Academy 3 sits atop the larger Academy 2 like a little hat on a fat bloke’s head. I’ve seen shed loads of truly great bands there over the years but tonight it was the turn of the punky-godfathers of doom metal to blow away the audience. More on them later. I arrived just in time to catch an aching head full of Croydon’s Slabdragger. Since I last saw this dynamic and bloody heavy three-piece at Supersonic last year they’ve got a new drummer and they’re on the verge of releasing a split album with off-kilter Suffolk crust-stars Meadows. Speaking without any bias of course, they fucking rocked the room big time. As the space filled up folk were drawn to their big snarling bombastic sound – dexterously synchronised mega-riffing; brilliantly loud and precise drumming from new lad Nicolas Soteri (hitting harder than George Foreman); and the icing on the hash-cake: twin vocal roaring from Sam Thredder and Yusuf Tary that uttered forth from their whiskered gobs like ectoplasm from the blackened maw of Linda Blair. For saying they only had twenty minutes Slabdragger ripped into the audience and made astonishing headway. Thumbs aloft for these promising young Croydonites.
SardoniS were known to me as a quirky two-piece that put out a very listenable debut 7” a few years ago. Comprising a very tall Belgian with specs on playing the guitar (lovely fuzz-tone emanating from said instrument) and a shorter Belgian without any specs on hammering the drums, the tritonal twosome blasted out a selection of thundering numbers that are best described as Black Cobra for the more mature and patient listener. I particularly enjoyed the crazed facial expressions of sticksman Jelle (wearing a Sardonis t-shirt – nice touch) as he exploded ballistic drum rolls onto his long-suffering snare. With his eyes bulging out of his sockets and his face locked in a grimace of pain and surprise, he looked like a man who was receiving oral sex off a leopard (obviously sitting inside his bass drum). Heavy and as well-drilled as Jenna Jameson’s arse, Sardonis couldn’t fail to please the riff-hungry hairies gathering at the front of the stage. Belgium rocks.
Acid King are a classic outfit who have been plying their stoner trade now for a long time. Lori and Joey and the bassist took to the stage with the laid-back air of ageing plumbers – all dirty blue denim and arse cleavages and cheerful bonhomie, and proceeded to kick out the jams like seasoned pros. Sizzling slabs of seminal stoner rock like ‘2 Wheel Nation’, ‘Silent Circle’ and ‘Electric Machine’ belched out the speakers like dope-laced syrup. Lori is a flipping great singer; her voice soaring as loud and clear as if it was leaping out of your speakers at home, and without wishing to sound like an eighties social worker, isn’t it always heartening to see more of the other half of the world’s population on stage in rock bands? Heavy metal is still too many pale blokes together – like the inside of a Stoke-on-Trent boozer. Joey Osbourne hit the drums like he’d just been told that he owed the IRS ten thousand dollars, whilst looking slightly like Top Gear’s James May. This was a cracking live set and I wish they’d have played for longer than half an hour, but this was a four band bill after all, and time marches on (as James Hetfield once growled back in ’84).
Saint Vitus walked onto to hoarse roars of ‘Vitus! Vitus! Vitus!’ followed by hoarse roars of ‘Wino! Wino! Wino!’ as the greying overlord of doom followed a few minutes later. ‘I Bleed Black’ was met with further roars of appreciation as Dave Chandler’s characteristic slow and simple riff uncoiled over our heads like a fat electric doom-snake. Chandler was on fine form too – psycho-babbling over Wino and cutting him off as he tried to talk, pulling faces that were flesh and bone interpretations of his own turgid riffs, referring to his ‘old lady’ and how he uses his fast fret fingers on her bits and hilariously getting right down into the crowd towards the end for a rather restricted (to one square metre) walkabout with his white flying V. An eccentric man with boundless reserves of energy, rock ‘n’ roll outlaw Chandler, part punk-hippy and part biker, is of course the riffing heart and soul of Saint Vitus. His insane trademark ‘guitar solos’ (where he basically runs his fingers up and down the fretboard whilst leaning on his pedal like a chimpanzee amusing himself with a new toy) were all over the songs like a filthy radioactive rash. The ultra-chilled and hugely affable Mark Adams was also a right fucking character – sporting the fashionable Matt Pike-build (tall and lean with a bloated booze, salami and cheese belly), he plucked away on his bass like the archetypal anchor-man, eyes shut in bliss and fingers effortlessly sliding. I bet he could do a better ‘orthodox’ guitar solo than Dave.
I have to confess that although I really enjoyed this performance I didn’t love it as much as the pissed-up fist-banging dudes in the audience did. They knew all the words to all the songs. I was not a partisan like they were, and to a certain extent I felt like the spectator at a private ritual. You’ve got to be a real dyed-in-the-wool Vitus fan to earnestly slaver over what they do, and I’m just not (unlike 99% of the audience). Saint Vitus have a quirky and almost amateurish sound in relation to other doom ‘acts’ and are one of those acquired tastes that seem to go down better with a more traditional blues rock and heavy metal listener (which isn’t really me, plus I’m not hugely keen on Wino’s voice). Having said that, they’ve always been the best out of all the early doom bands (bar seventies Pentagram) – they’re infinitely more primitive, far less polished, and stacks rootsier and punkier than silly spandex-wrapped perm-headed dongs like Candlemass and Trouble. They’re way cooler too, what with their associations with Black Flag, SST records and the emergent hardcore scene of the early eighties.
A feast of crowd-pleasers, including some sterling stuff of the new album, were fired out in steady succession like great bronze balls out of a cannon: down-beat classics such as ‘Clear Windowpane’, ‘Look Behind You’, an anthemic ‘Born Too late’ (delivered with delicious misanthropy from Wino) and a brooding ‘Dying Inside’ activated a uniform head-nod response, all punctuated with Chandler and Wino’s light-hearted and warming chat. They’re very much a people’s band – there ain’t no skinny-jeaned man-bag wearing arty pretence with these gnarly old trouts. Oh no sir – this was stripped down bluesy doom-punk for the freakish high-school outsider wasted on beer and downers – no tricks and no frills. Just Chandler’s lurching sub-Sabbath riffs and weary alienated lyrics. The boozy Vitus-hungry horde who had travelled from all over the North and the Midlands in order to witness these hallowed doomsters certainly got their double-dip dose of V-power for sure. All I can finally say is respect due to Wino and Saint Vitus for walking it like they talk it – they are legends whose legacy continues to spawn – they are the original (dead) flower children reared on Blue Cheer and Sabbath and the MC5 and Iron Butterfly AND punk-rock who went forth in the late seventies to spew forth a primal rock that will never die. And I saw them. Ha!
Scribed by: Adam Stone
Photos by: Lee Edwards