Spiritual Beggars - Earth Blues (InsideOut Music)

Everything that's great about heavy rock can be found on Earth Blues...
Release Date: 
14 Apr 2013 - 11:30pm

After the opening, bluesy blast of Wise as a Serpent bores into your consciousness and then leaves as abruptly as it appeared, one thing is clear – twenty years in the game have not blunted Spiritual Beggars' oh-so-simple yet oh-so-marvellous appeal; they’re back and, in every respect, they’re burning.

In fact to these ears the band hasn’t sounded this vital since their quartet of albums released in the late nineties by now defunct label Music for Nations, viz Another Way to Shine, Mantra III, Ad Astra and On Fire. There’s an immediacy here melded with the comfort that only comes from being a long term favourite for the ears of music lovers everywhere that means Spiritual Beggars very rarely put a foot wrong throughout Earth Blues.

As usual guitarist extraordinaire Michael Amott is at the head of the queue when the plaudits are being handed out; I’ve said it before, and I’ll doubtless say it again – and again, and again, etc… - but the man really is peerless in the world of modern heavy metal guitaring. Whether he’s laying on the riffs thick n’creamy or, in his more sensitive moments stepping off the distortion pedal and unleashing his inner Schenker, everything he touches turns to gold on Earth Blues as once again he proves himself one of the most accomplished and versatile six stringers around. It may be no coincidence, but his tone on tracks like the chugging Sweet Magic Pain and the Thin Lizzy-referencing Hello Sorrow seems to be getting closer to the one he uses in Arch Enemy – certainly closer than it has before to this reviewer'smind – especially when his playing drops down a notch or two in intensity for those Courvoisier Concerto moments…

Amott can’t do it all on his own of course; throughout the album his playing is complimented (and sometimes almost outdone) by the masterful keyboard colourings of keyboardist Per Wiberg who plays with a joyous freedom whether banging out the bluesy bluster on his trusty Hammond Organ or, perhaps more interestingly in terms of soundscapes, as he adds washes of colour via the gift of his Mellotron. Whatever he’s doing, you won’t have heard him performing better on any of his previous recorded outings. Don’t believe me? Have a listen to him channelling the spirits of the late sixties on the funky One Man’s Curse for proof.

The whole thing comes together best on a brace of tracks that form the central plank of the second half of the album;  Too Old To Die Young rides in on a riff that pays more than a nod to Lizzy’s Bad Reputation (backed with some boisterous bongo work) before Wiberg’s keys take the track to more sedate classic rock territory before Apollo Papathanasio appears  with that glorious, chunky classic rock voice of his to carry the whole thing to a new level; It’s exciting, blood-pumping stuff for sure, but then half way through the band stops, turns on a dime and takes the track into supremely proggy waters… before Apollo lets out an eerily Gillanesque scream that heralds a galloping heavy metal finale to proceedings, powered by an energetic performance from bassman Sharlee D’angelo and drummer Ludwig Witt in the engine room – for all my talk of individual brilliance it’s this locking in of the band as a single unit that really pays dividends. And if you thought that was about as good as it could get, here comes the simply stunning Kingmaker, drenched in Uriah Heep-styled pomp and bombast, this is jaw droppingly fine stuff. Amott and Wiberg take it in turns to dazzle, Papathanasio roars like a good un’ (actually he sounds like Rainbow vocalist Graham Bonnet here – and that’s a good ‘un in my book), the only letdown being that the band could have extended this track far beyond it’s four minute duration – there would have been no complaints form me.

A stunning record then, easily among the best this band has released, and worthy of the attention of anyone who likes to hear master craftsmen going about their business at full tilt. Unmissable stuff.