces successfully. The first few portions are fairly straightforward and less busy than the previous tracks, with a prominant Hendrix sample fairly enjoyable. At "Stop That Train", more prominant 'music' features alongside the vocals and from then on the song changes styles frequently and excitingly.

There's not much else to say - hip hop or not, one of the most aurally pleasing records I've ever heard and you owe it to yourself to listen to it once. It's psychedelic, driven, funky, exciting, sometimes even kind of pretty (you'll see), and the boys put probably the most passionate effort on vocals they ever would. The pop culture references are myriad but more enjoyable than last time - Alfred E Neumann, AC/DC, J D Salinger and one song alone samples Jimi Hendrix, Johnny Cash, Bob Marley and quotes Stephen King.

I could quote all of High Plains Drifter here, but I like this part:

"Went before the judge he sent me to the Brooklyn House of D.
He said you behave son or we'll throw away the key
Houdini'd out the cuffs I kicked the screw in the knee
Took the bailiff's wallet and went straight to O.T.B.
I had a good feeling easy come easy go
I bet on one horse to win and your mother to show
And sure enough that nag came in
Brought my ticket to the window and collected my win
Broke into my new car with a wire coat hanger
Hot wired hot wheeled and *Suzy is a headbanger*"

I also love this rather filthy part of "The Sounds of Science", which comes right before the big Beatles sample, sure to offend some:

"My mind is kinda flowin like an oil projector
Had to get up to get the Jimmy protector
Went berserk and worked and exploded
She woke up in the morning and her face was coated"

Anyway, there it is.

Friday, 23 October 2009


In case you don't know, Devo are a group of very nerdy, pervy and sarcastic musicians who chose to use the punk rock movement as a vehicle to make annoying, mechanical sounding music that mocked pretty much everything about society as they saw it. Definetely one of my favourite iterations of punk music from the early years.

Black Flag - My War (1984, SST Records)

The album cover, which I've heard described as a knife-weilding boxing glove punching Adolf Hitler, actually depicts a hand-puppet, complete with head, clutching a kitchen knife. This is what that little tie is supposed to illustrate.

Version reviewed: SST CD

"My War" is an album that divides fans. On one hand, it nearly totally abandons the Black Flag/hardcore punk sound, adopting a harder yet looser style with a lot of noise influence. On the other hand, it nearly totally abandons the Black Flag/hardcore sound for a series of badly produced noise rock songs that have a lot of angry screaming.

However, I think it's probably the best album this band ever came out with. There's no bass player really on the record, just Greg Ginn following his guitars (or playing the entirety of the rhythm as on the last two songs). The production is, yes, fairly lacking, especially on things like the backing vocals in the second half of "I Love You", which sound like they were accidentally recorded by the wrong mic, in the room next to the tiled echofest of toilet the band must've been singing in.

But none of that matters, these are nice, fuzzed out punk rock songs with anger in the right places and very nice vocal performance from Rollins, especially on "Beat My Head Against the Wall" and "Three Nights", both of which are intense Rollins vocal performances without being especially fast.

The second side of the original record (or last three songs on this CD) are three long "angst drones", meaning slower, downer melodies played on a bass guitar with a plodding rhythm behind it, while Greg and Henry spew off freestyle. Actually, "Nothing Left Inside" is a bit tighter than that, but the solo sounds like an early Butthole Surfers kind of solo. "Three Nights" has an intro that at first foreshadows the spoken word/instrumental dynamic of the subsequent "Family Man" LP, but then becomes inexplicable but powerfully effecting noise rock. It's endlessly defeated fuzz riff floats around the guitar noise overdubbed in the background like a black cloud. The solo is less noisy than other Ginn solos (especially on this album), but it's also a lot more melodic.

There's definetely a Saint Vitus influence here as well, on both the fast songs and the slower ones too, obviously. It's well known that Black Sabbath was one of Greg Ginn's (and the rest of the band's) favourite groups. In fact, parts of the record such as the opening of "Can't Decide" and some of the guitar work on "Three Nights" sound as much like Flipper as they do Vitus.

Dead Kennedys

The Dead Kennedys were a San Francisco punk and (sometimes) hardcore band, with political lyrics and a unique style of traditional punk songwriting.

They were signed to Alternative Tentacles, run by singer Jello Biafra.

1980 - Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables
1981 - In God We Trust, Inc
1982 - Plastic Surgery Disasters
1985 - Frankenchrist
1986 - Bedtime for Democracy

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Stratus - Throwing Shapes (1984, Steel Trax)

Version reviewed: 2008 remaster by Krescendo Records.

I bought this album for some reason. I basically fell in love with the quintessentially eighties NWBHM/New Wave hybrid anthem "Run for Your Life" after hearing it on the soundtrack for "Class of Nuke 'Em High". I'm not even sure why I like it - it's catchy, sure, and not that annoying for an eighties shiterock song - but it is so fucking cheesy. Maybe I long for a world where a band could put out a song with some palm-muting, some big chords and a big catchy chorus. Now that's just "too easy".

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Black Flag

The logo and the four iconic bars.

Black Flag were an early, possibly the first, hardcore punk band. They had a lot of different line-ups and songwriters for a punk band and over a short but potent burst of creativity showed an impressive range of dynamics.

The evolving hair of Black Flag.

The earliest line up featured Greg Ginn on guitar, Chuck Dukowski (born Gary McDaniel) on bass, Brian Migdol drumming and Keith Morris on vocals. The music on the "Panic Demos" and debut "Nervous Breakdown" EP record is essentially a more "fun" orientated take on the Sex Pistols sound. The lyrics are darker and more downbeat, but the music very upbeat. "Black Flag" were also an early pioneer of the DIY approach/aesthetic, releasing their own records on Ginn's SST records.

Greg Ginn, the guitarist and principal songwriter of Black Flag.

Pretty soon Keith Morris left (and formed the great Circle Jerks) along with Brian, leaving Robo to take over drumming duties and Ron Reyes to take up vocals. Ron Reyes was quite annoying, but the energy on the "Jealous Again" record is undeniably threatening - songs like "Revenge" and the title track are considerably more innovative than the earlier material. Then, Ron Reyes (hereafter named "Chavo Pederast" by the band) left the band so Dez Cadena took over on vocals. Dez was angrier than either previous vocalists and the music on the "Six Pack EP" reflected this, particularly "American Waste" and the title track. Dez's songs on the 1983 "Everything Went Black" album, which consisted of the first three vocalists' attempts to record the "Damaged" LP, showed that he was handling vocals on the same harder material that subsequent singer Henry Rollins' more famously performed. Anyway, Dez Cadena decided he wanted to play guitar instead of sing, so the band began looking for another singer. Through a series of events recounted elsewhere, the band settled on a young man from Washington D.C. who worked in a Haagen-Dazs store.

Fourth and longest running singer Henry Garfield aka. Henry Rollins..

The band immediately set about a legendary tour of the United States with newly-rechristened Henry Rollins, who's intense, shouted vocals fit the band like no previous vocalist, though definetely having an audible similarity to Dez Cadena's approach.

The "Damaged" line-up, with Greg Ginn (far left) on first guitar, Henry Rollins on vocals, Robo (obscured) on drums, Chuck Dukowski on bass guitar and Dez Cadena on second guitar.

This line-up recorded the groundbreaking "Damaged" album which mostly featured a series of songs Ginn wrote when he was the band's only had one guitarist. This meant that the ultimate recordings have an indistinct punch, with either both the guitar lines seemingly mixed over each other, or Ginn's guitar far more prominant. There's not a lot of stereo seperation, giving the band a straightforward, angry punch. However, when the album was finished, Black Flag's major record label deal fell through (someone called it an "anti-parent" record) and it took two or three years to see release by SST records.

The post-Damaged line-up, with (from left) Dez Cadena, Henry Rollins, Greg Ginn, Chuck Dukowski joined by Bill Stevenson on drums (far right).

While the "Damaged" LP was held up, the band replaced Robo on drums with Chuck Buscuits, then subsequently Bill Stevenson. The Buscuits line-up recorded a legenedary demo in this time, widely available on bootleg, called "The Complete 1982 Sessions". It featured songs written for the two guitar line-up with similaritys to the "Damaged" style speed and song structure but far more progressive and varied. Songs from this era would be released on subsequent albums, but with a very different line-up.

1984 saw the release of three full-length Black Flag albums: the groundbreaking "My War", the confounding "Family Man" record and the troubling "Slip It In". The "My War" line-up featured only Ginn, Rollins and Stevenson and Ginn doubling the rhythm guitar with bass. From "Slip It In" onwards, the bassist on Black Flag studio recordings is Kira Roessler. The releases around this time were so varied and different that at one time Henry Rollins suggested to Greg Ginn they put out two records that are broadly similar so fans would not get so confused.

The final recording line-up, from "Family Man" onwards. From left; Rollins, Ginn, Roessler and Stevenson.

This unpredictable approach didn't change in 1985, where Black Flag released three more records - the more mainstreamed "Loose Nut", the suprisingly good "Process of Weeding Out" EP and the final "In My Head" album. This line up also recorded the "Live 1984" album, though a later live disc, "Who's got the 13 1/2?", featured Anthony Martinez on drums.

Black Flag on tour.

The band was pioneering in that it recorded it's own music, pressed, distributed and toured in support of it. They toured in places where there was no established punk scene and expected fans to travel to meet them. They promoted themselves with distinct flyers using artwork by Raymond Pettibon, Ginn's brother. Pettibon's artwork can also be seen in several other places, including the cover of Goo by Sonic Youth. By exchanging tour information with other national hardcore bands such as the Dead Kennedys, they were helping to make scenes in diverse areas.

blah de blah

blah de blah

blah de blah

blah de blah

blah de blah

1977 - Panic Demos
1978 - Nervous Breakdown EP
1980 - Jealous Again EP
1981 - Six Pack EP
1981 - Damaged LP
1982 - TV Party EP
1982 - The Complete 1982 Demos LP
1983 - The First Four Years LP
1983 - Everything Went Black LP
1984 - My War LP
1984 - Family Man LP
1984 - Slip It In LP
1985 -Loose Nut LP
1985 - The Process of Weeding Out EP
1985 - In My Head LP
1986 - Minuteflag EP
1989 - I Can See You EP

The Stooges


(the original Stooges...except for the Three Stooges)



The Pixies are one of the most obscure underground acts I'll review on this site. For those who don't know, the Pixies were formed simultaneously on both sides of the Atlantic due to a mutual dissatisfaction at both Reagan and Thatchers' respective reigns of terror. Brutal, raw and political dissident hardcore punk. Classic anthems include "Gouge Away (Capitalist Pig)", "Where is my mind? (The Reagan Song)" and "Gigantic (mohawk)".

1987 - Frank Black Francis Demo (released 2004)
1987 - The Purple Tape (released 2002 as "Pixies")
1987 - Come on Pilgrim EP
1988 - Surfer Rosa
1989 - Doolittle
1990 - Bossanova
1991 - Trompe Le Monde

Saturday, 17 October 2009

SST Records

SST Records

SST Records is a legendary independant record label founded and run by Greg Ginn, also the guitarist and principal songwriter for Black Flag. Initially established to realise that band's material, it eventually expanded to a roster of bands that laid the blueprint for America's indie and alternative scene in the 1990s. Seminal bands such as "Sonic Youth", "Dinosaur Jr", "Husker Du", "the Meat puppets", "the Minutemen", "Bad Brains", and "Saint Vitus" were all signed to SST Records.

Even with records that aren't very good, I'll forgive SST because who else would release records by Blind Idiot God? That's some of the strangest and unique rock music I've ever heard and I never would have had the chance to hear it without SST.

SST Bands I have reviewed:

Bad Brains
Black Flag
Saint Vitus
Sonic Youth

Saint Vitus - Saint Vitus (1984, SST Records)

Version reviewed: Bootleg CD (I didn't know when I bought it) also featuring "Hallow's Victim".

Back in 1984, Saint Vitus' doomy debut had a dirty secret for hardcore punk fans expecting more obvious SST fare. Yes, it only had five tracks, but the album lasts the best part of 36 minutes. It also gets slower and slower and s l o w e r as it goes on.

Track one, self-titled "Saint Vitus", is one of the speedier songs in Saint Vitus' repertoire and tells the story of the real (allegedly) "Saint Vitus" who's 'dance' was also immortalised in a Black Sabbath album track. It announces the band quite well - Dave Chandler's analog equipment and wah wah pedal use really drove the band. Reagers' vocals are not as strong as they would later become, but they never approach disgusting or anything.

"White Magic/Black Magic" is a song I find more than a little annoying. The guitars are good, I suppose, but I don't know why Reagers' vocals on the chorus make me want to cry. It's just too cute.

"Zombie Hunger" is a classic Vitus track and would later get it's own follow up on "Die Healing", the final Saint Vitus album.

"The Psychopath" is the first Vitus epic and the longest song on here. It's also one of the best, progressing from a creepy beginning and a suprisingly effective verse including the vocals (!), the whole song is very emotional for Saint Vitus. This is a good example of a song that Reagers' does well, that is great and could also never be done in the Wino years. Dave has some great effects in his solo around the five minute mark that works very well with the playing, which is a long emotive guitar solo.

"Burial at Sea" starts with a menacing bassline and what sounds like glass bottles being hit together, while Dave makes truly out of this world sounds on guitar. Eventually, a supremely slow and punishing riff begins that is one of the best Saint Vitus ever came up with. Reagers' is theatrical but in this case it definetely helps the song ("Neptune, please help meee! Don't - Want - No- Bur-Ia-L at Seeeea!"). At four minutes, there's a faster section which is very enjoyable. It all amounts to one of Vitus' doomiest and best songs ever.

Overall, Saint Vitus' first album established firmly Saint Vitus' stature as slow metal to the core. It's a bonafide classic in it's own right, and subsequent albums all took very different approaches.

Click HERE to go back to Saint Vitus reviews.

Saint Vitus - The Walking Dead EP (1985, SST Records)

Version reviewed: SST Vinyl.

Unlike "Saint Vitus" which progressed to slower, dirgier songs as it went on and "Hallow's Victim" which maintained the same mood throughout, "The Walking Dead"'s songs gets more complex and longer as they go on.

"Darkness" is an uptempo metal song in the "Hallow's Victim" vein. It has a very nice bass sequence in it with a series of cymbol hits` that sound like a wine glass being tapped by a fork. It's pretty unconventional for Saint Vitus and a lot of fun.

"White Stallions" is the same song and recording from "Hallow's Victim". It's one of the more progressive songs on "Hallow's Victim" and it fits here, but it's of course not essential.

Now, the centrepiece of this 12" is the song, "The Walking Dead". It lasts for 11 minutes. Flanged to shit and trippy, the song gets off to a slow start. A minor key sequence of notes sets us in trippy motion. For once, Reagers vocals are mixed far back, adding an ethereal feel. Soon, the slow, stop-start groove reminiscent of "Burial at Sea" starts. Unlike that song, this one is PURE evil. It's a great example of the lo-fi production allowing us to read in more to the songs. The atmosphere is so perfect due to the lo-fi production - the zombie moans become genuinely displaced. The guitar solo about seven minutes in sounds like alien moans from another dimension, it's perfect thanks to the production.

The obvious predecessor to slow-motion, epic and 'evolutionary' stoner metal songs like Sleep's "Dopesmoker" and The Melvins entire career, "Walking Dead" hypnotises you through out it's 11 minutes and 32 seconds running time.

The overall EP (which runs for 22 minutes) is out of print on vinyl and is only available on bootleg CDs with "Hallow's Victim".

Click HERE to go back to Saint Vitus reviews.

Saint Vitus - Hallow's Victim (1985, SST Records)

Version reviewed: Bootleg CD (I didn't know!) from abroad that also features the first Saint Vitus album.

Saint Vitus
' second album doesn't sound like anything else they ever recorded. The songs are quite short, all of them are fairly speedy for Vitus and the emphasis seems to be on rock rather than trippy, slow doom metal.

But in terms of songwriting, this is one of the best albums in the Vitus catalogue.

"War is our destiny", the anthemic opener, is about as big a progression from "Saint Vitus"'s self titled opener as anyone could have predicted. The vocal melody is considerably more complex (and less annoying) and the music is nearly hardcore punk. In other words, it's a winner.

"White Stallions", musically, is another strong rock number in the vein of "War..." but not as catchy.

"Mystic Lady" is a classic Vitus track. It is, unfortunately, a good example of the lo-fi production of the early Vitus/SST material doing a disservice to the material as opposed to aiding it - the verses seem very flat and don't jump at you, as they should. The break down at 3:00 is one of the best moments the Saint Vitus catalogue has to offer you, the music appreciative fans out there. What is still possibly Dave Chandler's finest guitar solo, it's also less-effects heavy as other leads he has done.

The title track is probably the closest Saint Vitus ever came to hardcore punk, even closer than "War...". It's a very cool riff and song altogether - Reagers' vocals naturally please more in this form - not only is he hitting the notes rather quickly and cleanly, his natural personality comes through despite this. It's a good argument in Reagers' favour against the Wino years - it was prescisely this faster material Wino struggles with, in my opinion.

"The Sadist" is another strong track. I like Dave's guitar tones in this track. It's got a fast, upbeat tone which wouldn't have fit on any other Vitus album, but that's okay. It nearly approaches balladry at some points, but fortunately it doesn't dwell too long. I can't say much more other than that - the riff is really good and the solo is really something to hear. More of a psych solo than most Vitus material.

"Just Friends (Empty Love)" is an angsty thing. I guess when you stop washing, wear flares and grow long hair in 1985 and New Wave girls decide not to fuck you, the problem lies with them (oy vey!). It's got the air of a typical Black Sabbath song warning about wicked/evil/mean woman (or temptress). I get the feeling the members of Saint Vitus all spent their respective teenager years jacking off while listening to Black Sabbath.

The guitar about coasts by on it's awesome dronetone and the awesome guitar solos near the end, but like I said I'm not sure what the point of it is, other than boasting in a macho fashion that you're only interested in girls for "love" .

"Prayer For The (M)asses" is one of the all-time great songs on a Saint Vitus record. The riffs are all first-rate, the mood is palpable and there's actually noticeable effects on Reagers' voice that definetely raise the song even further. Dave's guitar solo, a slow and relatively clean piece, is definetely one of the all time best. The song as whole is even better than "Burial at Sea" from the first album and definetely ends the album on a high note.

The album's production is more or less identical to both the self-titled debut and the "Walking Dead" EP that followed - that is to say serviceable lo-fi production that is listenable, but not always what it could be. The material can always be heard through it and that's what's important.

The band's songwriting, even at this stage, is very good. It's pretty much everything you could want from this band, but the album as a whole is very well put together and is unique among the band's albums as it is up-tempo, all the way through. Reager's vocals are still a love it or hate it affair. They sometimes go too far over the top and it's easy to hear Reager is not hitting his notes.

Overall, "Hallow's Victim" is an essential purchase in the Saint Vitus catalogue. It shouldn't be the first thing you buy by this band, but it is the only place you can hear uptempo songs by Saint Vitus anywhere near as good as "Prayer...", "Hallow's Victim" and "War...". The only legitimate release was on vinyl in the US which went out of print years ago. The same fate befell "Saint Vitus" and "The Walking Dead" EP. Bootlegs are common (which always claim on the spine to be SST issues), especially one that pair's the album with the "Walking Dead" EP after and one which features both the self-titled disc and "Hallow's Victim". Sound quality is better than you'd expect, it does not sound like a vinyl rip.

Click HERE to go back to Saint Vitus reviews.


Pick a band or artist to see my reviews:

Acid Bath
Acid King
The Adolescents
Alice Cooper
G.G. Allin
Anal Cunt
Any Three Initials (A3I)
The B-52s
Bad Brains
The Beach Boys
Beastie Boys
The Beatles
Jello Biafra (including spoken word and musical collaberations)
Frank Black
Black Flag
Black Sabbath
Blind Idiot God
The Bloodhound Gang
Blue Cheer
The Breeders
Buddy Holly
Butthole Surfers
Camper Van Beethoven
Cannibal Corpse
Belinda Carlisle
The Celibate Rifles
Circle Jerks
Corrosion of Conformity
The Cramps
The Cure
Dead Kennedys
The Descendents
Dinosaur Jr
DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince
The Doors
Dr Dre
Fear Factory
Steve Fitch
The Flaming Lips
The Frogs
The Germs
The Go-Gos
Guns 'N Roses
Hasil Adkins
Bill Hicks
Husker Du
Ice Cube
The Jack-officers
The Jesus & Mary Chain
The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Daniel Johnston
Joy Division
Killing Joke
Paul Leary
Link Wray
The Melvins
Mercury Rev
Minor Threat
My Bloody Valentine
Napalm Death
Negative Trend
Nig Heist
Pearl Jam
Pink Floyd
The Plugz
Poison Idea
Public Image Ltd (Pil)
Old Skull
Ozzy Osbourne
The Ramones
Dee Dee Ramone
Joey Ramone
Revolting Cocks
Henry Rollins (including spoken word and musical collaberations)
Saint Vitus
Sex Pistols
Will Smith
The Smithereens
The Smiths
The Sonics
Sonic Youth
Stickmen With Rayguns
The Stooges
Suicidal Tendencies
Superjoint Ritual
Talking Heads
Time Zone
Van Halen
Velvet Underground
White Zombie
Wesley Willis
The Wesley Willis Fiasco
The Wipers
Wu Tang Clan

Slayer - Hell Awaits (1985, Metal Blade)

On "Hell Awaits", Slayer's sound came out in full force, totally developed and heavy as shit.

"Crypts of Eternity" is easily the most progressive songs in the Slayer catalogue. I'm sure Kerry King hates it because the gallop in the middle under the solo approaches too closely happy, but regardless, the song is great, creepy, complex and exciting.

Saint Vitus

Saint Vitus

The first line-up: from left, Amando Acosta (drums), Dave Chandler (guitar, Mark Adams (bass) and Scott Reagers (vocals)

Saint Vitus were a pioneering doom metal band that grew out of the punk movement. The most obvious influence to the band's style, preoccupations and outlook is Black Sabbath (actually, this is a band that probably thinks "preoccupations" are drugs you take before work). Death, loneliness, pain, corruption, drugs, unrequited and unreciprocated love, nuclear war, non-nuclear war, dragons, more drugs, snow, women and more negative territories are mined by this band. The band claimed to be equally influenced by Black Flag and the punk movement in general and indeed the band was signed to Black Flag's legendary label, SST Records. I believe their thinking was "what's more rebellious and punk than to play what you want, long after it's gone out of fashion?". Unlike most punk bands, of the 77 and hardcore varieties, Vitus was part of a growing wave of punk bands that acknowledged and paid equal heed to the psychedelic bands of yesterday, joining such great bands as Sonic Youth, the Butthole Surfers and Camper Van Beethoven.

The second line up: Scott "Wino" Weinrich (far left) took over on vocals and occasionally played lead guitar.

None the less, the chief inspiration for this band is Black Sabbath. On one level, one could argue Vitus is only a step above the tribute act, as they merely perform original songs in a style very derivative of one band. But there are enough differences that a clear personality is found in Vitus' catalogue - Vitus' songs are longer, slower and more tripped out than the majority of Black Sabbath's catalogue. They're like the slowest parts of "Master of Reality" turned into full fledged songs. Dave Chandler isn't quite as good a lead guitarist or riff-writer as Tony Iommi, but his solos (which utilise heavy wah, analog delay and tremelo arm usage) are truly special in their own right. From the lo-fi masterpiece solo in "Mystic Lady" to the painful squealing of "Born too Late", the great Chandler has shown his way around a guitar solo.

Another key difference between Vitus and Sabbath is that Vitus had it's preening, over the top singer first and it's downbeat moaner second. Scott Reagers (who performed on Vitus' first two albums "The Walking Dead" EP, then later returned for the final Vitus album "Die Healing") is certainly not as good at "hitting the notes" as Ronnie James Dio, but he does have a definete personality and interjected essential life into songs like "Burial at Sea" and "Dark World". Wino, on the other hand, alternated vocal/lyrical approach between defiant but grounded rebel rousers and downbeat and moodier songs. Both approaches have their fans, many who hate the other singer's material.

(the reformed Scott Reager [centre right] Vitus line-up in 1995 for the "Die Healing" album.)

I like both versions of the band. The early Reagers releases have a unique lo-fi charm - they are even weaker recordings than even "My War" by Black Flag, but like that album, possess uniquely haunting acoustics as a result. The small (almost mono) range of these recordings allow Dave Chandler to fill up the space with his unique and interesting guitar lines. The drums also sound like cardboard boxes sometimes. His later reunion with the band for the "Die Healing" LP was also a very strong Vitus album, with the best production yet and a great note for the band to end on.
The line up with Wino on the other hand created some of the most downbeat, psychedelic and interesting heavy metal produced in the eighties. The production was a lot stronger and the increased expression allowed Chandler to record his best work on the guitar.
There was also a third line-up, with Christian Lindersson on vocals, that produced the disappointing "C.O.D." CD which was (over)produced by Don Dokken. But even that wasn't so bad as to be worthless, like so much of the Black Sabbath output in the eighties.

Dave Chandler

The differences between their best albums are largely inconsequential small details. In essence, if you like one song by this band, their approaches vary only so much. Both line ups were incredibly influencial on the metal scene in the future, with bands like Crowbar, Down, Corrosion of Conformity clearly drawing on Saint Vitus for influence.

1984 - Saint Vitus LP
1985 - Hallow's Victim LP
1985 - The Walking Dead EP
1987 - Born Too Late LP
1987 - Thirsty & Miserable EP
1988 - Mournful Cries LP
1990 - V LP
1992 - C.O.D. LP
1995 - Die Healing LP

Saint Vitus - V (1990, Hellhound Records)

Version Reviewed: CD Remaster from Southern Lord Records. Originally issued on Hellhound Records.

Fresh off the heels of two of the greatest doom albums ever recorded, Vitus changed to a larger record label from SST - Hellhound Records. The band has possibly never sounded more confidant than they do here. The production is better than ever before. The increased values allow lead guitar to even be buried distantly in songs like "I Bleed Black", creating a ghostly effect more surreal than any Vitus album before. The drums have genuine prescence and power, unlike previous albums.

"Living Backwards" is a hard-rock opener, it's not as anthemic as previous openers "War is Our Destiny" or the almighty "Born Too Late", having the most in common with "The Creeps" from "Mournful Cries". It's a great, if not truly representative, track.

"I Bleed Black" is a true doom metal song. Combination of terrific performances all round, great production effects on the vocals and lead guitars and the creepiness of the song make it a true classic. Definetely a great Vitus song.

"When Emotion Dies" is an anomaly in the Vitus catalogue - the main instrument is an acoustic guitar (the piece was written by Wino but performed by Dave Chandler), Dave sings the song and their are female backing vocals. I think there's an electric guitar buried in there at times, but I can't be certain. There's no drums or bass. The mood is creepy and the addition of some tasteful female backup vocals that are well recorded, adds significant scope to the album. It could have sounded like something from "Sister Act II: Back in the Habit", but thankfully, doesn't. A short, but sweet, example of the increased range Vitus show here. It also acts as the perfect prelude to the following song...

"Patra (Petra)" is, bar none, the most genuinely affecting song Saint Vitus ever did. The band never did specialise in outright emotional music, but here, stripped away from any fantasy components, music, lyrics and vocal style come together to create a truly pathetic and pitiable song from a lonely person, possibly a stalker, to the one he loves and will never tell. The riff, like "Born Too Late", is a great chord progression that's played just slowly enough to make it's point and fast enough to remain interesting. In fact, the chord changes on this one will make you very sad. The song speeds up for a couple of minutes so Dave can do a truly wild, passionate and ugly solo, then returns to slow, longing pain. Probably my favourite Vitus song.

"Ice Monkey" has a really nice flanged-to-shit main riff and menacing tone. Wino joins Dave on guitar for the only time on this album. It's a shame considering how much Wino added to his songs on "Mournful Cries" that he only appears on one song on here, but it is a pretty good one.

"Jack Frost" is one of the slowest songs in the Vitus catalogue. It's almost following the traditional Vitus formula of ending the album after six tracks with the last being superslow and doomy, like "Burial at Sea". For a full seven minutes we get slow, oppressive drums and a grim chord progression at 3 beats a minute and some truly haunted vocals. There's some nice tremelo bar work at the end of each section, but especially in the middle where Dave conjures up a horrible warbling nightmare of the Paul Leary/Kerry King ilk that truly stops the show dead (in a good way). Eventually, the grim bass returns and we go for another round in the snow. All in all, this is one of Vitus' most effective and interesting slow numbers.

"Angry Man" begins with some slow, chiming bass that at first reminds me of "Green Onions" and secondly makes me think I'm in for a song only slightly faster than "Jack Frost". Subsequently, the song becomes an up-tempo "Hallow's Victim" type song like the opener. It remains one of Vitus' most popular songs and with good reason - it's a raised middle finger type of song and it's fast and has a good sound to it.

"Mind Food" is a very straightforward song that bears more than a little similarity to L7's "Shitlist". Regardless of whether that song ripped it off or not, "Mind Food" is a great rock song with a pro-drug, pro-mind-expansion theme. A "White Rabbit" for the headbanger crowd. The juxtaposition of Dave's wall of sound rhythm leads (which jumps in the intro from left to right speaker ala Do It Again by the Beach Boys) and his wailing, reverbed leads. Not much to say - it's maybe the most straightforward rock song they've ever done, but rock it does - and how!

I have absolutely no idea if Vitus knew it's lineup would fracture not too long after this release or not, but the celebratory mood of much of the album would seem to indicate a band going out on a triumphant bang.

Even though all the songs are great, the album is definetly stronger as the summation of it's parts. The mood running through is a little like Sabbath's "Volume 4" and "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath" - a band experimenting and diversifying it's sound - but also with a jubilant hard rock approach like "Sabotage". It runs the gamut and features some of the best production on a Saint Vitus record.

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Saint Vitus - Mournful Cries (1988, SST Records)

"Mournful Cries", which is Saint Vitus' fourth album and last for SST Records, finds the band continuing down the path set forth on "Born too Late", the previous album. Notable differences include the heightened fantasy content of the lyrics, which frequently cover similar ground to "Born too Late", but from a more distanced perspective and the fact that "...Cries" features Scott "Wino" Weinrich on lead guitar as well as vocals. He has a totally different soloing style to the great Dave Chandler and really adds something to these songs.

Like "Born too Late", the album proper is only six songs long ("Born..." later had the "Thirsty and Miserable" EP attached to the end) but considerably more varied. First track "The Creeps" (which would later be ripped off by SST head Greg Ginn for one of his later "Gone" albums) is a return to the "Hallow's Victim" up-tempo song stylings and lasts less than three minutes! Immediately following that, is one of the slowest songs on the album, "Dragon Time". The lyrics are very, very silly but the music is very good, and it's a good example of Wino's "cleaner than Dave Chandler" style lead guitar acting as a massive expansion of the Vitus sound. The song is very slow, but never plods, and uses it's slow tempo and long style to really build an atmosphere around.
"Shooting Gallery" is another fine song, but it goes on forever. Too many repeats on this one.
"Bitter Truth" is a song that just annoys me, but it does feature the first appearance of acoustic guitar on a Saint Vitus record and fairly straightforward, real world lyrics.
"The Troll" is much better, serving as one of the most genuinely affecting songs on the album. The lyrics, like most of the others, are fantastical, but it's clearly talking about something a bit more down to earth.
"Looking Glass" is another classic, a kind of cross between the first two tracks. In other words, it's a midtempo number with some great lead guitar work from both guitarists.

I could go on and on about nothing with this band, but really, the question with a song by any band like this is: are the riffs, melodies and playing good? The answer is yes. The band is as on top of it's songwriting game as it was on the past three albums and, like the previous album, the production is very good and Wino's vocals are a definite compliment to the Vitus sound. While "Mournful Cries" does not have any single song as standout as the "Born Too Late" title track, it does have stronger songs overall and is a highlight of the band's fine catalogue.

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Saint Vitus - Born Too Late (1987, SST Records)


"Born too Late" was Saint Vitus' third album and first with Scott "Wino" Weinrich, of The Obsessed. The lyrics are more down to Earth and in your face than those on the previous Scott Reagers albums and Wino is more of an emotive, "Ozzy" type metal singer. Not a whole lot of range.

The album begins with the absolute classic title track. Co-written by original singer Scott Reagers, I've yet to hear a live bootleg of him singing it, which is a shame. If any one song had to sum up the underground doom genre, this is it - not just lyrically, but musically as well. It's simple three chord riff endlessly insisting itself onto you is one of doom's absolute highlights. Wino's vocals are probably more effective here than they ever would be again with any other band and Dave Chandler gets three opportunities to do his noise solos and all three are among his best, never leaving the listener behind wondering what the hell he's doing. In fact, throughout the album Dave's lead guitar work:
  • Squelches
  • Squeals
  • Whines
  • Wah's in all-heavy-like
  • Makes moo noises
"Clear Windowpane" is widely regarded among Vitus fans as another classic. I never get the urge to listen to it, but whenever I do, I'm captivated. It's definetely a great song. The drums kinda poundy smash smash like Black Sabbath's "Children of the Grave" at half-speed. The rhythm guitar is faster and more upbeat than the title track. The track would feel a lot like a "Hallow's Victim" track if it weren't for Dave's leads making the song so damn funky.

"Dying Inside" starts off so doomy and slow I thought I was in for another "Burial at Sea", but the song has a little more cheer and momentum than that one. There are several long stretches of extended guitar solos that are actually very cool. The song is a lyrically downbeat number about killing yourself with alcoholism.

"H.A.A.G." (I have no idea what that stands for, and the lyrics give no clear picture but I've hear it's "Hell Ain't A Game") is one of the most "up" songs on the album and it's a pretty cool song all round - one of my favourites. There's essentially the verse pieces, which feel like an analog distortion whirlwind ala Master of Reality era Black Sabbath - and the more straight-up, hard rock-y intro which shows up every now and again. It slows down considerably in the middle. This would be a great example to illustrate the bands impressive use of dynamics. Quiet, loud, slow, fast, atmospheric or rocking, the band gives equal weight to all parts and pulls all of the parts off with flare.

"The Lost Feeling" has a slow, creepy verse which fails mostly because of the trite whispered vocals. In this context, when we actually listen to the lyrics, they fail. The chorus is a little better. It's more bluesey than most of the Vitus stuff, but definetely emotive. Dave's solo is also fairly bluesy but gets into the wahing fairly soon. There's prominant bass playing here for the verses which definetely makes a change from the other songs. A good enough song.

"The War Starter" is a clear "end" song. The verse riff is even slower and gloomier than the other material and the lyrics pertain to the endtimes - in this case war and the inevitable nuclear war. The chorus feels a little forced, but is a good chorus in and of itself. Not a classic song, but good.

The increased production values (in the SST stakes, not as muddy as "My War" but not quite as good as "Slip It In") help the band immeasurably - the drums stand out far more, Dave's guitar playing and effects sound considerably more powerful with the increased stereo range and the quiet moments (such as the verses of "The Lost Feeling") are considerably less hissy and noisey than counterparts on previous albums, such as the opening of "Burial at Sea".

Like it's clear inspiration, Master of Reality, Vitus' own third album finds the band at their absolute peak, exploring new sounds with lots of effects and a wide variety of material. It's arguably not the best Vitus album (I myself would put both "Mournful Cries" and "V" before it), but it is probably the quintessential doom metal album. It flat out admitted it's influences were so long ago as to be quite dead then laid the blueprint for how doom could admit it's contrived origins yet progress to its own (very small) scene, eventually.


The CD edition appends the band's "Thirst and Miserable" EP from later the same year. As far as I know, the songs were all recorded in the same studio as "Born Too Late" because the production seems largely identical and they fit fine with the previous album.

"Thirsty and Miserable" was never my favourite Black Flag song, but it was their song which sounded most like Motorhead. Having said that, such comparisons are irrelevant to this slow, slow interpretation. The influence of Flag has always been apparent in the bands songs, mostly in their noisey solos, but this song doesn't really fit Vitus' style and by presence alone seems to jar horribly with the message of "Dying Inside" (at least they didn't cover "Six Pack"!). Put simply - if you already like the band and the album, you won't skip it, but it's not going to be anyone's favourite Vitus song.

"Look Behind You" is a great Vitus song. It doesn't have a classic, anthemic chorus, but rocks in a rather different way to most Vitus songs. Dave's solos are more traditional than almost ever before but that's okay because he's a good guitarist. It's hard to think much else to say about this - it's a great three minute hard rock song.

"The End of the End" is a great song with some truly awful lyrics. At first glance the song seems like the standard Vitus/Sabbath apocalyptic end song, much like "The War Starter"....

"Don't tell me about your problems
I don't want to hear
You brought them upon yourself
I don't want to hear
You thought nuclear war was
The right thing to do"

But eventually it becomes clear the song isn't the most serious song Vitus have ever composed:

"Now you 've brought armies of mutants
Upon me and you"

Also, during the quiet midsection, we get this awful stanza:

"Once upon a time, when everything was green
The Earth was pure and happy and everything was clean
Then along came man, he trashed and spoiled it all
And now he wonders why, why is he going to fall"

Which is yeah, awful. Musically, the verses have a truly driving riff, while the chorus has a strange, groovy riff in the Iommi/Butler mould. The middle section is a little over the top - not wildly so, it fits well enough - but when the lyrics are pushed front and centre, for whatever reason, they seem a lot more trite to me. I think it's just that anyone listen to this band is smart enough to know the lyrics are hardly the driving ambition of the band, so why draw attention to them? But the slow section eventually feature a really nice solo from Dave and soon enough we're riding back into mid-tempo-ville with some nice wah soloing.

All in all, bad lyrics aside, it's the ending song "The War Starter" wanted to be. Fortunately for us owners of the CD edition, it is the true end song.

With the "Thirsty and Miserable" EP attached, the value of "Born Too Late" is vastly increased. In this form, the CD is the best buy any Saint Vitus fan can make.

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