Saint Vitus fans have been spoiled. Most of the classic Vitus albums have been reissued. The band’s 5th album, V, had long been the exception. Thanks to Hankenstein records, this lost classic is available on vinyl once again. Remastered and limited to 1000 copies, this pressing will soon become a rarity.
Originally released in 1990, V is a pivotal album in the Saint Vitus discography. After nearly a decade with SST Records, the band found themselves signed to a new upstart label. In addition to V, Hell Hound Records decided to release early recordings of Wino’s pre-Vitus band. With his old music alive again, the temptation to revisit a beloved project proved irresistible. Wino quit to focus his talents on a new version of The Obsessed.
It would be a mistake to conclude that these changes had an adverse effect on V. The opposite is true. These songs chronicle a band that has fully settled into their second incarnation. This final album with Weinrich is the proud equal of any classic SST record.
“Living Backwards” opens V with a mid-tempo romp that is classic Vitus. It’s hard not to read Dave Chandler’s lyrics as autobiographical. With the old SST days firmly in the past, hanging out with the Black Flag camp is a fading memory. Albums produced by Spot, Dez screaming backup vocals, and the doomy interpretation of “Thirsty and Miserable” are as distant as the days when Scott Reager fronted the group with his undead/zombie howl.
Concluding with the observation, “So I’m living backwards/The past is all I see,” Chandler hardly seems optimistic for the future. One wonders if the guitarist was aware that he was about to lose his lead singer once again. If Weinrich had already made his intentions to leave known, the lyrics sting on a whole other level. Everything that Chandler devoted his life to is crumbling. No wonder the “The past is all I see” is repeated as a couplet.
The lyrics are depressing but the music is upbeat. The Sabbath influence that molded the Saint Vitus sound is clear as chugging power chords drive the rhythm. Still, Dave Chandler has his own vibe. A piercing note drenched in feedback introduces a guitar solo that is manic and unrestrained. Chandler is clearly enjoying himself as he battles with his squealing overdriven amp. It’s the sound of a man doing what he loves.
When Wino and Chandler write together, the results are impressive. There has never been a finer example of their unique chemistry than “I Bleed Black.” It’s an epic song that has become a Saint Vitus classic in the same vein as “Born Too Late.”
The riff is simple but heavy. This song could be mistaken for Black Sabbath. Great dissonant trills separate fat power chords that ooze saturation. Acosta hits the drums with force. He creates a huge soundstage for the band to paint their image of a tortured, defiant man of pride.
The vocal performance is a major component behind the song’s impact. Wino is a master of phrasing. When a particular line resonates, Weinrich spits out key phrases with an attitude that you feel in the gut. Already an intimidating presence, the dark lyrics become him.
Vocals are precisely what set “When Emotion Dies” apart. A haunting duet, the subdued voice of Dave Chandler is silhouetted by female vocals. This odd union plays out over clean guitars. A vision of gloom between two loud slabs of metal, it’s a welcome addition to an otherwise heavy album.
Side two gives both songwriters moments to shine. “Ice Monkey” is the only composition written solely by Wino. “Jack Frost” is a tale of winter that features a section of isolated guitars. Basically, they set Chandler loose in a recording studio with a whammy bar and Marshall stack. “Angry Man” features a rare Mark Adams songwriting credit while album closer “Mind Food,” is an ode to the band’s professed love of psychedelics.
The only downside to V is that it marks the beginning of Wino’s decade long absence from Saint Vitus. Of course it wasn’t all for nothing. Wino gave us The Obsessed and Spirit Caravan. Saint Vitus would release an album with yet another singer before a short-lived reunion with Scott Reagers. Still, because V was such a solid, concentrated album, one always wondered what would have come next had Wino remained with the group.
Fortunately it’s no longer a mystery. After reuniting and playing several well-received shows, the band went into the studio with Wino once again. The result was Lillie F-65, a heavy doom record that seemingly picked up exactly where V left off. With V back in print, it’s the perfect time to revisit or discover this high mark in the storied history of Saint Vitus.