Saturday, 17 October 2009

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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