By The Great Sun Jester

SAINT VITUS slowed BLACK SABBATH’s already glacial apocalyptic riffing, put their themes of alienation, addiction, and despair in the street, and filled their early material with punk music’s ninety miles down a dead-end street fatalism. There are no lingering hippie sensitivities on “Born Too Late”. Dave Chandler and company left them bleeding behind the recording studio.

It’s been thirty-six years since SAINT VITUS released “Born Too Late” in the fall of 1986. Nearly four decades on, VITUS has weathered ups and downs like any other venerable rock band and, arguably, has never regained the influential sway their first three albums enjoy. There are triumphs after this, even today SAINT VITUS is far from a spent creative force, but this is the zenith for me.

It owes a debt to the band’s past, however. A big one. The album’s title song, co-written with original frontman Scott Reagers, is arguably the closest thing to an anthem in the band’s catalog. Chandler’s guttural rave-up beginning the song rates among the genre’s iconic moments post-1980 and there are few doom metal fans, if any, who won’t immediately recognize the song’s pulverizing crawl.

Scott “Wino” Weinrich becomes the band’s lead singer with “Clear Windowpane”. Not before. His performance of the album’s title song is held in high esteem, it should be, but the album’s second track is where his wide-eyed, declamatory style takes root. It’s like meeting an Old Testament prophet in a dope house. Chandler’s flamethrower wah-wah licks are hints of hysteria erupting from the song’s surface.

“Dying Inside” is “Born Too Late”’s dark heart. You won’t find another song in rock or elsewhere depicting the ravages of alcoholism with such withering language. There’s no live fast, die young, and make a beautiful corpse romanticism here – just doom, certain, inexorable, and imminent. “H.A.A.G.” doesn’t get as much mention as some of the album’s other track, but the late Armando Acosta’s best performance makes it indispensable for anyone interested in “Born Too Late”.

The album’s true ending comes with “The War Starter”. SST Records later pinned the “Thirsty and Miserable” EP tracks onto “Born Too Late” reissues beginning in 1990 and it’s fine material, but it doesn’t reflect the band’s intent with “Born Too Late”. “The War Starter” stands well beside the opener and “Dying Inside” as obvious centerpieces of the album. VITUS reaches peak fury during the song’s second half, but there’s several well-timed tempo shifts scattered throughout the song.

Few classics are so succinct and self-contained. There’s no wasted motion in these songs.Put it in its proper context when you think about SAINT VITUS’ “Born Too Late” – bands such as TROUBLE, VITUS, MANILLA ROAD, PENTAGRAM were their contemporaries, each of them producing masterpieces during those years, some of the most iconoclastic releases in the genre’s history. Nearly forty years later and SAINT VITUS’ “Born Too Late” still holds up – for those who don’t believe, no explanation will do. For others, no explanation is necessary.