Old Spirit – Burning in Heaven Review

When I shared with the slack hacks gathered in the AMG Break Room, the offensively purple artwork for Old Spirit’s Burning in Heaven, the Boss Ape piped up, “That the guy from Vanishing Kids?” I shrugged noncommittally. I didn’t know whether it was the guy from Vanishing Kids, had never heard of Vanishing Kids and was unsure whether the expression on those leathery features was a smirk or just a sign the old fella had gas again. I just wanted to revel in a group at how awful the artwork was. Denied this opportunity, I trudged back to my cubicle and started working the foot pedal that powers up AMG-issue computers to do some research. So, long story short, it is the guy—Jason “Heart Man” Hartman—from Vanishing Kids (and Jex Thoth), whose last effort, Heavy Dreamer, managed to squeeze a coveted 4.0 out of Steel. On Burning in Heaven, the second Old Spirit record, Hartman is operating solo, moving from handling just guitars in his other bands, to covering everything in this project. Can he reproduce that magic alone, or does this Kid’s talent Vanish in a sea of self-indulgence?

Sadly, very much the latter. I wouldn’t go quite so far as to say the contents match Old Spirit’s wrapper, because that artwork is a travesty, but this is a piece of curiously traditional heavy psychedelic synth-driven stoner hair metal … in other words, something absolutely no one needs. An odd blend of semi-gothic synth wave compositions (sections of “Ash” and the entirety of instrumental “When the Spirit Slips Away,” which is a cutting-room-floor reject from an Unreqvited session), a weird mash-up of Judas Priest and Hawkwind being covered by a stoner band (“Angel Blood”), and heavy dollops of Don’t Break the Oath-era Mercyful Fate (“Bleak Chapel” and “Fallacy”). Just like Vanishing Kids, Burning in Heaven veers around wildly in styles and influences, meaning that just when you think you’re getting a grip on what the hell Old Spirit is trying to achieve, you realize you have absolutely no clue and, by the end of its modest 30-minute run, you have to wonder whether Hartman knows either.

Hartman is, undoubtedly, a talented guitarist and there are moments on Burning in Heaven when he even shows it, like on the glorious, fuzzy solo at the back end of the title track and in the mid-section of “Fallacy”, or the Mercyful Fate-esque fretwork at back end of “Angel Blood.” But make no mistake, this is a poor album. The most offensive thing is, undoubtedly, the vocals, where Hartman opts to alternate between a gruff, breathy sex-pest vibe (“Dim Aura”) and a janky, nasal clean delivery (“Ash” and “Fallacy”). While neither of these modes is good, they are both made much worse by being drenched in effects, echoing reverb, double-tracking, static and more. Paired with simplistic and unimaginative drumming, and numerous synths and other electronica, the combination is never less than confusing, and sometimes downright bad.

The frustrating thing about Old Spirit is that there are flashes, which show the talent its one-man creator clearly possesses (“Bleak Chapel” is an isolated bright spot, although even then Hartman’s penchant for unnecessary kaleidoscopic additions lessens its impact), but the whole suffers from aimless and repetitive songwriting, a confused vision and, above all, poor vocals. Where the eclectic experimentation of Vanishing Kids, of which I am now a fan, feels cleverly wrought and purposeful, Old Spirit feels confused and directionless (closer “In Dismay”). The songwriting is clearly at fault here but so is the execution and the production doesn’t help. It’s a very loud mix, with the vocals managing the impressive feat of sounding both hollow and echoey, as well as weirdly flat, probably as a side-effect of all the filters they are passed through.

It’s an album that haphazardly packs so many ideas into such a short run, that you have to wonder whether, had Old Spirit taken longer to flesh out, develop and rearrange those ideas, Burning in Heaven could have been something different, and something better. As it is, it feels like a rushed idea dump, where, instead of editing what’s there, Old Spirit decided to simply slap a load of effects on and be done with it. So yes, Steel, this is the guy from Vanishing Kids, who is clearly a very talented guitarist but should not be allowed out unchaperoned. Had I not picked this one up for review, I imagine you might have. You owe me.1

Rating: 1.5/5.0
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Bright as Night Records
Websites: oldspirit.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/oldspiritmetal
Releases Worldwide: February 24th, 2023

Show 1 footnote

  1. I owe you nothing but scorn and slight regard. – Steel
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