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Jesus Christ. Humble me for not reviewing this earlier. This might very well be one of the greatest modern "retro rock" albums in recent music history and a damn good stoner rock release in particular. I'm usually very careful when dealing with extremes, but knowing this album for almost three years now I can confidently say that it really doesn't get much better than this. "Demons" once more defines what the word "rock" was meant to conjure up. A dense, heavy substance with an almost infinite spectrum of shapes, yet always sufficiently grinding around in your head to be recognised as such.
Generally speaking, I'm a big fan of the Spiritual Beggars regardless of the album or the singer for that matter. Sjöstrand fit neatly into the band's sound as it was during their early days. He delivered the vocal work that was expected from a band playing the kind of riff orientated stoner rock/metal they dedicated themselves to. Personally, he always reminded me of John Garcia, a fact that, admittedly didn't necessarily work in their favor considering the 123.321.253 of stoner bands this guy was involved with. Hence, the music itself had to be somewhat memorable to get this kind of accolade from me.
Well, no suprise there. Although you can make out a certain evolution throughout their discography, from their earliest moments on, there was something which distinguished the Spiritual Beggars from other bands of their genre. They just had their own sound. I can't explain to what in particular they owed this fact, however, what I can say is that these guys knew how to write true interesting rock songs. Almost each and everyone is standing out in one or more aspects, may it be heaviness or memorability. Taking this virtue with them, they continuiously evolved themselves along the path that would inevitably lead them to "Demons".
Speaking of the devil (yeah, great isn't it, I constructed my whole review around that ingenious pun ;) ) ... this album is a diamond.
Not a rough diamond surrounded by a few psychedelic pieces and traces of dope-induced jamming like their debut, a piece for itself beautiful to look at, but a bit uncertain when it comes to the eventual transformation it will undergo.
Not a somewhat meticousily polished brilliant cut like "On Fire" or "Ad Astra", a specimen bathed in purpose and form.
This is the flawlessly shaped mass of ultra-compressed carbon that was spit right out of a volcano, crafted with love and life by mother earth herself to exhibit no flaw whatsoever and sent to crash mercilessly into your skull, making you smile even while your brain is forcibly replaced with hot, energetic and yet beautiful rockiness.
"Demons" is the golden ratio, the star pupil among their releases. It unites a lot of elements that have made this band so enjoyable for me.
Coming back to the issue of vocalists, I'd have to agree that J.B. was a prudent choice, to say the least. The man was born to front this band. His voice is unique and does an equally good job in every regard, that is, if the song is downright rocking ("Throwing Your Life Away"), flowing ("Through The Halls") or grinding ("In My Blood").
The album itself kicks in with a solid opener "Inner Strength". An opener that, after listening to the following songs introduces the CD's style perfectly with its blending of grandeur, feeling of impending doom and "epic-ness". The song is relatively simpel and doesn't unnecessarily deviate from this formula with some technical gimmicks.
The first real song "Throwing Your Life Away" gives you no chance whatsoever to prevent this CD from spinning except for the rare case of a surprise rapture (even then I suspect it would make a good soudtrack for Judgement Day). This could very well be the standout track, although it is rather difficult to make that choice considering the variety of great songs we have here.
A genuine killer riff immediately kicks in while you find yourself (in)voluntarily letting your hair cut through the air. If you still had doubts about the mission the Beggars are on, every last one of them will be cast aside after the furious break finishing the second verse, promptly followed by one of guitarist Michael Amotts trademark simplistic yet emotional solos.
As a guitarist I honestly admire this man not only for his work with Arch Enemy (you can recognise his style with ease in both bands) but also for his talent to write one outstanding lick and lead after another regardless of the fact whether he is playing death metal or 70s influenced hard rock. I don't know to what extent he participates in the songwriting of the band but I dare to say that it is not in any case negligible. His contribution often are the meat of most of the band's material I think.
Next step, "Salt In Your Wounds", and I must say, I am already running out of hot (though 100% warranted) air. A great song, with cool leads in the beginning and a driving main riff and drum work.
"One Man Army" greets you with another versatile riff and has this peculiar heroic feel to it, that forces me to sing along everytime. Great songwriting here.
As I mentioned earlier, this album is an amalgam of the various styles the Spiritual Beggars played over the course of their history. Keeping this in mind, one should never forget the "stoner" aspect to stoner rock. "Through The Halls" is a tribute to this thick placid songs gliding through plumes of smoke. Beginning with a relaxing feel it builds up to a rather chaotic end, a stark contrast to the overall tone of this song, but nevertheless fitting (partially thanks to the hammond organ near the end, another aspect/instrument of their music I find curiously and fittingly executed).
"Treading Water" once again demonstrates what this band can do best: Rock as fuck. It starts comparable unsurprising, a good riff layered under some nice lead work, but then without warning throws an awesome wah-wah-driven riff into your face that once again compells you to grab your air guitar. After the riff there is no change in pace, the song goes into a percussive but for itself marvellous verse riff and occasionally climaxes into a by-the-book-of-heavy-metal refrain.
In a similar vibe are "Dying Every Day" (fast and slow, heavy and soft, cool and cooler are interchanged with ease in this one), "Sleeping With One Eye Open" and "Born To Die" (again, good refrain; the reprise version is somewhat odd and superfluous sounding at first, but in fact succesfully catches the atmosphere of the song in an interesting way putting it into new perspective)
"In My Blood" is undoubtedly the heaviest song on the album and pure stoner metal. Again, it features a set of "cheap" but effective guitar work on the one side and intricate precise one on the other, a trait working very well on this album und the music of the Beggars in general.
A little bit weird, "Elusive" still manages to catch the listener from the start. This song has an eerie and strangely insane feeling to it, obviously caused by the unorthodox lead melody harmonised with J.B.'s vocals.
Finally, as good as "Inner Strength" was as an intro, "No One Heard" nicely bids you farewell in soft and leaned-back manner and again summarises what this albums has to offer.
Now, for those who happened to acquire the pressings which came with a number of bonus tracks comprised of material from a concert in Tokyo in 2003, I can only say that as much as "Demons" for itself is a impressive demonstration of the band's musical skills, the live tracks are a bucket of molten lava dumped into every listeners ear.
They arguably played one of their best songs during that concert, yet managed to push the boundaries of quality somehow even more upwards and modify every song in a subtle, but improving way. Everytime I listen to it I unconciously regret not having been there to see this incredible band live.
I almost exclusively prefer the versions presented there to their studio counterparts and not only because of J.B. being the one singing (although this is a factor especially for "Angel Of Betrayal") but for the sheer POWER with which these songs are performed. Amott's guitar is sounding like nothing I've heard so far (the man himself of course knows his craft very well). Everytime he releases a solo or riff from his fingers it is hammered into your head with at least twice the effort as on the studio version, owing this to the excellent tone, gorgeous phrasing and occasional improvisation by its player.
Real stand-outs here are "Angel Of Betrayal", "Blind Mountain" and "Look Back", the latter being, I have to note it, without exaggeration, one of the BEST songs I have EVER heard. The solo never fails to cut me into little rejoycing shreds.
Also worth mentioning is the Bachman-Turner Overdrive cover "Not Fragile" which goes from a catchy vamp into a nice little farewell-jam that adequately concludes their amazing gig.
In conclusion, this, gentlemen, is the essence of rock with every atom where it is supposed to be and every single member putting his talents to maximum use. 2 words, 2 letters: Buy. This. C. D.