Album review: SPIRITUAL BEGGARS – Earth Blues

Inside Out – Out Now.

Michael Amott is better known as the guitarist, main songwriter and founding member of the  Swedish Melodic Death Metal quintet Arch Enemy – a band that has been under the media spotlight for quite some time now. In his very limited spare time, rather than getting some much deserved rest like most mere mortals, Amott finds himself squeezing his last drops of energy into a very different musical beast – the 70s influences combo Spiritual Beggars.

Having establish themselves as “the” Stoner act to follow quite early on in their career, Amott’s ‘second’ band has survived various line up changes and with the addition of  ex-Firewind vocalist Apollo Papathanasio, continues to create songs of immense quality, as evidenced by album number eight, entitled “Earth Blues”.

When Apollo was first introduced as the band’s new singer back in March 2010, a number of people expressed their doubts. Well, if “Return To Zero” did not manage to justify the band’s faith in Apollo’s capabilities then “Earth Blues” will once and for all disperse any clouds of doubt still lingering. Why? Simply because if Apollo’s Coverdale-style vocals (Deep Purple Mark III era) were missing from this album, none of the twelve compositions on offer would have sounded as powerful and commanding as they now do.

Here, you will also find Ammot, once again in exceptional form! When not providing riffs of enormous depth and power, this normally reserved Swede performs some of the most flamboyant and daring solos of his career. A lot of credit should also be given to Per Wilberg (ex Opeth), since his stealth-style keyboards are responsible for much of the colour and atmosphere which characterise this beautiful album.

Stoner Rock is all about swagger and high energy and no song better characterises these attributes than the opening track “Wise As A Serpent”, featuring one of the catchiest refrains of the entire album. Amott’s guitar abilities are perfectly showcased by the solo on “Turn The Tide”, while Apollo’s appreciation for all-things-Coverdale is clearly audible in his powerful vocal rendition for “Sweet Magic Pain”.

“Hello Sorrow” is a four and a half minute piece which could easily find a prominent position on any Thin Lizzy album and, together with the band’s interpretation of the classic opus “Dreamer”, they stand out as the album’s absolute highlights.

That, of course, takes nothing away from tracks such as “One Man’s Curse”, “Too Old To Die Young”, “Kingmaker” “Road To Madness” and “Dead End Town”, all providing moments of passion and sheer musicianship.

The album ends on an abolute high with the incorporation of the duet “Freedom Song” / “Legends Collapse” – the former a composition filled with catchy hooks and more Coverdale-influenced vocal lines, while the latter further solidifies Amott’s reputation as a true guitar legend.

While Arch Enemy retain the interest of the music media and continue to sell albums by the bucketload, Spiritual Beggars will always play second fiddle to them. Is that fair? No, but life rarely is. Spiritual Beggars may never manage to obtain the sales needed to convince Amott to give them his utmost attention, but as long as albums like “Earth Blues” make their way into my record collection I am not willing to complain.

I only hope that one day Amott will realise the error of his ways and change his priorities, as bands of such quality as Spiritual Beggars are rare these days. See you at Hellfest, guys!

John Stefanis

Rating: ****1/2 (4.5/5.0)

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