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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.