Spiritual Beggars // Earth Blues
Rating: 4.0/5.0 — If this band’s a rockin’, you best come a knockin’
Label: InsideOut Music
Websites: myspace.com/spiritualbeggars | facebook.com/spiritualbeggarsofficial
Release Dates: Out now!
One of our readers recently commented that we convinced him the only independent bands were stoner/doom bands. That sentiment is surely understandable given the enormous volume of the stuff cropping up these days. It’s not limited to independent bands either, as Spiritual Beggars clearly demonstrates again on album number eight, Earth Blues. Since Michael Amott’s (Arch Enemy, Carcass) long-lived stoner/retro-rock project clearly isn’t going away, you might as well put on the obnoxiously colorful tie-dye shirt (the theme this time appears to be radioactive orange) and enjoy the homage to all things late 60s/early 70s. I’ve appreciated a lot of what these guys have released over the years, and thought 2010s Return to Zero was a slick, polished rock album with just enough punch to tickle the metal bone. Earth Blues sees them sticking with the basic formula, but dialing up the raw edge and heaviness while borrowing heavily from Led Zeppelin. As per usual there are also copious nods to Rainbow, Deep Purple and Uriah Heap, and a fair amount of Sabotage era Sabbath as well. That means a tons of Hammond organ, psychedelic noodling and so much fuzzed guitar, your room will get all smokey and…fragrant. As with past outings, the band shows a keen ear for the time period and from start to finish, this is a rowdy, rocking and accessible soundtrack to beers, bongs and bongos. Can you dig it?
Since you’ve heard the basic sound as far back as 1969, I can forego the usual descriptors, but I will say almost every song sounds as if it belongs on some long past classic rock opus. Opener “Wise as a Serpent” sounds like a young Led Zeppelin bashing away with abandon as a captive John Lord rocks the Hammond into outer space. As much as you may be sick of retro, this shit is mighty infectious and hard to turn off. That’s pretty much where they keep things and it really works on top-notch, high-octane rockers like “Turn the Tide” (which has more cowbell than any of you really deserves) and album highpoint “Sweet Magic Pain” which mashes Joe Lynn Turner Rainbow into Sabotage-esque riffing for a surprisingly awesome number. The harmonies here are sweet as hell and it has ample nutsuck. I’ve had some issues turning it off because it’s one big, fascist ear hook.
“Hello Sorrow” features a riff I know I’ve heard someplace else (and remembering where is driving me batshit crazyhouse), but it’s another über cool rocker with loads of wild keyboards and fuzz-tastic guitars. Some of Amott’s best fretting comes during the psuedo-ballad “Dreamer” and his emotive playing elevates a pretty basic song to a whole new level. Also worth special mention is “Too Old to Die Young” for its funky, ass-shaking swing, replete with bongos; and “Dead End Town” for incorporating the Stark family motto of “winter’s coming” (Eddard would NOT approve of their hippie ways).
Every song is well written, well-played, loaded with hooks and the album as a whole is actually better than the sum of its individual parts. It’s a very raucous and satisfying example of old timey rock and it cries out to be played loudly on sunny days when the beers are cold.
Since this is Amott’s baby, it’s laden with his slick, slippery playing and solos. The guy has chops and shows off just enough to elevate the music without turning it into a 70s version of The Yngwie Guitar Masturbation Clinic®. Amott kept the same lineup from last time, and it’s a good one. When you combine his playing alongside the vintage keys of Per Wiberg (Opeth), you know good stuff is going to happen and I suppose in some ways, this is like Heritage without the pretension and aluminium foil prog cap. Add the always solid drumming of Ludwig Witt (Grand Magus, Shining, Firebird) and bass wizardry of Sharlee D’Angelo (Mercyful Fate, Witchery, Night Flight Orchestra) and you have quite a formidable hot tub time machine.
While I know many fans bemoaned the loss of JB Christoffersson (Grand Magus) on vocals, I’ve always enjoyed Apollo Papathanasio’s (Firewind) style and his ability to adapt to this type of rock. He channels Robert Plant, Joe Lynn Turner, David Coverdale and even Chris Cornell and he delivers a gutsy performance that shows his range and versatility.
So what are the downsides? Well, not many. This may be slightly better than Return to Zero and benefits from the harder, meaner edge. The limitation comes from the fact there’s already a country ton of retro rock out there, so they’re swimming in an overcrowded genre pool. There are certainly no surprises or twists in store for the listener beyond the high quality, but that’s to be expected with throwback music.
Earth Blues is an exceptionally well done, highly listenable retro rock album from a super group of metal warriors and I recommend it wholeheartedly to those not yet sick of living in the past. Turn it up and party like it’s 1973! Peace frog.