Friday, July 29, 2011

July 29: Saint Vitus, "Born Too Late"

Artist: Saint Vitus
Song: "Born Too Late"
Album: Born Too Late
Year: 1986

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN (will open in new tab)

One of the most frustrating and disappointing aspects of the "rock scene" of the 1980's was the way in which the term "heavy metal" was completely bastardized, being applied to bands that were musically not even close to the true meaning of the genre.  In so many cases, such a title was given to "any" band that had even the slightest distortion, long hair, and screamed their vocals; while anyone who understands the art form that is "heavy metal" knows that such requirements are akin to calling anyone with spiked hair a "punk rocker."  To add to this furstration, the bands that were actually making "real" heavy metal were largely overlooked, and this was no more true than in the case of doom-metal pioneers, Saint Vitus.  Taking equal influence from Black Sabbath and Black Flag, the band proved better than almost any other act the idea that intensity did not need to come from excessive speed or shouting, and that the same results could be derived from powerful, almost lulling musical assaults.  Following a brief change in membership, Saint Vitus entered the studio under Black Flag's SST label, recording their stunning sophomore album, 1986's Born Too Late.  Finding a far superior blending of sound and texture than appeared on their self-titled debut, the band fully realized their musical potential and one can quickly understand the unique presence and importance of Saint Vitus by hearing the records' title track.

The moment that "Born Too Late" begins, Saint Vitus seems to throw the listener for a bit of a trick, as the grinding, speedy "solo" from Dave Chandler give the impression that the band has completely shifted gears from their first album.  However, the song quickly descends into the dark, almost dangerous controlled trudge that defines the sound of Saint Vitus.  The way in which Chandler is able to raise and drop the tension of the song is second to none, and his guitar alone is all the proof one needs to understand how intensity and force can be created within a slower musical arrangement.  The bass playing from Mike Adams only enhances this overall statement, as he almost seems to be attempting to play as few notes as possible, whilst retaining maximum musical potency.  This is in many ways where one can find the strongest link to Black Sabbath, and yet in terms of being stingy with actual notes, they far surpass their predecessors.  However, "Born Too Late" never seems thin in any sense of the word, but it packs a unique musical punch that enables the listener to understand the actual delicacy of their performance.  Drummer Armando Acosta provides the ideal finishing touch to "Born Too Late," as he keeps a slow, almost looming rhythm behind the guitars.  Even when the song moves into the slightly faster, ripping solos, the overall mood is kept perfectly intact, and it is their ability to keep both moods simultaneously that makes "Born Too Late" such an important and influential performance.

There is no question that the most significant change in the sound of Saint Vitus from their earlier recordings is the presence of new singer, Scott "Wino" Weinrich.  Having previously fronted The Obsessed, his voice and delivery style were a far better and more complimentary fit for the overall sound of Saint Vitus, and his ability to blend in with the music is what sets Born Too Late so far apart from the bands' first album.  Again in the spirit of their predecessors, there is a strong power within Weinrich's vocals, and he never lets the darker, if not evil tone of his voice drop for even a moment.  However, Weinrich is a bit more aggressive and angry than previous acts, and there is a sense of urgency within his delivery style that clarifies his connection to the hardcore and punk bands that were playing throughout Los Angeles at the time.  Along with the intensity of his measured vocal style, there is a clear aggravation within his singing, and throughout "Born Too Late," it often sounds as if Weinrich is ready to knock out anyone in his path.  Though many of their other songs are more akin to the "classic" doom sound and themes, on "Born Too Late," Weinrich makes it a far more personal affair, and the refrain of, "...I know I don't belong, and there's nothing that I can do, I was born too late, and I'll never be like you..." make it completely clear just what the song is about.

While there have been countless fusions of musical styles all across the history of recorded music, when one breaks them down to their elements, few were executed with the perfect balance that one finds all across Saint Vitus' Born Too Late.  Managing to retain the "power sludge" that Black Sabbath first recorded, but blending it with the angst-ridden, in-your-face attitude of the hardcore and punk genres, Saint Vitus mixes them all in equal parts, creating one of the most uniquely powerful sounds in history.  Yet on every level, one would be hard pressed to find a band that was more "the wrong time" than the music of Saint Vitus, as in nearly every aspect, it was as far from not only the mainstream sound of the time, but the counter-culture scene as well.  This is what led to the band remaining in relative obscurity, yet within moments of hearing any of their recordings, their talents, as well as their massive influence on later bands becomes abundantly clear.  The sheer power of their songs is enough to make any listener a bit uneasy, and yet the way in which they achieve this result through slow, methodical pummeling is the very essence of "doom metal," and before them, no other band had been able to pull this sound off as brilliantly.  The way in which the vocals and music blend together in perfect, powerful menace is unlike anything else in music history, and there is simply no denying the importance of Saint Vitus, nor the monumental musical moment that is their 1986 song, "Born Too Late."

No comments: