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Yeaaah, man. I've been listening to this album from time to time since around April and it really surprised me to see no reviews on MA. It's surprising for a few reasons. Firstly, this is the first Spiritual Beggars album without long-time vocalist JB Christoffersson on vocals. Secondly, this is also the first album with Firewind's longest-standing vocalist Apollo Papathanasio taking over that position in the band. Thirdly - and mostly importantly - this is a very solid record.
Long-time fans will recognize the hard rockin', 70s-vibin' stoner grooves, crisp cymbals and trippy keyboard snippets. Musicianship, as on past efforts, is very tight. Love or hate Arch Enemy as you like, no one can deny Michael Amott's deadly precision and sixth sense for savage songwriting. He's got Sharlee in tow for a second time, with the bass mixed high and played with excellency - though it mostly just follows the guitar lines. Wiberg offers up some entertaining 70s-sounding synth work, notable on tracks like "We Are Free", which boasts a snazzy solo as well. There are lots of highlights on here, but as I said: anyone even a little familiar with this band knows good and well to expect well-produced, catchy mid-tempo rockers and the occasional headbanger. If you've heard one album with JB, you've heard 'em all. I mean that in a good way - consistency, you see. So let's discuss what is indeed different. Let's talk about Apollo.
When I first read Apollo had taken over vocals, I did about 3 double-takes. So... a sextuplet-take? Anyway, it was kinda the last name I expected to pop in a band like this. After re-attaching my jaw, though, I got excited at this prospect - Apollo's a hell of a vocalist. One of the best in modern power metal, by my reckoning. Powerful, evocative. Dude can belt it, sings beautifully - but can he fit in to a band like this? Can he rock out without evoking the inherent cheesiness of his familiar genre? This is stoner metal, after all - not much call for singing pretty here.
Turns out, hell yes he can. Right after the short intro, he proves this on "Lost in Yesterday". Just a good heavy time, mostly at mid-range. There's a slow/ballad-like song on here (Spirit of the Wind) in which he puts forth a strong-but-smooth singing performance without having anything about it feel out of place. And, of course, when he wants to belt it, he does so with all his might, even outdoing some of his past Firewind work, like on "Believe in Me". He throws in some little grunts, 'yeahs' and other non-words into some songs on occasion, those kinda sounds you get outta vocalists that are really into the music they're a part of. That maybe sounds like a little thing, but I consider it a mark of passion, and passion is what true metal's all about. Admittedly, track 12 on here is pretty darn cheesy - not bad, just kind of a schmaltzy, piano-backed ballad. Sharlee does get to shine a little, though. And the Uriah Heep cover at the end is just fucking excellent. Great guitar tone, synth effects, nice 'n' heavy, and Apollo's voice just fits into a classic track like this one perfectly.
If you're into the heavier side of this band or if you're just looking for some stoner tunes with uncommonly great vocals, check this one out.