Saturday, 17 October 2009

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.

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