Review: Spiritual Beggars — Sunrise to Sundown
“There’s a better road ahead, so c’mon!”
Just three years ago, Spiritual Beggars was a hibernating beast waiting for its time to come. Dripping poisonous fumes from its multi-colored mouth, the band re-awakened and conjured new psychedelic and melodic sounds with Sunrise to Sundown, released this year.
Today the band, commanded by the prolific Michael Amott, creates fine slices of carefully crafted songs with traditional analog production and uncompromising retro attitude. But they are retro in attitude only, because Sunrise to Sundown is a completely contemporary album with original additions to the band’s catalogue. In their latest product, the warm artwork of Costin Chioureanu provides a high fidelity comparison to the overall feelings of the music: sometimes touching the borders of hard rocking adrenaline with spaced song structures or dealing with touching subjects in slow segments of vulnerable textures.
In comparison to the previous Beggars records, Per Wilberg’s (Kamchatka, ex-Opeth) organs and keyboard magic are high in the mix, enveloping the other instruments like an ever-expansive forest. The traditional Hammond organ covers the spaces of the one-dimensional strings section, serving as a counterpart for the riffing or even accompanying the rhythm at the same time, similar to Jon Lord or Ray Manzarek’s legendary work. Wilberg’s role in Sunrise to Sundown is probably a high point in his career, showing the versatility of a musician trusting his instruments in an often formulaic genre and pushing himself to move the solid foundation of the band.
“Sunrise to Sundown,” “Diamond Under Pressure,” “Hard Road,” “Still Hunter,” and “You’ve Been Fooled” may be the safest singles the band has released, but you still cannot deny the hard-rocking swagger they have beneath the verses and the uplifting choruses. I can assure to you that Apollo Papathanasio’s (ex-Firewind, ex-Evil Masquerade) vocals are in their prime; the guy can croon, soft spoken between the words, or scream out his lungs without losing key or momentum. Apollo can go from a David Coverdale blues-y beat to a powerful operatic Dio powerhouse scream; his style suits the music in a positive manner, and he uses his voice with passion to enhance the songs and each concept behind them.
Aside from the spectacular vocal department display, Michael Amott’s (Arch Enemy, ex-Carcass, ex-Carnage) infectious riffs are still the blood that drives the Beggars beast’s rampant periods of activity, and the spot-on vibrant soloing is still the roaring menace they employ to express their traditional sound in the bustling crowds. “What Doesn’t Kill You” and “Dark Light Child” are outlier tracks in which the band goes pedal-to-the-metal with Papathanasio’s vocals in tandem with Amott’s exquisite riffs and solos, provided by his majestic, colorful middle range usage of pedals. Steffan Karlsson’s production leaves space for the band to have fun with, and Michael and his boys clearly took advantage of the crystal clear mixing to play with the dynamics.
Casting aside the immediate punches in Sunrise to Sundown, the slower songs are the ones that take more time to get used to but are probably more rewarding. The band remembers the sentiments of the first Black Sabbath era and their own first records, directed towards more psychedelic segments, with cuts like “No Man’s Land,” which sports a beautiful Beatles-esque interlude; “I Turn to Stone,” their stoner rock soundtrack to hell; “Lonely Freedom,” a killer groove jam provided by a giant Sharlee D’Angelo bass (Arch Enemy, ex-Mercyful Fate); or the marvelous “Southern Star,” analogous to their other closing epics “Mantra” (From Ad Astra) or “Lonely Road” (From Earth Blues). All these songs explode in different spheres of their personal palette and the melodic metal paradigms with adventurous might.
Ludwig Witt’s (Firebird, Grand Magus) drumming is tribal and intense, conjuring the perfect mixing of his instrument recordings and developing his own trademark; aided by Sharlee mountain moving range in the bass, I can safely assure the win of a rhythmic section cemented with professionalism and fury.
Of course the album is not without flaws. Previous records like Earth Blues and On Fire have tracks that can be compared extensively with some of those presented in Sunrise to Sundown. For fans like me, this is not a problem; but the rehashing of some rhythmic marks or some chord progression can tap some similarities to some with their preceding hits like “Beneath the Skin,” “Dreamer” or “Wise as a Serpent,” for example.
On the other side, if you enjoy the tiny bits of details the band left behind on the linear path of the record, you will definitely enjoy this one and be like me, listening to this to ease my need for melodies. Push aside the blogosphere;s idle comparisons to Deep Purple or Rainbow; this record will provide numerous entrances to the band’s already killer live set-lists.
To finish my lines, in an objective moment of madness (and to back up Dubs’ opinion towards this release), this deserves 4 flaming toilets out of 5 because of the slick presentation, but, in my narrow-minded perspective, this is right now my favorite release of the year.
Sunrise to Sundown is out via InsideOut Music and is also available on Spotify, iTunes and Amazon. A 7″ of two covers is also out from the German label H42 Records; check it out, because the Mountain cover rules. You can find Spiritual Beggars on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. If you ever contact with the band (or with Michael Amott) tell him that his elfic fan from the Venezuelan Toilet ov Hell division says hello!
Cover art made by Costin Chioraneu. Photo: VIA.