Saint Vitus

support Tombstones
author AP date 14/05/17 venue Pumpehuset, Copenhagen, DEN

Once again, the Sunday syndrome has left most of Copenhagen’s metal scene sprawled on the sofa, oblivious or indifferent to the presence of four legendary musicians in the city. None of this webzine’s writing staff is old enough to remember the cult haze surrounding Los Angeles, CA’s doom metal ancestors, Saint Vitus, but we do realise how much the contemporary artists practicing in the genre owe to the band’s early material in particular. But having found ourselves… let us just say unable, to watch the quartet’s performance at last year’s Copenhell, it was thus imperative that we sent someone to witness their return to these shores. And given my affinity for the underlying genre as well as my knowledge of the Norwegian support act, it was a given that the task should befall me even though most likely, I was not even an idea in my parents’ head at the time of Saint Vitus’ conception.

Tombstones

Judging by their Facebook page handle, Tombstones appear to have monopolised the sound of ‘Norwegian doom’, and to be fair, the Oslo-born group is one of a very few prominent artists representing the genre in Norway. The band follows the fashionable strain led by acts such as Conan, in which the epic has been switched for the dense and stoning and the music is often played at a tempo so trudging that it seems to grind to a complete halt. But while that might sound off-putting on paper, the repetition and iterative structure of Tombstones’ music is actually quite hypnotising, especially when accompanied by obscure visual projections and a performance in which each of the four musicians constantly embodies the music with slow, poignant movements, as if drugged by it. The show does grow somewhat monotonous as the band enters the final third, mind you, but even then, there is nearly always some redemption to be found in the psychedelic touches and bouts of groovy, southern-fried riffage that erupt from the heavy sediment every now and then. This is opiating stuff to be sure but Tombstones could benefit from some more variety to their uniform approach.

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Saint Vitus

Formed in 1978 as Tyrant, Saint Vitus can rightfully claim to be one the earliest doom metal bands and if you ask a true connoisseur, there is no greater injustice than the fact that so few people caught onto this natural heir to Black Sabbath. The fact is well-witnessed by the turnout here, with no more than 80 patrons gathered to witness a living relic of the musical past. I was not even born when their three most revered albums — “Saint Vitus” (1984), “Hallow’s Victim” (1985) and “Born Too Late” (1986) (a prophetic title, in retrospect) — were released, yet when guitarist Dave Chandler hurls the signature riff from “War is Our Destiny” at us, it is hard to dispute that Saint Vitus probably deserved more. But if that ever bothered Chandler or his colleagues, it certainly does not show — they play with real grit, passion and enthusiasm, which is more than anyone can say about ‘Sabbath’s escapades during the last six years of their au revoir touring.

Whether it is from Chandler’s quintessential rockstar exterior and miming his wah-wah solo during “Dark World”, drummer Henry Vasquez’ playing standing up while screaming the life out of his lungs at the end of “White Magic/Black Magic”, or the totally absorbed rocking out of session bassist Pat Bruders (Down, ex-Crowbar) as he rips through “White Stallions”, you get the impression that the seasons never managed to wear these guys down — even to this day, they live and breathe heavy metal and give zero f**ks how many people they are playing in front of. This dedication is felt by the audience, which is happily ignoring the fact that Scott Reagers’ voice has regrettably lost some of its venom over the years and pelting the lyrics of every chorus back at him, much to the veteran’s satisfaction. Indeed, the atmosphere is mutually energising, and inevitably we soon witness Chandler crawling across the stage, wearing a nefarious grimace as the band delivers a lumbering rendition of “Sloth” off 1995’s “Die Healing” LP.

We are then graced by ‘the hits’, so to speak, with “Burial at Sea”, the eponymous “Saint Vitus” and finally “Born Too Late” rounding up an evening almost entirely based on the first three records, and as such an evening dedicated to Saint Vitus’ true disciples. Still, the band ensures their younger fans and the curious debutants like me are remembered as well, with stories of why and how the songs came to be and by offering what seems like genuine gratitude for our willingness to turn our gaze toward the past for one night. That gratitude is emphasised first by Chandler’s diving into the crowd to play the guitar solo from “Born Too Late” and then by the surprise-performance of “Hallow’s Victim” after an encore. It serves as quite literally a blast of nostalgia for some and a shot of energy for others, to finish off watching one of the most influential bands in the doom metal genre at the top of their game.

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Setlist:

  • 01. Dark World
  • 02. One Mind
  • 03. War is Our Destiny
  • 04. White Magic / Black Magic
  • 05. Zombie Hunger
  • 06. Sloth
  • 07. White Stallions
  • 08. Burial at Sea
  • 09. Saint Vitus
  • 10. Born Too Late
  • 11. Hallow’s Victim

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