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I have to confess that Spiritual Beggars is a band that has a special place in my heart. They seemed to be the soundtrack to my life for a certain period, every album with a certain taste to it that made it one of a kind, different attitudes, but always true to itself and to what it is: a ’70-era psychedelic rock/stoner metal blend that put up that perfect “fuck-it” demeanor to it, being blunt and funny on one side, deep and sarcastic on the other.
Yet, whilst maintaining this demeanor almost perfectly ‘till Demons (in my opinion), there is clearly an evolution in the band’s style. Even here there are improvements from the still-good eponymous first full-length of Spiritual Beggars. The raw ideas of the first CD, the retro-style, the tripping grooves and the crunchy rock riffs, were refined, giving every song its clear shape. I heard 'Spiritual Beggars' several times, but can’t really remember any of the tracks, maybe the first one will work on me like “Oh, that’s the first from 'Spiritual Beggars'!”, but the second full-length had something of its own charm. Maybe it’s just because SB had still to find its own direction and was still heavily influenced by Jimi Hendrix, so had to pay a tribute to Him while working on its own material.
The first impact of the album is the proof that their first effort paid off big time. “Magic Spell” kicks in from a feedback intro and delivers the listener with a catchy as hell riff of Amott’s concoction and a steady percussion matrix from Witt. Spice… well, it’s goddamn Spice! I love the guy, he’s exactly in place as the vocalist, with his raspy singing, being powerful without the need to force himself, while delivering a pretty solid bass track that mixes tastefully with the energy of the whole album.
With “Blind Mountain” I became fully aware of the perfect teamwork those guys had. Everyone here has its moment of glory: the guitar, the bass, even the drum at some points. There’s not much room to be technical in both subgenres I gave SB, but the musicianship here is solidly over the average. The voice is awesome, the guitar is catchy and the solos are discreet, but full of heart. The drum transitions are smooth and not forceful, giving the other guys plenty of room for blending into the music.
Leaving the first impact of those two songs, the album starts to follow a pattern, delivering some mid-tempo rockers straight from a biker’s bar (Misty Valley, Picking from the Box, Entering into Peace), which are enough entertaining to keep the listener unconsciously focused to the flow of the album. Seems then natural to delve into thoughtful personal dilemmas (Nowhere to Go, Entering into Peace, Sour Stains). Here is where their blues influence seeps right through, with a sweet voice effect that makes Spice even more awesome to hear at. Here we hear some of the most touching lyrics of the record. The lyrics before were all about drinking, smoking, getting high... Yeah, there was even sorrow in that self-immolation, but we don’t understand what’s lying underneath it ‘till we hear that blues. There is a certain angst, a feeling of never being understood by your family, calling them liars (Nowhere to Go), then the anxiety that someone feeling alone has to get acquainted to, when the day is over and he’s alone with himself, drinking and smoking, so he can lull that nightmare to sleep, just for a while (Sour Stains). This really delivers it home to me every time.
The outro, then, smoothly prepares the listener to exit the world that Another Way to Shine opened the door to. One beat at a time, like recovering from a hangover the other songs gave you while you consumed them, “Another Way to Shine” progresses through, still holding the primal instincts that the first tracks unravel, but clearly facing them with a clearer state of mind, thrashing on society’s hypocrisy and parassitism. I can’t really relate to that, maybe because being alternative here is a bit more accepted in my little town, maybe because everyone here thinks it’s a thing young people must have, before being acceptable members of society… dunno ‘bout that, we’ll see in a couple of years. But still, I can associate this song to some of my same-age brethren pretty well, so I don’t feel it as something “alien” to me. Spiritual Beggar’s farewell “Past the Sound of Whispers” is a calm piece with trippy vocals and crunchy riffs. The lyrics are pretty much of someone still haunted by his anxieties and in a mid-life crisis, trying to escape with his trusty guitar. The angst, the sorrow, it’s there and it’s just pretty clear that Spice (or the whole band itself) had gone through some bad shit before writing this (or any Spiritual Beggars, I suppose, but this doesn’t make it sound any forceful). The symbol of the “fairy”, I’m still not sure to whom or what I'd rather associate her with… was it some romance interest that for some reason left? The writer’s sanity dismissing him slowy? Or, maybe, it even was his own guitar all along, making the strings dance like he wants, but being distant and disattached at the same time! Maybe altogether or none, maybe just wine+weed hallucinations or stuff…
The production itself, even being true to its vintage feel, is not bad at all, every single component of the band mixes well with the whole. The CD was recorded in the same studio some of my favorite albums were born (Amon Amarth, Kaamos, Witchery), so I suppose it was obvious I’d like the work of the producer Berno Paulsen! The tracks have the right amount of saturation that kind of music needs, without suffocating the expressiveness of the guitars/bass or distorting the drum track. The recording was almost perfect, precise on the cuts and with an overall equalization that had no significant, annoying peaks. Berno Studio really did a great job!
This was the CD that threw Spiritual Beggars into the music business for good. It’s overall awesome, it just feels a bit too much broad in some places, so that feels almost dispersive. I remember stopping myself from changing the record for a couple of times because the mood I wanted from Spiritual Beggars had waned for a bit, but I resisted, giving it a good listen and instead starting to read the sheet behind the cover, discovering some interesting, unexpected thanks (Leif Edling??). Anyway, when you want a raw Spiritual Beggars experience, this album is the thing, setting the mood and a solid base for all the next albums to be inspired by.
I’m not sure what fascinates me more: the minimal attention Spiritual Beggars have received here on MA, or the fact that guitarist Michael Amott is, in fact, the brainchild of an absolutely kickass stoner rock/metal band. This thought should quickly fade into irrelevancy, however, as soon as anyone with a good taste for some heavy, Sabbath-based psychedelia takes a dip into the contents of “Another Way to Shine.” Indeed, what we have here isn’t more of that somber Sleep worship that seems to be popping up all over the underground these days, but some genuine, knee-to-the-nuts stoner metal that’s been around for almost a couple decades now.
The second album by Spiritual Beggars, I knew I was going to be hooked as soon as the opening riff to “Magic Spell” erupted, bouncing in its fuzzy stoned fury with a healthy serving of some thick bass. Add to this the fact that John Garcia’s Swedish cousin has taken up vocal duties, and this can’t get much better; frontman Spice (who’s since left the band) can sound a hell of a lot like the Kyuss boss at times, despite lacking that same macho, growly tone to his voice. Overall, he’s great, a guy with a real voice (contrast with Sleep clones), and also handling bass duties on this record quite sufficiently. But where this album really shines is in its sheer consistency, with Michael Amott’s precise craftsmanship behind it that makes each track memorable. From the entrancing, weaving solo that ends “Misty Valley”, to the laidback, heavy-rocking verses of “Nowhere to Go”, there are plenty of moments here distinguished simply by their utter quality and catchiness – and not necessarily by any massive deviation from the ideas or musicianship present on such records as “Master of Reality” or “Blues for the Red Sun”.
Like many bands playing under the stoner designation, Spiritual Beggars seem to be straddling the line between a classic hard rock and a more traditional metal sound, putting them in that ‘gray zone’ of ambiguity when it comes to getting picky and attaching genre labels. Of course, it’s perfectly possible here for one to argue that this isn’t exactly metal; nevertheless, the amount of Sabbath influence here comes through more than anything else as far as riffs are concerned, and it’s more in specific areas that one can hear a 60s psychedelic vibe – like in Amott’s Hendrixy solos, or the spaced-out, prolonged jam section of “Entering into Peace”, complete with ample amounts of trippy guitar effects and tribal action on the tom-toms. Then again, we’re never really given too much of an opportunity to forget that these guys probably venerate Sabbath above all others; Spice’s bass intro to “Sour Stains” is a direct descendant of Geezer’s from N.I.B. Throw Ozzy’s vocals onto the track and get rid of the crisp modern production (nothing wrong with it, mind you), and this one wouldn’t feel too alien on Sabbath’s self-titled.
Other notable songs include the title track, and “Past the Sound of Whispers”, finishing the album on a very high note. Both have a similarly badass tone to them, with some pretty cool lyrics and heavy driving riffs – it’s just too cool to hear “Cocaine…another way to shine” before the band breaks into an epic closing rock out. Performances from a technical standpoint are great all around, with the drums holding down the show with some occasional displays of flashy fills and plenty of crash, but careful to not interfere with Amott’s guitar mastery. Quite frankly, I’m not too interested in Arch Enemy; this guy’s got to be good if he can throw an Adrian Smith style solo slap in the middle of a stoner song, as demonstrated on “Magic Spell”. Indeed, Michael Amott needs more credit for the work he’s done with Spiritual Beggars, and although it’s a matter of subjectivity, I daresay that his talents as a musician are just as salient here as they are in any of his other projects, perhaps even more so. While every great composer of stoner rock/metal needs their fix of Tony Iommi (whether they admit it or not), the way that Amott brings in psychedelic influences into his playing style, like Hendrix – and the unknown guitar god Frank Marino (solo from “Nowhere to Go” is a case in point) – is definitely what gives him a unique sound and that edge to craft such high quality songs.
Although I’m relatively new to Spiritual Beggars, having only bought this record and the one following it, “Mantra III”, I wouldn’t hesitate to rank them as one of my favourite stoner rock/metal bands. Stoner fans are absolutely obligated to give these guys a listen, particularly if looking for a vibrant presentation of the genre more in line with the glory days of Kyuss than the doom and gloom of bands pursuing the more droning end of the stoner spectrum.