A wise and Angry Metal Guy once said (earlier this week) that “retro is the new new,” and the trends in the angry metal world are surely proving those prophetic words true. We are up to our collective arses in retro thrash, retro power and retro retro. While new is always great, even the “new” new can be mighty fine, as with the latest release from Sahg and this wicked mother, Return to Zero from Sweden’s own Spiritual Beggars. This is the seventh full length from Michael Amott’s long running side project and respite from the melodic death metal world and although it’s as retro as retro gets, this is one slamming, jamming slab of heavy stoner/doom rock n roll!
Return to Zero is an album that gazes lovingly into the 70s, but that backward gaze is through the prism of the 70s and early 80s doom metal and hard rock. This proves to be a winning formula here and I can say without hesitation, what they are doing here is a case study for why retro has a valid place in the metal landscape.
Starting out with the very appropriately titled “Lost in Yesterday,” Amott and company deliver a masterful homage to the combined works of Black Sabbath and Trouble mixed with the rock sensibilities of Deep Purple, Rainbow and Uriah Heap. The result is pure quality and one catchy rock-fest after another. The riffing and solo work of Mr. Amott is impressive, thoughtful and emotional and when paired with the stellar vocal work displayed by Apollo Papathanasio (Firewind) and the tasteful keyboards of Per Wiberg, you get some really memorable material. As much as I admired some of the early works of Amott and company, this material is simply superior. Maybe it’s the vocals of Apollo that pushed the standard higher or maybe it’s just extra inspired writing. Whatever the cause, be thankful for the result!
From the opening, through the catchy and pseudo stadium rock roar of “Star Born,” to the Grand Magus-esque “Chaos of Rebirth” and the pure metal anthem majesty of “We Are Free,” the hits just keep coming fast and furious. Just when you’re realizing something pretty special is going on, along comes “Spirit of the Wind” to utterly impress and blow you away. This track is very different, slow and moody and oozes with emotion and somber, haunting power. You have to hear it to get what I mean. If nothing else, give this track a listen.
Across the length of Return to Zero, there are a multitude of memorable musical moments that will make even the casual music fan take notice. The way Amott’s guitar plays off the keyboards of Wiberg, the way Apollo changes his delivery to suit the mood and feeling of each track and the way the song structures draw you in and convey strong feelings, you can’t help but be impressed. Did I mention the widespread use of the Hammond organ? Yeah, it’s there and it is glorious!
There are no bad songs on Return to Zero although the first eight are the real winners. The last few are still very solid but can’t match the top-notch power showcased earlier and that caused a slight reduction in rating. It’s also important to note that this isn’t a super heavy album. It won’t make you want to throw anvils around your bedroom or fight the neighbors pitbull. It’s hard and heavy, just not crushingly so and melody is the goal in most songs.
The new new may be quite old and sometimes that just blows. However, sometimes retro is just as good the second time around and this is surely the case with Return to Zero. Don’t be scared to relive the past. Find this, crank it and get all retrofied!