Justify Your Shitty Taste: Saint Vitus’s “C.O.D.”

Saint Vitus were underdogs from the start, and remain so to this day. Dave Chandler embodies street-level doom (or as his mother called it, “Funeral Music”) flying the flag for underachievers and burnouts of all ages. In tribute to this unwashed cult of early adopting true believers, he named the sixth Vitus album Children of Doom. This is the album that changed my life.

I had heard of Saint Vitus. The SST Blasting Concept II comp LP opened with “Look Behind You.” But in high school I had barely begun to wrap my brain around side two of My War. Vitus did not yet capture my imagination.

In 1992, I took a trip to Hawaii to spend spring break with my long distance girlfriend. At a record store in Waikiki, she recommended the Mournful Cries cassette. I liked the dragon on the cover, but I decided to save my three bucks for bus fare and Ramen.

So I take responsibility for not inhaling my first two puffs of SV.

A year later, my buddy Xorba plucked a CD reissue of Nemesis’ The Day of Retribution from a cut out bin for 99 cents. He meant it as a gag gift, but I loved it, as well as the Candlemass demos tacked onto the end. I immediately drove to House of Records in Eugene and picked up used LPs of Nightfall, Ancient Dreams, and Tales of Creation. The snobby indie-punk record clerk sold me all three records for five bucks because he was so happy to see them leave the store. I fell hard for Candlemass in 1993, but I still hadn’t quite connected the dots…

Fast forward to 1996. My buddy Dave and I were heading out to my parent’s rural Oregon goat farm for a weekend of psychedelic exploration. We stocked up on groceries and supplies in town, and then I suggested that we stop at Happy Trails Records in Corvallis because neither of us had brought any music with us. I picked up Sepultura’s Roots on cassette, since I already owned and loved the CD. Dave and I had seen the Chaos A.D. tour together, which was another game-changing moment for us both. Dave recommended I buy C.O.D. because he’d heard it at a friend’s house in Chicago, and he liked the airbrushed skull on the cover. We took it with us and soon breathed the aura it emanated from the grilled speakers of a silver boom box.

The album opens with the sound of flowing water, conjuring images of a lapping stream, or a gentle waterfall. All too soon, unsettling moans of distress invade the scene; chanting monks usher in a sense that doom is upon us–and it truly is. We were peaking as this horror movie foley track dropped to silence, and a massive Chandler riff burst forth like a clarion. The song, “Children of Doom” is an anthem, a message of solidarity, and an up-tempo knuckle-dragger of a metal song.

For me, things really reach an early high with “Planet of Judgement [sic].” This is Vitus doing that kind of plaintive, “Buried At Sea” ode to monotony that I love so much. It’s the most collaborative song on the album, and also the heaviest. “Shadow of a Skeleton” comes in swinging, but hits its stride when it too succumbs to a leaden riff topped with patented Chandler feedback and woeful two-note arpeggios.

Side two kicks off with “(I Am) The Screaming Banshee.” Reportedly, the lyrics to this song were what caused Wino to quit the band the year before, and take off to reform The Obsessed. Wino did not want to sing about being a Screaming Banshee, and who can blame him? But Christian Linderson of Sweden’s Count Raven was totally into it. He kind of rules this entire album in a very Ozzy-meets-Candlemass-meets-qualudes kind of way.

I guess someone could argue that the rest of the album isn’t quite as strong as the first half, but there are no duds to my ear. “Fear” has recently been resurrected in Vitus’ live sets, and it’s a pleasure to hear anything from this album performed, especially by original vocalist Scott Reagers, who certainly does it justice. The album ends with “A Timeless Tale,” at which point the tape ran out and clicked to a stop.

That night we listened to C.O.D. four times. I woke up the next day with this epiphany: bands like Saint Vitus and Candlemass weren’t an accident. They weren’t just pale imitations of Black Sabbath. Doom metal was a tradition, carried out by people who were obsessed with this very specific and very old style of heavy music making. I hopped on my parents’ 9600-baud modem and typed “Doom Metal” into an AltaVista search window. The first result was a manifesto written by Lee Dorian on the front page of the Rise Above Records website. The veil had been pierced, and within six months, I had formed Witch Mountain with guitarist Rob Wrong. Our mutual intention was to make our own Portland-flavored contribution to what was, at that time, a severely obscure and underappreciated style.

C.O.D. is widely considered the black sheep in the Vitus discography. Reasons cited usually focus on the change of lead singers, the slicker production (courtesy of Don Dokken), and the fact that 1992 was not exactly a banner year for underground doom metal.

Bad timing can’t be helped, and in the legacy of Vitus, it’s more a feature than a bug. As for the production, sure, there are more layers of guitars. Overall it’s less muddy…though there’s still so much low end that something actually seems wrong with the mix at times. The drums have a much more processed, reverb-drenched boom to them. Christian Linderson puts in a legendary performance that is so filled with ennui and contempt for humanity that its easy to mistake hopelessness for boredom.

In the end, C.O.D. is a perfect summation of everything Vitus is about. They strove for more, and it didn’t connect–so they gave up and quit. And when they reunited for future albums and tours, it was always with Reagers or Wino.

I have yet to hear a compelling argument for why this album isn’t as good as anything else they ever did. Over twenty years later, I’m old enough to have children of doom myself. Which means Vitus are grandfathers, or even godfathers of Doom. Now that times have caught up with them, they should probably bring back Linderson and make G.O.D.