I have never been hugely into the sludge/stoner rock thing. Don’t let that statement upset you because I worship Sabbath and listen to them a great deal more than anyone else I know BUT that is just it; with a large amount of these bands you might as well bypass them and go straight to whichever era of Black Sabbath you are in the mood for. With that said though, I do love Corrosion of Conformity and have done ever since I was a snotty little 15-year-old metalhead. I have tried numerous times with Crowbar and it hasn’t clicked, ever! Fu Manchu, Kyuss, Orange Goblin… a few more names I have given a fair amount of air time to, still it doesn’t happen either. COC just seemed less one dimensional and had more going on that interested me.
Of course, I had heard of Spiritual Beggars. I mean, I love Carcass and the work of Michael Amott on six strings so I knew of his ’70s-style hard rock band. I just had no real desire to check them out, and so never did.
Something said to jump at the chance to review these four reissues though, and I am very glad that I did.
The recently re-activated and legendary label Music For Nations put out albums 2,3,4 and 5 between the years of 1996 and 2002 and have chosen to carry on their recent (and amazing) trend of getting together artists from its past roster and re-packaging, re-mastering and re-releasing some incredible, and important pieces of rock and metal history. Therefore, “Another Way to Shine”, “Mantra III”, “Ad Astra” and “On Fire” are all getting the treatment.
So, I figured the best way to come into this was start with the self-titled début, to get some perspective on a band I knew nothing about on a musical level. I spent a couple of days with the first album and enjoyed it. Then it was down to business. “Another Way to Shine” [8.0] is the sound of a band desperate not to repeat themselves, but to be honest, when it sounds as good as the début did, why not? It swaggers and stomps and front man Spice, is a star on the mic. His John Garcia like wail, perfect for the vibe going on here. A very accomplished step forward, all the fun of the début, with a bit more panache.
“Mantra III” [6.5] is solid, BUT isn’t quite hitting the heights of its predecessor. This time around the band had bolstered their ranks with what a lot of great retro rock bands should probably have, keyboards, in the vein of a B3 hammond organ player, Per Wiberg. The Deep Purple worship cannot be complete without it really, can it? Obvious highlight is ‘Euphoria’, but there are numerous others. The thing is that the group seem to have a bit of an identity crisis here and can’t really decide what direction to settle on and the quality is affected a little.
Now then, with the difficult third record curse out of the way, onto “Ad Astra” [9.0] and what an absolute triumph. The production and mix are upped a notch or two, the songs manage to be even more cocky, self-assured and have more swagger than Mick Jagger, Axl Rose and Steven Tyler put together, yes, they’re THAT fucking huge! There’s more lead playing this time around which is what Amott should be doing anyway and the keyboards are way more to the forefront and would make the late, great Jon Lord proud. The wonderful thing about “Ad Astra” is it’s as if Spice knew it was to be his last record with the group, he totally nails everything he attempts here. ‘Wonderful World’, ‘Angel of Betrayal’ and ‘Escaping the Fools’ are all highlights in a collection of wonderful songs and moments. The latter is more Sabbath then Sabbath, fantastic stuff.
So this is where the vocalist switch happened and that usually doesn’t bode well if you have done well with your previous singer. Let me tell you, with “On Fire” [8.5], what they did was very clever, whether it was intentional or not is another matter altogether. Instead of continuing down the same path that worked so well with Spice, the band deviated a little bit. Still on the retro-tip, but just lightened up and took more influence from the oft-underrated Mk III version of Deep Purple and early Whitesnake. Both acts of course fronted by the legend that is David Coverdale. Now, I am pretty sure this may have come about because new singer Janne Christofferson has a more than a passing similarity to old Cov. The Swedish, as a nation, have always had a rep for being master copyists but the Beggars do so in a manner that isn’t off-putting at all, quite the contrary, it’s endearing.