Saint Vitus

Lillie: F-65

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When the criminally unheralded career of underground doom icons Saint Vitus whimpered to an inglorious end circa 1995 amid ongoing interpersonal turmoil and a spate of terminally uninspired albums, you could have heard a proverbial pin drop. The indifference was just deafening, and even the band's most dedicated fans (all 12 who remained) probably felt greater relief than sadness. Adding insult to injury, Vitus' forcibly retired mainstays, guitarist Dave Chandler, bassist Mark Adams, and drummer Armando Acosta were then forced to stand by and watch while estranged frontman Scott "Wino" Weinrich enjoyed a gradual (though hardly without incident) career redemption; first via his re-formed the Obsessed and, later, Spirit Caravan, the Hidden Hand, and numerous other side projects, ultimately attaining almost mythical status as a living legend of American heavy metal. However, a one-off in-concert Saint Vitus reunion in 2003 (which yielded a DVD release) proved that the state of the band's personal relationships was not as hopeless as it seemed, and while it would take several more years to gather steam, sporadic touring beginning in 2009 ultimately led to an improbable studio comeback in the shape of 2012's oddly named Lillie: F-65 -- a concept album about a troubled girl whose title doubles as a veiled reference to one of Chandler's barbiturate downers of choice, back in the day. And despite Acosta's unfortunate absence (he passed away in late 2010, ceding the drum stool to Henry Vasquez), the reconstituted Saint Vitus have, by and large, efficiently resurrected their vintage sound in all its primal, unassuming, pre-digital age simplicity. Most obvious of all is the fact that this is Chandler's band, and Wino openly acknowledges it, or else he wouldn't have left both his guitar and prodigious shredding back home, and deferred to Chandler's almost remedial abilities on the instrument -- basically the very definition of Saint Vitus. Authenticity doesn't always guarantee excellence, however, and Lillie's featureless, forgettable opening gambit, "Let them Fall," as well as its closing, feedback-laced cracked mirror image, "Withdrawal," conjure up bad omens that marginally superior material like "The Bleeding Ground" and the completely non-ironic (evidently) "The Waste of Time" can only improve upon so much. Credit Wino, Chandler, and Adams for resisting the temptation to upgrade or reinvent their original recipe (though instrumental psych piece "Vertigo" tiptoes into Spirit Caravan territory) long enough to produce at least two potentially lasting Vitus catalog standouts in the more energized "Blessed Night" and the -- finally -- engagingly moribund "Dependence," because otherwise Lillie: F-65 (which tops out at a mere 33 minutes, incidentally) would have felt a pretty pointless exercise. As it stands, the album will at the very least provide a better measure of closure to Saint Vitus' turbulent but heroic career than the aforementioned, despairingly pitiful, mid-'90s demise managed to, and the group's important legacy certainly deserves that much.

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