Album Review: SPIRITUAL BEGGARS Sunrise to Sundown
Taking the position of 'music journalist,' it is implied that you are knowledgable in the vast spectrum of such a broad and seemingly ever-expanding topic and industry. And while I will modestly boast that I feel I have a basic understanding of the majority of the metal genre, I inevitably discover treasures all too often. In this case, the genius that surrounds the man by name of Michael Amott somehow passed me by. The name was of course familiar, but I had no idea towards the prolific amount of impact he bestowed. For those in the same boat as myself, Mr. Amott's history includes founding the groups Carnage and Arch Enemy, recording and performing in Carcass, and other accolades.
To metalheads' surprise, Amott created Spiritual Beggars in 1994 with a focus towards the 70's side of rock. While I can assume most would agree with me in the statement that Spiritual Beggars never quite pushed out from the underground rock/metal zone, the members that contribute to this possibly considered supergroup add up to what should be an assured remarkable show. Besides Amott, vocalist Apollo Papathanasio (Firewind), bassist Sharlee D'Angelo (Mercyful Fate, Arch Enemy), keyboardist Per Wiberg (Opeth), and drummer Ludwig Witt (Shining, Grand Magus) all showcase their talents. I have no qualms with the idea of experimenting in neighboring genres, yet the fact that all these members come from such significant metal bands, it appears a bit unusual when they're left to playing more rock stylized music.
The style scope is well-established right away with the opening title track. There are no traces of any of the aforementioned groups leaking into this material, but rather a sound resembling more of a Def Leppard or Deep Purple aesthetic. Another key element on their palette is the use of the organ in abundance, shown on the album single, "Diamond Under Pressure." I think it's safe to state that the art of the organ has kinda faded in rock and metal since the 80's, but there has been a slight revival in bands such as Ghost. While subtle in other songs, the slight distortion hanging over the pipe organ's airy breaths acts as the consistent unique factor. For those familiar with the group's past work, the use of the organ isn't a shock, but I believe it is quite tastefully executed in the majority of these tracks.
As I stated, the songs on this record are primarily of the rock style, but there are a multitude of moments where Spiritual Beggars are poking their toe back into the bottomless sea of metal. "What Doesn’t Kill You" and "Hard Road" for example are where some heavy aspects peak out regarding the old school guitar solo and down-tuned riffs. This rock and metal tug-of-war continues relatively steadily through the album, where some parts hold large deviance, such as the psychedelic Beatles-esque piano dreamscape shown halfway through "No Man’s Land."
Lastly, I feel I have to point out a factor that struck me as a surprise. Nowadays, I associate high production with the progressive metal or djent side of the spectrum, but the sound quality on the record is impeccably impressive. And even further, the actuality that the band recorded the entire album live on the studio floor, quite an uncommon feat in the current reliance on plug-ins and copy/paste programs, is beyond commendable.
Stating Spiritual Beggars' Sunrise to Sundown would've been more well received 30 years ago is certainly no understatement, yet additionally the execution proves that the respective genre is not completely drained dry. There are an abundance of redeeming qualities, but maybe not strong enough to outweigh the fact that I found myself repeatedly questioning the existence of the wow-factor in a band of this genre in present times. There may be nothing special or new brought to the table, yet such a notion does not always denote a negative experience. The musicalities expressed on Sunrise to Sundown display a safe amount of nostalgia and more importantly, cast an amusing, whimsical vibe. It may be hard to picture Spiritual Beggars having a spot to fit in today's somewhat rigid music trend system, but I very much respect the risk in Amott and friends' continuation of this wholesome throwback to vintage 70's rock sound.