Saint Vitus
Live Vol. 2
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Intelligence without pretentiousness, focus, and sledgehammer sincerity. Those three qualities defined Saint Vitus when they first adopted the name in 1980 and still does through three different singers, over ten releases, and a thirty years plus long journey along the margins of mainstream music. Their influence, however, is far from marginal and extensively documented. Their seminal studio albums continue to inspire young musicians around the globe long after their initial appearance, but they built much of their ongoing legacy with decades of live performances where Dave Chandler’s songwriting, among others, morphs into something even sharper, more intense, and hard-hitting than the studio recordings hinted at. The band’s first live album, Live, has remarkably remained the sole official live document from Vitus since 1900, but no longer with the release of Live Vol. 2.

The eleven tracks are culled from the band’s 2013 European tour – barring a recent guest appearance with the band during their 2016 American schedule, Scott “Wino” Weinrich’s last with the band to date. One song makes it clear that, whatever the band’s problems, they aren’t musical. The set list, as it often is with iconic bands, is strongly tilted in favor of the band’s first three studio releases and “War is Our Destiny” from 1985’s album Hallow’s Victim. The intervening years, however, haven’t dimmed the band’s instrumental fire in the slightest as this opener boils down an already lean original version into an undiluted adrenaline rush. Anger defines Scott Reagers’ studio vocal, but age and too much smoking helps Wino’s vocal sound closer to some lunatic would-be prophet preaching against mankind and predicting the end. “Look Behind You” begins with Chandler’s fire breathing guitar snarling and lashing out from the speakers and Vitus keeps their foot on the listener’s neck until the song’s over. It’s another example, as well, of how the band’s condensing the original version into much more compact live performances. Some of this comes from the band’s drummer Henry Vasquez. His energetic attack clearly stirs Chandler’s lead breaks into incendiary flairs of rage over Vasquez’s insistent beat.

Saint Vitus includes three tracks from their most recent studio album Lillie: F-65. The first of those performances, “Let Them Fall”, has the band’s patented plod, but it isn’t working to full effect. The power and atmospherics are here, but the elongated melodies coalescing in the older classics never come together here in a satisfying way. It is true, however, that the performance shows the same commitment that they bring to the older material. Later efforts in this vein fare much better – for instance, the next song, “The Bleeding Ground”. There’s a much stronger groove holding this song together and a melody clear enough to quickly hook listeners. Chandler hits on a bluesy growl for the song’s main riff that nicely matches the groove. Their attention turns back to older material with “Patra (Petra)” from 1990’s album V. It is a descent into sonic hell here, inflamed by pain and rage in equal measure, and the undiluted focus Vitus brings to the song makes it a powerful listening experience.

“The Troll” is much shorter than its studio counterpart and, once again, the abbreviated running time is due to a mix of different drumming and a band, frankly, with an even sharper ear for brevity than before. Virtuosity isn’t this band’s thing, thankfully, but this Saint Vitus lineup is a tighter musical machine than previous incarnations and their single-mindedness pays off particularly well here with one of the album’s most ferocious performances. The apocalyptic grinder “The Waste of Time” derives much of its musical strength from Vasquez’s monstrous swing. It inspires Chandler to, arguably, his most unhinged lead guitar yet. If anyone has questions about the band’s continued relevance as a recording act, this third and final song from Lillie: F-65 squashes any concerns. “White Stallions” explodes into life with no preamble and they roar into the song’s challenging tempo. Drummer Henry Vasquez is ideal for the track – the energy he brings to the songs finds its full range here, but while it’s far from basic, Vasquez plays with the band first and foremost while adding accents and subtleties where he can.

The one-two punch of “Dying Inside” and “Born Too Late” ends things predictability. The two songs are longtime closing staples of this lineup, but it isn’t any sort of hack work to get off the stage. Saint Vitus performs these monumental classics with the same passion fueling the initial recording of each song. If this ends up being the last official release with Wino on vocals, this chapter of the band’s recording history couldn’t be better concluded.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Jason Hillenburg
November 25th, 2016

Comments

  1. Commented by: guilliame

    I don’t understand the attraction of this band, the guitar playing, sound, songs…


  2. Commented by: Jason Hillenburg

    It’s the stripped down quality of it. There’s not a single shred of artifice, not a single wasted note. To each their own however.


  3. Commented by: Jay

    Great review Jay. I think to get Vitus, you pretty much gotta live the songs, personally…and I sure have.


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