Scott “Wino” Weinrich rides metal’s sludgy resurgence

Black Sabbath's monolithic 1970 debut inspired legions of lumbering, down-tuned disciples, but few individuals have refined the ominous sonic template with as much creativity and dogged tenacity as Maryland doom legend Scott “Wino” Weinrich. From his early days confounding D.C. hardcore audiences with the Obsessed's sludgy riffs and tar-thick tempos through his stint fronting like-minded West Coast brethren Saint Vitus, the guitarist and singer emerged as the torchbearer for an old-school sound. He worked to preserve a raw, gut-level style largely neglected back when hectic thrash and sleazy Hollywood glam dominated the '80s metal scene.

Had Wino's contributions ended with Saint Vitus, he'd still rate in the Valhalla of stoner-rock giants. But his work during the past decade with Spirit Caravan, the Hidden Hand, and Place of Skulls further codified a distinct style of heavy music guided by his singular vision. Though frequently cited as an influence — Dave Grohl, Henry Rollins, and Pantera/Down vocalist Philip Anselmo all have sung his praises — Wino is just starting to receive the level of recognition he has long deserved, thanks to a flurry of recent activity.

Now approaching his 50th birthday, Wino shows no sign of slowing down. In the past 12 months, he's released a stellar solo effort, Punctuated Equilibrium, and recorded the acclaimed debut of doom supergroup Shrinebuilder, featuring Om/Sleep bassist Al Cisneros, Neurosis mainstay Scott Kelly, and Melvins drummer Dale Crover. He also embarked on his first tour with a reunited Saint Vitus since he left the band in 1991.

“I never expected in a million years we'd have this resurgence of heavy rock,” the musician says in a phone interview from his Baltimore home. While Wino had previously rejoined Saint Vitus founders Dave Chandler (guitar), Mark Adams (bass), and Armando Acosta (drums) for two shows in 2003, widespread demand eventually called for a more substantial reunion. A well-received set as one of the headliners at last April's Roadburn Festival — a huge annual doom/psych celebration in the Netherlands — paved the way for additional Saint Vitus dates on both sides of the Atlantic. Even the replacement of Acosta by Blood of the Sun drummer Henry Vasquez after the Roadburn date discouraged only the most hard-core followers.

“Most of what I'm hearing from people is, 'I never thought I'd get to see this band in my lifetime,'” the singer says. A listen to any of the classic material produced by Saint Vitus during the Wino era quickly illustrates the appeal of the lineup. Original singer Scott Reagers may have his supporters, but his vocals on the group's early efforts pale next to the elemental guitar howl unleashed by Chandler. Wino's desperate bellow on anthemic outsider dirge “Born Too Late” and the pounding LSD ode “Clear Windowpane” easily match the weight of Chandler's fuzzed-out, Sabbath-meets-Stooges squall. Despite his own renowned six-string skills, Wino rarely added his guitar to the band's arsenal. “When I first joined Saint Vitus, I felt like that was when I really learned to sing. I no longer had a guitar to hide behind,” he explains. “Chandler is the king of noise, so that's all we need.”

Besides contemplating a possible a mix of electric and acoustic songs for his next solo record, Wino is enthusiastically pursuing what he describes as the “crazy serendipitous magic” of Shrinebuilder (the quartet will finally make its local live debut with three dates in early March). But this doesn't mean he has dropped future commitments to Saint Vitus. He says that his first new album in two decades with the legendary outfit could be out by this time next year.

“The music that Saint Vitus has always made reflects the mood of the time,” Wino says. “I think people need music that isn't so happy.” For fans of his inimitable brand of doom, that news is sure to be met with much rejoicing.

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