Monday, May 27, 2013

Spiritual Beggars - Earth Blues

Spiritual Beggars
Earth Blues
Inside Out Music/Century Media Records/E.M.I. Music Australia

When Swedish classic hard rock/stoner rock outfit Spiritual Beggars announced the departure of Grand Magus vocalist Janne ‘JB’ Christoffersson from their ranks, and the recruitment of Firewind vocalist Apollo Papathanasio as his replacement in 2010, I had my reservations. On the one hand, I considered the band’s releases with Christoffersson (2002’s ‘On Fire’ and 2005’s ‘Demons’) as fairly solid, but far from their best. But on the other hand, while I have always enjoyed Papathanasio’s voice, I wasn’t entirely convinced that he would suit Spiritual Beggars’ retro rocking sound.
But my concerns were unfounded after a single listen of the band’s 2010 release ‘Return To Zero’. Papathanasio not only proved to be the perfect front man for the band, but the band themselves (Who comprise of ex-Carcass/Arch Enemy guitarist Michael Amott, Witchery/Arch Enemy bassist Sharlee D’Angelo, ex-Opeth/Candlemass keyboardist Per Wiberg and ex-Firebird/Grand Magus drummer Ludwig Witt) sounded more inspired than they had done in years.
Obviously keen to capitalise on their return to form, Spiritual Beggars have retained the same line-up and put together a new album in ‘Earth Blues’. And as expected, the album is once again another classic slab of vintage heavy rock.
The album immediately lurches into overdrive with the fantastic ‘Wise As A Serpent’. With a strong Deep Purple like organ presence throughout, some understated guitar riffs from Amott and Papathanasio giving the song his best David Coverdale impression, ‘Wise As A Serpent’ is classic rock with a blues touch, and the sound of Spiritual Beggars at their best.
With a touch less speed and a little extra heaviness on the riff front, the Black Sabbath influenced ‘Turn The Tide’ keeps the rock coming in a major way, with the heavily grooved ‘Sweet Magic Pain’ and the Thin Lizzy sounding high octane rocker ‘Hello Sorrow’ following suit.
Wiberg’s distinctive keyboard sounds stand out big time on the straight forward hard rocker ‘One Man’s Curse’, while on the laid back ballad ‘Dreamer’, Papathanasio delivers plenty of emotion into his performance to match Amott’s stunning Michael Schenker sounding shred work on the tail end of the track. Needless to say, the latter is definitely an album stand out.
A subtle hint of funk and groove is evident in ‘Too Old To Die Young’, while the heavy mix of guitar riffs and keyboard sounds on ‘Kingmaker’ brings back classic MK III/IV Deep Purple sound with a modern twist.
Towards the latter half of the album, it’s clear that Spiritual Beggars have plenty left in the tank, with the energetic ‘Road To Madness’, the riff heavy and simple ‘Dead End Town’ and the up-tempo anthem ‘Freedom Song’ making sure the consistency is at an all time high. Finishing up the album is the slower paced ‘Legends Collapse’, which is as heavy as it is powerful, and the perfect song to bring ‘Earth Blues’ to a conclusion.
Spiritual Beggars’ early releases have earned plenty of critical acclaim from both fans and critics alike. But with their last few albums, the continual line-up changes and inconsistencies have weakened the band’s sound, which have in turn disappointed some fans. But with ‘Earth Blues’, not only has the band found the perfect line-up, they’ve managed to produce an absolute classic release. Simply put – fans of the band’s early output should check this out. It’s that good.

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© Justin Donnelly

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