The level of build-up and promotion behind the release of Lillie: F-65 is proof enough that doom is undoubtedly experiencing a level of renown many veterans of the genre never dreamed they’d see. It’s a good thing, though, this newfound glory: Labels with slightly deeper pockets that never gave much of a whiff in the past step into the picture; tours that never had the chance to reach beyond neighboring terrains begin to unfold; and bands that have persevered while mired in obscurity finally get some much deserved recognition. I suppose it’s a good time to be doomed.
But, as is so often the case, you learn to take the good with the bad. Because the tag has become associated with something so weirdly in vogue at the moment, it winds up getting attached to nearly anything that shows even a glimpse of doom’s crux credo(s) in hopes of netting some portion of what little money is currently getting thrown around. The very notion of something being referred to as “doom folk,” for example, is hilarious to me, yet such a thing apparently exists.
In the end, however, doom in its most unfiltered form will always be outsider metal: plodding, cheerless and stubbornly unwavering in its method. And the crowned kings of outsider doom, the band that cut their teeth by doggedly delivering their version of ‘Sabbath in the extreme’ at punk shows in front of half-baffled/half-infuriated crowds, will always be Saint Vitus. And lo and behold, the abbots have returned with their first album in seventeen years, and their first to feature Scott ‘Wino’ Weinrich behind the mic since 1990’s V.
Lillie: F-65‘s chief selling point is also its sole drawback: There are four outstanding core tunes that make up approximately 23-minutes of an already brief 33-minute record. The rest of the fare — opener “Let them Fall,” the short ‘n’ pretty instrumental “Vertigo,” and the closing wall of feedback “Withdrawal” — do their part in adding to the overall flow (the album feels like the closest thing to a concept album the band’s ever done), but they’re not the sort of tunes capable of standing on their own simply by nature of their design. Still, the core four are undoubtedly strong enough for the price of admission — it’s just that the end result feels even more brief than the band’s already short-with-regard-to-time discography. (Five out of seven earlier albums clock in at well under 40 minutes.)
Opener “Let them Fall” does a good job of cracking the door to the overall theme of the album — screaming at the walls about war, corruption, addiction and the extinction of mankind — but things really hit their stride once that unmistakable Dave Chandler guitar tone pops you square in the chops at the onset of #2, “The Bleeding Ground.” This tune has everything fans of Vitus love to hear: a sluggish, crippling doom riff that taps right into the ol’ spine, Chandler’s decidedly untechnical, played-from-the-teeth (literally) psych[edelic/otic] lead-play, and a moment where the pace suddenly picks up for a particularly electrified end.
Wino’s sole musical contribution, the instrumental “Vertigo,” follows and gives the listener a brief (2:37) and pleasant respite before busting into the album’s first *aherm* ‘single’ with “Blessed Night.” Most fans are likely familiar with this walloper, as it was the first new tune the band tromped out as a reunited live act, but for those who remain unenlightened, “Blessed Night” is one of the most infectious ‘get-up-and-smash-about’ tunes the band has penned since “Look Behind You.” (Or perhaps “Angry Man?”) Suffice to say, if you’re a fan of doom and this cut doesn’t get you up and out of your seat, you probably need to burn your membership card.
Side B (track 5 for you fleeting compact disc buffs) is where the sickness truly settles in. “The Waste of Time” is a galumphing rumbler built on the back of a nuking doom riff and serves up a familiar cautionary tale about mankind’s never-ending thirst for war resulting in a purged Earth wiped clean with smoking ash, disease and endless night. And things pull to a close with the wholly defeating “Dependence” that agonizes over the well-traveled Vitus account of addiction with one of the sickest, slowest and most surly riffs the band has coined to date (6:15 = oofah!) before Chandler finally clears the room with 3-minutes of noisy feedback in the aptly named closer, “Withdrawal.”
As far as vocals are concerned, I’ve always given an equal nod to both the Wino and Reagers eras of the band. The Reagers-fronted debut will always maintain a momentous place in my life because of its overall strength and how different it sounded compared to literally everything else coming out at the time, but the Wino-fronted Born Too Late from ’86 also stands as one of my all-time favorite doom albums. In short, I’m just as happy to hear Wino fronting these tunes as strongly as he does as I was to have Reagers rejoin and help knock 95’s often overlooked and under-appreciated Die Healing out of the park. So, in the off-chance that some of you might be worried about a ‘Wino overload’ over the past year (Premonition 13 and his recent output with Conny Ochs), the man does a perfect job on Lillie: F-65, never completely overpowering, but adding just the right amount of grizzled flare.
And while Vitus has always been primarily a Dave Chandler affair, a special tip of the hat must also be given to the other key players knocking about in 2012. Lillie: F-65 boasts an outstanding mix/mastering job done by Tony Reed (Stone Axe, Mos Generator) that definitely bolsters the beautiful work doled out by long-time bassist Mark Adams (you can actually hear him play!) and ‘the new kid’ behind the kit, heavy-hitter Henry Vasquez (Blood of the Sun, Debris Inc.). All three deliver such an indispensable heaviness to this record, I can’t help but wonder what sort of impact they’d all make on the rest of Vitus‘ catalog.
It’s difficult for me to find the proper words to express how happy I am to see pioneering bands such as Pentagram and Saint Vitus rekindle the fires and charge back to the front to deliver such high-quality material during a time when the genre is finally getting some well-deserved attention. At its core, undiluted doom such as this is much more than just an aggregate of a handful of key elements initially spearheaded by Sabbath; it’s a… a forgotten element in the Periodic Table (Dm 119). A weird, rarely tapped lumbering energy soaked deep into the Earth’s core from the rotted marrow of wooly mammoths. Dramatic, I know, but it’s the only way I can think to describe this strange potency that resonates so strongly with a decidedly small portion of the population. And what’s equally bizarre is the fact that you don’t necessarily need to be a technical wizard in order to properly siphon this nebulous energy — you just have to be born doomy, I guess. And that’s precisely the bottom line here: Lillie: F-65 is positively doomy. Short, yes, even by Vitus‘ standards, but unquestionably worthy of any enthusiasts’ time and money.
And don’t forget to force your neighbors to listen.
(Post script: Armando Acosta, you are greatly missed, brother. Wherever you are, I hope you’re still hittin’ ’em hard. Rest in peace, forever!)