Graded on a Curve:
The Obsessed,
Sacred

Those passionate for doom metal and stoner rock are surely well-familiar with Scott “Wino” Weinrich, in part for his vocal duties in Saint Vitus, but also as the founder and leader of the historically significant doom-stoner outfit The Obsessed. Having reformed in 2016, the group has recorded its first studio album in over 20 years, with its release by Relapse a positive sign in terms of quality; Sacred is available now on double vinyl, compact disc, and digital.

Scott Weinrich’s highest-profile achievement continues to be Saint Vitus, for which he handled mic duties on a bunch of well-regarded discs from ’87-’90, but he’s also headed up Spirit Caravan and The Hidden Hand, plus taken part in a slew of projects including Dave Grohl’s Probot and Shrinebuilder with Al Cisneros (of Om and Sleep) and Dale Crover (of the Melvins).

If one desires to visit the heart of Wino’s thing it’s necessary to spend time with The Obsessed. Originally called Warhorse, they formed in 1976 in Potomac, MD. Over time demos were cut, and in ’83 a 3-song 7-inch was released on Invictus Records. Sometimes named after its track “Sodden Jackal,” its contents are most easily heard on Incarnate, a compilation wrangled up by Southern Lord in 1999.

When Saint Vitus left SST for Hellhound in 1990, the label chose to release The Obsessed, a rack of tunes cut in the ‘80s for prospective issue by Metal Blade that didn’t pan out (the band did make it onto that imprint’s Metal Massacre VI, however). The disc’s success prompted Weinrich to leave Saint Vitus and rekindle The Obsessed; Hellhound dished Lunar Womb in ’91 and The Church Within in ’94.

Indicative of the era, Columbia came a sniffing and picked up the latter, and it’s been the unit’s best known record since, which is fitting as the contents are now considered an essential building block in the doom-stoner monolith. Apparently, this lineup of The Obsessed resulted from changing the name of a reactivated Spirit Caravan (which sprang to life after the dissolution of a revamped Saint Vitus), but Sacred does essentially nothing to alter the rudiments of the group’s sound; it’s heavy, thick, and propulsive as thud is abundant.

But electing to open the set with a fresh recording of “Sodden Jackal” was cause for a bit of nervousness, as revisiting the songbook in rock terms seldom results in success. In truth, few people attempt the maneuver, so Wino and company (that’s bassist Dave Sherman and drummer Brian Costintino) pulling it off isn’t as unlikely as it is just rare. And as it’s been nearly a quarter century since a studio record by The Obsessed has hit the racks, a reintroduction by key early track isn’t inappropriate.

The structurally ambitious “Sodden Jackal” sounds huge in this version, lacking any funny business as the desire to get it right is tangible. Weinrich’s guitar and even more so his voice is in strong form, which for a guy who witnessed Sabbath on the Paranoid tour is an impressive feat. Unlike a fair amount of doom stuff, the heaviness here doesn’t hover ominously and incrementally lay the hammer down. Instead, it recognizably rocks, particularly during the up-tempo rip of “Punk Crusher.”

Although it has a few metal-core-ish elements, the track avoids strained attempts at genre crossover. In fact, Wino’s punk fanbase came to him long ago (mainly through the Saint Vitus-SST connection) and naturally. The title track does give off a few ’90s Alt fumes, mainly through the songwriting, but it’s a far from egregious twist that sports an appealing guitar edge throughout.

The succinct “Haywire” picks up the pace and increases the catchiness without squandering the atmosphere. It’s not often that doom-stoner-sludgesters can be cited for their trad songwriting prowess, but such is the case here, and it’s not a new development. By extension, “Perseverance of Futility” flaunts a massive groove (with a burning solo) that’ll make scads of stoner acts envious and pulls it off without any bogue cowbell clanging malarkey. Refreshing!

The loquacious “It’s Only Money” deepens the ’70s swagger, which is unsurprising as it’s a Thin Lizzy cover. They pound it out hard, with the gruffness in the vocals helping to recall Motörhead, and baby that’s cool. Spurning vocals, “Cold Blood” smartly gets down to the brass tacks of heaviness and spotlights the trio’s cohesion sans any flashy stuff. The range here is wide yet not blatantly expressed; “Razor Wire” whips up something comparable to an ’80s Sunset Strip feel, but it took a few listens for this to sink in.

“My Daughters My Sons” keep up the momentum, while on the vinyl “Interlude” is a side closing fragment. The sequence differs depending on format, with “Stranger Things” coming earlier on the CD and opening side four of the vinyl. Like “Sacred,” the cut oozes some ’90s-style emoting in the choruses, but it’s interestingly bookended with acoustic sections. It leads into the hard charging “Be the Night,” which effectively closes the CD (technically it’s the abovementioned interlude), though the wax tucks a bonus song onto the end of each record.

“Crossroader” is the sort of riffy blues-tinged rock that purists used to hate, leaning toward Steppenwolf with a nod toward Skynyrd’s harder side. “On So Long” blends the doom with deft structural changes and stretches out to nine minutes; for many, it’ll be the pick of set. Sacred doesn’t rise to the level of the best Obsessed material, but it doesn’t miss by much, and bluntly, that Scott Weinrich is artistically thriving and not a creatively-spent casualty is reason to cheer.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
B+

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