Doom pioneers Saint Vitus resurrected on the Metalliance tour

by Ryan Snyder

Scott “Wino” Weinrich growls his way into the hearts of metal fans at Greene Street. (photo by Ryan Snyder)

There’s something vaguely comforting about walking up to the entrance of a club and seeing a sign that says “Earplugs: $2.” Appreciating music for its nuance and creativity is all good, but sometimes the thought of being destroyed by volume carries its own distinct appeal. When the Metalliance tour came to Greene Street Club on March 22, the opportunity was there for both.

The tour is like a traveling metal mini-festival, a pu pu platter of heavy music both contemporary and classic, with hard-to-see acts throughout and a name-brand headliner up top. Nineties alt-metal demigods Helmet sat atop as somewhat of a non-sequiter in comparison to the psychedelically-tilting undercard of Atlas Moth and Kylesa, but you’d have reach even farther back to find the zenith of the tour. Doom/stoner metal icons Saint Vitus play louder, slower and angrier than any other band in Metalliance, but it’s their air of irreverence that makes their shows the most fun.

Stashed in between and New Orleans sludge metal innovators Crowbar and Helmet on the tour, the Los Angeles quartet Saint Vitus laid the foundation for a comeback in 2008 after essentially being on a seemingly interminable hiatus for more than a dozen years. As the criminally-overlooked, prodigal sons of Black Sabbath, they’re credited as originators of doom metal in the late ’70s alongside Pentagram, Trouble and Witchfinder General, easily making them the elders of this tour. Of the three “veteran” bands — along with Helmet and Crowbar — theirs is the only lineup vaguely resembling the classic one.

While Helmet and Crowbar’s sets were more or less the Page Hamilton and Kirk Windstein shows respectively, Saint Vitus was a force as a whole and throwbacks to the old days of metal in every way. Remember Stephen Dorff’s first role in the 1987 movie The Gate, or the 1986 horror flick Trick or Treat with Gene Simmons? The music that Saint Vitus plays was a direct inspiration on the pseudo- Satanic metal that opened the gate to Hell, or summoned the dead to exact revenge on your enemies. Saint Vitus played it hard and heavy, with gnashed teeth, but also a bit of a wink and a nod.

“I just want to say f*ck the internet, and all the lies and bulls*it it spews. Stay the f*ck off it,” said guitarist Dave Chandler, who wildman beard and bandana have persisted unmolested since the band’s heyday. “But if you do go on it, check out our site on MySpace.”

With drummer Henry Vazquez, the band’s only new member following the death of original drummer Armando Acosta, his punishing doublebass onslaught was polar opposite to the iceberg-slow tempo of the unassuming bassist Mark Adams. Somewhere in between was the brooding presence of Scott “Wino” Weinrich, who looked carved out like a wooden idol, painted up with demonic runes.

He looked as if he might swallow the mic whole while discharging his crusty growl on the ode to heroin addiction “I Bleed Black.” He thrust his forearms forward for the line “Open my veins/ I do it everyday/ I live in a dark world/ where death is just a game,” which seems remarkably less dark and confrontational than it did 25 years ago. Equal-opportunity drug fiends, Saint Vitus cranked up the tempo for the extraordinarily loud treatise on cocaine binging and one of their few forays into thrash metal, “White Stallions” before promising that new music would soon be on its way.

It’s not hard to imagine some confused mother circa 1985 finding their music stashed away in her son’s closet and issuing a stern condemnation, but today there’s kind of a stupid fun to it all. It’s like watching pro wrestling and knowing it’s a put-on, but still sitting back in utter amusement at the preposterous characters and their commitment to their art. Just don’t forget the earplugs.