by Phil Freeman
No two albums by the Obsessed feature the same lineup. Their debut, recorded in 1985 but not released until 1990, featured founder Scott “Wino” Weinrich on guitar and vocals, Mark Laue on bass and Ed Gulli on drums. The group had broken up in 1986, though, when Weinrich joined Saint Vitus as vocalist. When their label, Hellhound, agreed to release the long-shelved Obsessed debut, he decided it was time to re-form the group, but he did so with entirely new members: Scott Reeder on bass and vocals, and Greg Rogers on drums. That lineup made Lunar Womb, released in 1991. But Reeder soon left to join Kyuss, and when the Obsessed signed with Columbia for 1994’s The Church Within, Rogers was still around but Guy Pinhas was on bass.
The Obsessed broke up again in 1995, and Weinrich subsequently formed more bands: Spirit Caravan, the Hidden Hand, and Premonition 13. He also recorded several solo albums under the Wino name, and took part in other projects like Shrinebuilder (a “supergroup” featuring members of Neurosis, Om, and the Melvins), Pentagram guitarist Victor Griffin‘s band Place of Skulls, and Dave Grohl‘s metal album Probot. He also rejoined Saint Vitus for a studio album, a live album, and several tours.
Since 2011, Weinrich has been intermittently re-activating the Obsessed. The lineup that made The Church Within played the Roadburn Festival in 2012, but that was a one-off. The membership continued to fluctuate at subsequent performances. Now, the band has made a new album, their first in just over 20 years.
Sacred (get it from Amazon) features bassist Dave Sherman (formerly of Spirit Caravan) and drummer Brian Costantino. And it sounds exactly like the Obsessed albums that came before it. And like Spirit Caravan. And like the first Wino album, Punctuated Equilibrium. Scott Weinrich is a man with a sound, and his bandmembers, whoever they might be on a given album, are in charge of maintaining that sound.
The Weinrich sound is thick and tarlike; he typically plays a Gibson guitar through a Sunn amp, with just enough fuzz and distortion to make the whole thing whack the listener in the side of the head like a boxing glove. But it’s a warm sound, one built on a foundation of late ’60s and early ’70s hard rock—Black Sabbath is an influence, but so are Steppenwolf, Mountain, and other bands of that era. It’s biker music, basically, something Weinrich acknowledges and makes explicit on songs like Spirit Caravan‘s “Retroman” or his solo cover of Motörhead‘s “Iron Horse.”
To make the link to the Obsessed‘s long history as explicit as possible, Sacred opens with a re-recording of “Sodden Jackal,” the B-side of their first single, from 1983. It’s a slow, chugging song, ominous and heavy, and Weinrich intones the vocals like he’s wearing a hooded robe. With the next track, “Punk Crusher,” he re-affirms the other pole of the band’s style; it’s one of the hard-charging fast songs they’ve always tossed in to liven things up (previous examples: “Streamlined” and “A World Apart” from The Church Within, “Bardo” and “No Blame” from Lunar Womb). In between, the bulk of the album is taken up by midtempo songs with a sort of swaying, head-nodding groove, sometimes leaning toward funk (their cover of Thin Lizzy‘s “It’s Only Money”) and other times getting more psychedelic (“Razor Wire,” on which he employs a talkbox).
But close listening reveals a surprising amount of experimentation on Weinrich’s part on Sacred. Some songs feature subtle (and unfortunately uncredited) organ in the background, and the album’s centerpiece, “Stranger Things,” is one of the most ambitious songs he’s ever put out there. It begins with acoustic guitar, but quickly turns into a slowly rising anthem, featuring one of his most carefully and cleanly sung vocals. Multiple layers of electric and acoustic guitar underpin the choruses, and the song’s bridge features a pounding tribal drumbeat as at least three Weinrich solos wind around each other. The multiple-solos thing happens again at the end of the song, before the acoustic guitar figure returns to take it all home.
The vinyl version of Sacred contains two bonus tracks. The first, “On So Long,” is the longest song on the album, slowly marching forward for over nine minutes. With its blues feel, the subtle organ and slight warping of Weinrich’s vocals, and the way his guitar solos unfold patiently, long notes seeming to hover in the air, it almost feels like a tribute to the mid ’70s work of Robin Trower. The second bonus track, “Crossroader,” is a Mountain cover, and it’s got a ton of heavy blues-rock feel, with organ, tambourine(!), slide guitar(!!) and a simple chunk-chunk groove. A guy with as defined a sound (and role in the rock/metal universe) as Scott “Wino” Weinrich ought to be incapable of surprising the listener this far into his career, but Sacred is one of the best albums he’s ever made, and shows just how much variety is possible within a seemingly narrow aesthetic range.