Thursday, July 30, 2009

July 30: Saint Vitus, "Born Too Late"

Artist: Saint Vitus
Album: Born Too Late
Year: 1986
Label: SST

If you weren't playing disco-pop, new wave, or hair metal during the 1980's, chances are, in the United States, you weren't selling out arenas, or more to the point, many records. Due to this fact, many of the louder, more aggressive bands of the era developed extremely dedicated underground fanbases. This also allowed these bands to thoroughly explore their sound without the pressure of a major record label. One of the bands that benefited from this obscurity is Los Angeles based doom metal pioneers, Saint Vitus. Fusing together the dark, slightly psychedelic sounds of Black Sabbath with the aggressive, hardcore sounds of Los Angeles, their music paved the way for bands like Sleep and Crowbar. Uniquely combining the intensity and integrity that defined the hardcore and punk scenes with dark, slow, crushing music, the band made music like no other band before them. Having recorded nearly ten records with two main lineups, it is Saint Vitus' 1986 release, Born Too Late, that stands as their finest work, and one of the best albums that the genre has ever seen.

Born Too Late represents the first album with Saint Vitus' second lineup. Shortly before the recording, original vocalist, Scott Reagers left the band, and was replaced by former Obsessed frontman, Scott "Wino" Weinrich. Weinrich's voice is a perfect fit for the band, and it is his presence on the album that makes it "the" essential early American doom metal album. On Born Too Late, the bands' love of Black Sabbath has rarely been more clear, and songs like "Dying Inside" sound like slower, more gloomy version of the classic Sabbath sound. The band shows off their amazing talents, mixing moods and tempos on the doom metal classic, "The War Starter." Born Too Late truly showcases the band at the apex of their talents, and everything from the music to the vocals to the production are nothing short of superb. The manner in which the band blends the urgency and intensity of the hardcore scene is remarkable, as they do so whilst keeping the sluggish, dreary mood intact. Saint Vitus would make their love for hardcore music even more clear on their 1987 EP. On the EP (which was added to the 1990 re-release of Born Too Late), Saint Vitus takes a moment to pay tribute to another influence on their sound, label mates, Black Flag, as they cover the classic Black Flag song, "Thirsty And Miserable."

The albums' title, though perhaps seemingly unimportant, is inf act a commentary on the band and the music found on the record. The sound is unquestionably "old school" and was a great contrast to nearly everything else being done musically at the time. Musically, Born Too Late is unrelentingly slow and gloomy. Though the music is never boring, the songs plod along, and the music pummels the listener over and over. Guitarist, Dave Chandler has an absolutely stellar tone, and his crushing riffs are as close to Black Sabbath as one can get without actually being in the band. Using a perfect amount of distortion, Chandler also shines with a number of brilliant solos. The playing on bassist Mark Adams is what keeps the songs moving, with his fantastic, lulling riffs. The sound and manner in which he plays is what gives the songs their dark, trudging mood, and Adams' contributions are truly the backbone to the music. Armando Acosta is absolutely phenomenal on drums throughout Born Too Late. Flawlessly navigating the various tempos and slight mood changes, Acosta's drumming batters the listener constantly, yet he is never so forward in the mix that it becomes distracting. With each musician performing brilliantly throughout Born Too Late, the sound that they presented would serve as the blueprint for bands that followed, and the album is now largely considered to be the archetype of the "classic" early doom metal sound.

Scott "Wino" Weinrich is easily one of the finest and most influential metal frontmen of all time, and his addition to Saint Vitus truly takes the band to the next level. Having played with everyone from Dave Grohl to Rob Halford to Black Sabbath's Geezer Butler and Bill Ward, Weinrich is truly a legend in his own right. With a voice that ranges from deep growling to much higher notes clearly belted out, there have been few others with a voice so perfectly created for the genre. Weinrich sings flawlessly throughout Born Too Late, adding just the right amount of menace to his voice to give the songs a bit of a sinister mood. Much like their influences, the songs on Born Too Late revolve around dark, apocalyptic themes. The band does take a moment to stand against the stereotypes that they faced, as being an "old school" metal band in the mid-1980's certainly made one stand out. On the albums' title track, Weinrich sings, "Every time I'm on the street, people laugh and point at me. They talk about my length of hair, and the out of date clothes that I wear..." The band also presents one of the most poignant, succinct anti-addiction songs ever written with the chilling, raw track, "Dying Inside." Featuring many more personal songs than their previous efforts, and the unmistakable voice of Scott Weinrich, Born Too Late still stands a true classic of the doom metal genre.

In an era when "it" was all about women, money, and excess, Saint Vitus decided to concentrate more on perfecting the slow, dark metal sound that served as their influence. In doing this, Saint Vitus represents the epitome of a band refusing to sell out; as they kept playing the music they loved, though they knew it had minimal commercial appeal. Perfecting the dismal, melancholy mood, and creating some of the most devastating, slow-thrashing music ever recorded, Saint Vitus are truly a band like no other, and Born Too Soon serves as a testament to their amazing talents. By sticking to their guns, they created some of the most important and influential albums of the decade, and the sound of Saint Vitus can be heard in later bands like The Melvins, Nirvana, and L7. Though their early records are brilliant works of music, when Scott "Wino" Weinrich joined the band, the bands' sound moved to another level, and the results were nothing short of phenomenal. Though many felt that metal was "dead" by the mid-1980's, Saint Vitus kept on playing the music they loved, and in the process, helped the sound to stay alive, as well as creating a new style that remains to this day. Serving as the model for this new style, and standing as one of the most underrated, yet extraordinary albums of the decade, Saint Vitus' 1986 album, Born Too Soon, is nothing short of a doom metal classic, and similarly one of the best records ever made.

Standout tracks: "Born Too Late," "Dying Inside," and "The War Starter."

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