Review Summary: Simply put, one of the first doom metal records, as well as a fantastic start for Saint Vitus.
The environment of metal in the 80s was interesting to say the least. New bands such as Metallica, Slayer, and Venom were emerging with this dark, aggressive new form of heavy metal known as thrash, while on the total opposite spectrum, glam bands like Poison and Bon Jovi were topping the charts with their polished, lustful music. But, what else was going on in the underground at this time? Bands like Black Flag, Celtic Frost, and Amebix were certainly attracting attention, but there was a completely different scene bubbling in places all across the globe. These bands went back to heavy metals murky roots of Black Sabbath’s bluesy riffing, necromantic lyricism, and crawling tempos. This style became known as “doom metal”, due to the atmosphere it created. Bands such as the Melvins, Candlemass, and Saint Vitus were the pioneers of this new form of metal music, but each band had astounding diversity. Melvins had more Flag than Sabbath roots, while Candlemass had an epic and almost operatic approach to their heaviness, but Saint Vitus are arguably the most similar to Sabbath. Their first album was released in 1984 on Greg Ginn’s SST record label, and it’s easily one of the most influential heavy metal albums of the 1980s, and it certainly lives up to that reputation.
Saint Vitus is an album that certainly left a mark on the growing doom scene, and the album itself lives up to its own reputation. As to be expected, the guitars are very thick with bluesy riffing reminiscent of lord Iommi, and the lyrics are very dark with a taste of necromancy. Despite being very reminiscent of Sabbath though, the originality is here. The vocal approach in particular is quite enjoyable, with a very melancholic, and sometimes operatic approach. Perhaps the best example of this is the way vocalist Scott Reagers sings as if he’s praying to god for mercy on “Burial at Sea”, with the subject matter being just that, praying for Neptune’s help. This is also the absolute slowest song on the record, with a very dissonant bass line opening the track, while tension slowly builds as guitars and vocals begin to enter. Most of the songs on here aren’t as astoundingly slow as that one though, with the opener in particular being quite fast by doom standards. Of course, some Black Flag influence is in here, so that might be part of where it stems from. While there isn’t a formulaic approach, most of the songs will have the same overall atmosphere, but the atmosphere itself is so euphoric so this isn’t a bad thing whatsoever.
For the bad side of this record, the biggest gripe is that sometimes the band doesn’t know when to let up. What I mean by this is that certain songs such as “White Magic/Black Magic” and “The Psychopath” delve into a bit too much jamming or just plain drag. This is especially unfortunate because this band held so much potential, but it doesn’t keep the album from being absolutely excellent. The other gripe is the fact that the overall product is rather short, at only 35 minutes and 41 seconds, which may have been limited by the vinyl format back then, but they still could’ve shortened “The Psychopath” and just put another song. Other than that, this album truly succeeds.
So what did Saint Vitus do for the heavy metal scene? It certainly helped lay the foundation for what’s now known as doom metal, and it serves as a fantastic starting point for those interested in the genre. While certain songs are better than others, the overall product is quite satisfying from start to finish. Some may argue that it’s too similar to Black Sabbath, but by further descending into dissonance and atmosphere, the album really has a life of its own. So basically, this is most likely the first doom metal album, as well as an excellent slab of what makes the genre so great.