Spell – Opulent Decay Review

The retro waves never stop crashing ashore, they just shift decades. Beginning around 2000 the metalverse became inundated with 80s throwback acts, and over the past ten or so years there’s been an increasing drive to mine 70s rock for inspiration as well. Canadian act Spell are in on this big dig, incorporating a lot of 70s rock ideas into a slurry containing NWoBHM and goth rock. Opulent Decay is their third attempt to get this tricky recipe right, showcasing an intriguing blend of eras and styles which results in something very old sounding and full of occult auras. It’s not at all heavy or aggressive, but when it works it can be quite enchanting and hypnotic. There are obvious nods to acts like Blue Öyster Cult, Thin Lizzy, and Rush, and “modern” bands like In Solitude, Ghost and Cauldron, but Spell manage to carve out just enough of an identity to stand on their own, which isn’t easy in the deep vastness of the retro ocean.

There are a lot of enjoyable, memorable moments on Opulent Decay. Opener “Psychic Death” is steeped in intrigue and mysticism, with sullen, gothy strumming and upbeat trilling paired perfectly and accentuated by laid back hippie rock crooning. The music swirls and roils like smoke, and the listener floats along dreamily. The title track follows with an undeniable throwback charm and a major hook factor. This power trio is adept at conjuring very specific moodscapes brimming with copious arcane energy and this is all without the listener being under the influence of any completely legal and medicinal additives. Graham McGee is a master at crafting first-rate guitar hooks and little details that remain with you after the songs end and his noodling is often transportive. The album manages a run of 4 very solid songs before hitting the first speed bump with “The Iron Wind,” which while not bad, is a step down in overall quality and a bit dull. “Dawn Wanderer” gets the album back on track with another winning example of the band’s retro alchemy led by a guitar harmony I can’t seem to unhear not matter how hard I try. From there though, things become increasingly inconsistent.

“Deceiver” is a solid but not entirely successful example of their decade-spanning style, and as the album’s longest cut, that leaves a mid-point contusion. Later cut “Imprisoned by Shadows” sticks out like a hammer smashed thumb, sounding like an old Molly Hatchet song due to its straight-forward rock riffing/ The track never seems to click or seize my attention fully. “Atraxia” also feels out of place. A very cool, epic hymnal piece that would fit exceptionally well on any Atlantean Kodex album, it seems very strange dropped here. At times the band’s approach closely resembles that heard on the slower songs like “Roses” from Lunar Shadow’s The Smokeless Fire album, which is funny, since Opulent Decay’s hit or miss nature reminds me of Lunar Shadow’s debut, which boasted tons of potential but never fully came together as a cohesive platter. I really enjoy three quarters of this release, but the flaws bring down the overall experience in frustrating ways.

That said, the album is well worth checking out for Graham McGee’s guitar-work alone. He creates a lot of great moments by doing little things, never having to get all Yngwie on your ass to get his point across. Hell, even his extended jam on the back end of “Satan’s Riddle” is restrained and very tasteful. The better songs reek of his slick, inventive guitar hooks, and even the album’s worst moments are still pretty interesting due to his playing. Cam Mayhem’s vocals are high-pitched and reedy but suit the material well. I can see some not liking his overall delivery, but for me it adds to the ethereal, occult mood the band strives for. This is a talented trio and when their writing gels, they can nail a song into your cranium hard enough to make it stick for weeks. They just need to bring more nails next time.

Opulent Decay is inconsistent but worth hearing because the good material is really good and sometimes great. Spell have me investigating their past releases, and I don’t do that unless I’m suitably impressed. If you like your throwback metal loaded with 70s occult magic, this may cast a spell over you. You might as well enjoy the retro tides, they won’t be receding anytime soon.

Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 206 kbps mp3
Label: Bad Omen
Websites: spellofficial.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/spellspell
Releases Worldwide: April 10th, 2020

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