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Saturday, March 26, 2011

Flashback Friday - Saint Vitus

My inspiration for this Flashback Friday feature came from finally having an opportunity to see doom legends Saint Vitus play live earlier this week. The band has been together, albeit sporadically, in some incarnation or another for nearly as long as I've been alive, yet to my knowledge, this was the first opportunity I've ever had to see them live. Given those odds…I figured it was a show I better not miss, and damn if it wasn't worth the 35 year wait. But as always…let's start at the beginning.

Saint Vitus, along with Trouble, Pentagram and a handful of others, were the very first to play the style of music that we now call doom. Now let me emphasize to you the magnitude of that statement. There are plenty of legendary bands out there who have had immeasurable influence on various sub-genres of this music scene over the past 20 plus years (Down, Crowbar, Orange Goblin…the list goes on). Saint Vitus were one of the originals…the guys that those guys looked up to.

In fact, let me tell you a little story. Back around 1993 (or maybe it was 1994…I can't really remember), I went to see Corrosion of Conformity at a shitty, little dive bar in Raleigh, North Carolina (their home town). Prior to the show, I was hanging out outside the place and happened to run into Pepper Keenan. Now, I wish I could tell you that we had some really cool discussion about the state of rock n roll or his upcoming plans to start a side project with Philip Anselmo (remember this was still a couple of years before Down would release NOLA). But no…the conversation really went more like this…

Me: Pepper Keenan! What's up man?
Pepper: What's up.
Me: I'm looking forward to the show tonight!
Pepper: Thanks.
Me: Hey…cool Saint Vitus wristband!
Pepper: Thanks.

And unfortunately that was about the extent of our conversation…but I think my point is clear.

Saint Vitus got their start in Los Angeles in the late 70's when Dave Chandler (guitar), Mark Adams (bass), Armando Acosta (drums) and Scott Reagers (vocals) joined together to make music under the name Tyrant. Whether they eventually changed their name to Saint Vitus due to their obvious affinity for Black Sabbath (Sabbath's Vol. 4 has a song called "St. Vitus' Dance") or because the real Saint Vitus is the patron saint of entertainers, I don't know for sure. Regardless, by the time the band released their self-titled debut album in 1984, their name had been forever changed.

The album was released on SST Records, a label owned by fellow SoCal musician Greg Ginn…guitarist of hardcore legends Black Flag (another band from which Vitus drew influence). It was followed by an EP titled The Walking Dead and then a year later by their sophomore effort, Hallow's Victim, which would be the last to feature Reagers on vocals. Enter Scott "Wino" Weinrich.

Having already spent time as the vocalist/guitarist for The Obsessed, Weinrich was no stranger to the burgeoning doom scene that Saint Vitus called home. His influence on the band's sound was immediately noticeable as their next album Born Too Late, which was released in 1986, would, over time become known as their masterpiece. Songs like "H.A.A.G. (Hell Ain't A Game)", "The War Starter" and of course the title track simply defined Saint Vitus. The album is still considered a high water mark for the genre today.

The following year, Saint Vitus released another EP titled Thirsty and Miserable, after the Black Flag song of the same name, which was one of the three songs on the release. These songs would later be included on the re-release of Born Too Late. In 1988, the Wino led version of the band released Mournful Cries, their final album on SST Records. The album continued in the same vein as its predecessor, a heavy slab of all out doom, but State-side, it didn't make much of a splash in the sales department and frustration began to grow within the band.

Weinrich would stick around for one more album, the 1990 Hellhound Records release V, before leaving to resurrect his old band The Obsessed. His replacement was Christian Lindersson of the Swedish band Count Raven. Lindersson did vocals on the band's sixth album C.O.D. which was released in 1992, but by the following year, Vitus came full circle by replacing him with their original singer Scott Reagers. The second go around with Reagers resulted in one album, Die Healing, which was released in 1995, but the band still was unable to match the intensity they'd found with Weinrich and in 1996, they called it quits.

In their post Saint Vitus days, Dave Chandler went on to work with Trouble's Ron Holzner in a band called Debris Inc. while Acosta stayed busy in a project called Dirty Red. Both Reagers and Adams remained relatively quiet within the music industry. Of course Weinrich's post-Vitus days were possibly his most successful, as he would continue to make music in The Obsessed as well as his other musical outlets which include Spirit Caravan, The Hidden Hand, Shrinebuilder and his own solo material.

The classic lineup of Weinrich, Chandler, Adams and Acosta reunited briefly in 2003 for a show in Chicago and then again in 2009 for some festival dates in Europe. Unfortunately, by the time of the second reunion, health problems had begun to take their toll on Acosta and he was unable to perform with the band. In his absence, Henry Vasquez from the band Blood of the Sun was brought in to sit behind the drums. Sadly, Acosta passed away in November of 2010.

The good news is this…his memory lives on in the music of Saint Vitus. As I've already made you aware, that music is alive and well in the clubs and music halls of America. Vitus' reunion led them to a co-headlining spot on the Metalliance Tour which is making its way across the U.S. this very moment. Playing alongside seasoned metal veterans Crowbar and Helmet as well as upstarts like Howl and Red Fang, Saint Vitus is introducing a whole new generation, who very well may have been "born to late", to the doom that started it all.

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