It’s not hard to understand why Greg Ginn took a liking to Saint Vitus early on. While he was bringing pre-thrash metal influences to play in Black Flag at that time, Saint Vitus were, and still are in their own unique way, among the punkest of metal bands. Not in the sense that they sound anything like the conventions of punk rock, but more in their raw, doggedly individualist, keep-it-simple approach. They’re a bit like a metal Flipper really. The usual facts cited about the Saint Vitus sound are the trudging tempos and Dave Chandler’s use of a guitar tone that seems to be an attempt to strip away as much high frequencies as possible, leaving a sickly murk. Ginn, of course, was interested in anyone making unusual sounds with the electric guitar, but even that aside, like much of the best old-school punk rock, Chandler’s riffs and the structures of Saint Vitus’s songs are either bonehead simple or brutally concise, depending on how you choose to look at it. Even Chandler’s solos usually forego technical flash or shred in favor of an often atonal assault that’s more about intensity or shock. One of his most shocking yet arrives just under two minutes into Lillie: F-65‘s opening track, “Let Them Fall”, a song seeming to express the frustration of God at the wickedness of humankind and His final abandonment of us to a fate we’ve brought upon ourselves. Fucking shit, that solo — I swear he has that thing going through a ring modulator or something, it’s just so insanely dissonant. He returns to this expressionistic splatter approach frequently on Lillie — many of his solos on the record consist almost entirely of feedback.
As if to give us a respite following one of these that arrives in the (relatively) fast ending to the environmental destruction tune “The Bleeding Ground”, Wino takes a turn at the guitar for the instrumental interlude “Vertigo” so that we can be treated to some of his haunting 12-string fingerpicking, accompanied with some tasteful ebow from Chandler. Otherwise though, Wino sticks to singing, and in that role Wino is of course Wino, as perfectly suited a frontman to the low-frills creative vision of this band as one could imagine, again all meat and message and honesty, delivered straight to the gut. Relative newcomer Henry Vazquez’s drumming is very true to the sound and groove established by the dearly departed Armando Acosta, if a bit less loose around the seams, and he’s particularly in his element on “Blessed Night” which I think was the first new song written after his joining the band.
By the time you finish the apocalyptic “The Waste Of Time” you’ve heard pretty much what you expect for a pretty decent Saint Vitus album. Then “Dependence” hits.
“Dependence” is an addiction drama so gritty and harrowing it makes “Hand Of Doom” sound almost silly. It’s a particularly epic-scoped number for Saint Vitus in terms of the number of parts and changes in it (and at that, still economical), and it’s a song that sounds as though they especially poured their hearts into it, even Mark Adams of the usually unassuming bass sounds specially inspired. “Dependence” begins with a mournful intro of acoustic guitar and synthesizer noises before Chandler introduces a main riff that perfectly expresses being unable to pick yourself up off the floor. After two intense verses and another noisy guitar solo, the band drops away leaving Chandler all alone bending one long note of groaning feedback off into the abyss over some scary whispering, the words of which I can’t make out but I’m sure it’s nothing good. Do not listen under influence of hallucinogenics. The main riff returns even more lethargic than before and after a final verse ending with an anguished cry from Wino we are right away hit with “Withdrawal,” basically a reprise of that fucked up feedback bridge that builds in more layers of noise that then gradually die off. Sure it’s just three minutes of feedback through pedals, something a lot of folks would pass off as filler, but for this noise-head, taken as a coda to “Dependence,” damned if it doesn’t get the point across in just the sort of way “L.A. Blues” does.
At 33 minutes Lillie: F-65 is crazy short for a doom album, and coming 17 years after their last new studio material one might expect to be disappointed in such a paucity of material, but there’s not a moment wasted on it. If they don’t make any more Saint Vitus albums, this will be a much better final one than they gave the world before. Either way, it’s cool as hell having them back with this kind of energy.