If you’ve been reading these here blog pages over the years you’ve learned that Steel Druhm loves his dirty 70s hippie rock. Spiritual Beggars is a super duper mega group composed of some of metal’s most respected folks and guess what? They play filthy hippie rock just the way it should be played (dirty?). Featuring former members of Carcass, Opeth, Mercyful Fate and Shining, you might not expect so much dirt-core, but man, these cats rock so hard, free and trve, they may accidentally bring back the Age of Aquarius (or Cthulhu, same difference). Coming off back to back successful platters, Sunrise to Sundown does little to rock the wizard van stylistically, so you get more of the riff-heavy, jam-friendly grooves you crave and all with an ear toward juicy hooks. Imagine a mutant hybrid of Deep Purple, Rainbow and Lenny Kravitz and you get the general idea, and it’s a good one! Let’s get down in the love mud, shall we?
With 11 songs but running a svelte 47 minutes, Sunrise is the epitome of restraint. The songs are all between 3 – 5 minutes and geared to hit hard, leave a mark and move on. Editing for impact? Could this catch on? And impact it does with hard rockers like the opening title track which takes a simple fuzzy riff and beats the sweet Bejessus out of you with it as the band jams out the jams. It’s hard-driving, summertime funtime rock and the band looks for every opportunity to drop a funky guitar or keyboard solo stolen from the 60s or 70s as Apollo Papathanasio rages with his best Ian Gillan impersonation.
“Diamond Under Pressure” cops a riff dangerously near Deep Purple‘s “My Woman From Tokyo,” but it’s a fun tune anyway that transports you back to simpler times. The vaguely Middle Eastern flavor to the solo is tasty and the Hammond organs are the icing on the hemp cake. “What Doesn’t Kill You”‘ and “Hard Road” are memorable and ass shakin’ groove-fests of a high-caliber, with the latter containing trace elements of C.O.C.‘s Deliverance era in the riffery and a radio-ready anthem of a chorus. “Still Hunter” is born to play loud and would be awesome live and “Southern Star” is so Deep Purple it might leave an 8-ball hemorrhage.
The highlight is “Lonely Freedom” which takes a sojourn through Sky Valley for a huge Kyuss influence in the lead riff and generally laid back vibe. I’ve had this one stuck on near endless replay and just can’t get enough of that desert rocky-y stuff and oh, that face ripping solo! Apollo’s rough but warm voice does wonders here as he continues to reaffirm how versatile and talented he is. The rest of Sunrise is a joy as well, with not a sour note to be heard. It’s exactly what you want from a retro rock album and it’s about as catchy as hippie-core can get.
As always, the musicianship is first-rate and the whole platter smokes and cooks with badass guitar licks and saucy solos from out of this world. Michael Amott earned his stripes in Carcass and Arch Enemy but I think he does his best work with Spiritual Beggars and I never tire of hearing his emotive wanking. Per Wilberg (ex-Opeth) goes toe-to-toe with Amott, offering up gloriously 70s drenched Hammond organ runs that would make even Jon Lord stand and applaud. The superb rhythm section of Sharlee D’Angelo (Arch Enemy, Mercyful Fate, The Night Flight Orchestra) and Ludwig Witt (Grand Magus, ex-Shining) keep things anchored firmly to the ground as Amott and Wilberg soar on flights of fancy, while also giving the material a punchy, rowdy swagger. While I was loath to see JB Christoffersson (Grand Magus) bail on vocal duties, Apollo Papathanasio has been a godsend for the band, making each album pop and sizzle with his impassioned and gritty delivery. The man has that “it” factor and I can’t imagine the band without him at this point.
These guys never disappoint and it’s always a real challenge to decipher where the new material slots in with albums past. Ultimately, Sunrise is every bit as enjoyable as Return to Zero and Earth Blues and the only thing really separating them is a bigger Deep Purple influence this time out. The playing is impressive, but the songs are easy to digest and rock out to, and this is a near-perfect summer party album. Crank it, feel the flower power and get your groovy on, folks!