Sunday, March 26, 2017
The Obsessed - Sacred (2017)
Iconoclast, legend, pioneer, icon. All code for outlaw.
It’s a long road. It’s always a long road with Scott “Wino” Weinrich. Wino, since his earliest days in the music world, has followed his wayward muse wherever she steers him. The last few years placed Wino, outside of tours with now defunct Spirit Caravan and Saint Vitus, on an acoustic path – perhaps an unlikely avenue to travel for someone with his pedigree. It proved artistically fruitful. During this period, Wino produced two solo acoustic albums, worked with singer/songwriter Conny Ochs, and appeared on a Townes Van Zandt tribute album, among other work. Fans, however, soon clamored for a new studio rock album. The most likely candidate, outside of a new band, appeared to be his seminal power trio Spirit Caravan. The band logged a lot of miles over the last several years with Vitus drummer Henry Vasquez manning the stool for their initial reunion run of dates and Ed Gulli playing drums on the second tour. Following the second round of touring’s end, Spirit Caravan signed on to record their first studio effort since 2002’s 7” single “So Mortal Be”. Lineup changes ensued soon after and Wino announced Spirit Caravan’s rebranding as The Obsessed. The resulting studio album, Sacred, couldn’t have been written and recorded by anyone else.
“Sodden Jackal” opens the album. It’s a revisit of an old Obsessed tune, but there’s no point in comparing the merits of each version. This is a massive performance. The production captures Wino’s warm, muscular guitar and the rhythm section gets equal weight in the mix. Drummer Brian Constantino, in particular, excels. He anchors the song’s crushing tempo transitions and gives each section an irresistible, inexorable pulse. The pace is more amped up on the second track “Punk Crusher” There’s a lot of fierce power harnessed here and the band, once again, shows off their impressive talent handling the song’s demands, but it’s a little more restless than the opener. There’s some fiery transitions, however, between the shifting guitar attack. “Sacred”, the album’s title cut, has a slightly ominous dominant riff and some strong rhythms propelling the verses. Wino’s talent for writing visceral, gripping guitar lines remains undiminished after all these years and he unleashes a couple brief solos capable of peeling paint off the walls in the song’s second half. Some might notice a fatalistic air creeping through on certain lines and it gives the track an added bit of hard rock swagger.
“Haywire” dates back more than a few years and an earlier version appears on a limited edition of Victor Griffin’s 2004 solo album Late for an Early Grave. Wino reclaims the song for himself as only he knows how and belts it out with amped up energy and defiance few rock singers can equal. The rambunctious band performance is one of the album’s hardest hitting and best. The dogged crawl pushing “Perseverance” along is apt for the song’s subject matter and realizes its potential on the backs of Wino’s guitar attack and Constantine’s drumming. The cover of Thin Lizzy’s “It’s Only Money” is quite solid and structuring it as a duet between Wino and then-bassist Dave Sherman is an intelligent touch taking the tune in another direction. The performance, however, does miss the muscle Lizzy’s twin guitar attack and sounds a little thin. “Cold Blood” is a surprising instrumental with a sleek, well-produced sheen keeping it roaring from the first until the last. There’s some more greater riffing sparking “Stranger Things” to life, but the song’s simmering qualities are what makes it must hear. The songwriting does a great job alternating between moments of barely bottled energy and full on hard rock explosions.
“Razor Wire” couples some more guitar swagger with the hard-edged rock and roll fatalism Wino has made his calling card for over three decades. “My Daughter My Son” is, obviously, a very personal song, but Wino’s a good enough songwriting at this point in his life that even the most personal tracks are capable of achieving a larger resonance. The initial plodding pace of the track eventually gives way to a well-handled tempo shift in the second half. The retro punk vibe influencing some of the album’s songs returns on “Be the Night” and it makes for one of the most energetic tunes on Sacred. Wino’s vocal burns bright with attitude throughout.
I think, in the end, people may remember “On So Long” more from this album than anything else. We often read stories about “personal statements” on albums and, more often than not, they have little bearing on reality. This track is different. Wino’s investment in the lyric is evident from the beginning and it’s a fine piece of writing that truly conveys, at least in part, the man’s essence at this point in his life. The album’s final song is an unexpected cover of Mountain’s “Crossroader”, retitled “Crossroader Blues” for this release and this fares much better than the band’s earlier Lizzy cover thanks to the similarities between Obsessed and Mountain’s musical attack. This is the sort of conclusion that lets us know that, even if Wino the songwriter has grown and changed, the man behind those songs remains much the same and rages with much of the same spirit energizing his earlier recordings. Spirit Caravan, The Obsessed, whatever, brand names ultimately don’t matter. The Obsessed’s Sacred still brings us the same Scott “Wino” Weinrich, 100 proof, no chaser.