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Thursday, April 24, 2008

CD Review: Spiritual Beggars - S/T reissue

Spiritual Beggars - S/T resissue
2008 Regain Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Most people know Mike Amott strictly as one of the twin terror axe slingers for metal juggernauts Arch Enemy, while a lot of people recall Amott's time amongst death metal legends Carcass in the band's waning years. What many probably do not know is that Amott formed a stoner rock (though the tag hadn't been invented at the time) trio in Sweden known as Spiritual Beggars.

The year is 1994. North American audiences had jumped on board the Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden train, leaving behind the heavy metal depots they'd previously crashed at for awhile. As grunge, hip hop and alt rock became an escalating status quo in the confused and disaffected American territories, the reinterpetive birth of a sludge rock underground was under way. Kyuss were considered the acknowledged forerunners already on their third album Welcome to Sky Valley, while Clutch, the ambassador poster children for the downtuned vibe were still putting together their act following two albums including 1994's Passive Restraints. Their seminal Elephant Riders album was still four years coming. Of course, Fu Manchu was just getting started the same year with their bombastic and fuzzy debut No One Rides For Free. Other bands like Acid King, The Obsessed, Orange Goblin and of course The Melvins were likewise turning the apathetic rock underground on its ass by taking what Redd Kross had initiated one step further.

Mike Amott, Ludwig Witt and Spice were apparently keying in to the primarily California-based buzz bombs that would be labeled stoner rock once hazy and sonically-abusive acts like Weedeater and Bongzilla entered the scene. To think of a death metal guitarist literally stepping as far to the left as possible from his core existence is probably preposterous to some, but undoubtedly what Amott and his cohorts in Spiritual Beggars have accomplished on the side over the years is something special. When you take a skilled and proficient technical guitarist then have him strip down and hunt for grooves while displaying only hints of his inherent flash, then you've got something to talk about.

Not that Carcass or Arch Enemy are to be downplayed. Certainly Mike Amott knows where his bread and butter lies, however for his true rocker's soul, it's crystal clear the Spiritual Beggars is his joyful outlet. Re-released for the second time, the self-titled Spiritual Beggars album from 1994 is making its way again through demand and back orders from newly-ordained Arch Enemy fans as well as the sludge underground seeking out one of the real artifact gems of the style.

With no doubt, Amott and his brothers in distortion dial in and amp up on Spiritual Beggars. Though the band would later add keyboardist Per Wilberg, the base element to their sound is a Blue Cheer (and occasionally Hendrix)-driven rockfest filled with mega riffs, bluesy note yanks and a psychedelic boom that, in retrospect, can be given its fair share of credit with Kyuss, Fu Manchu and Clutch as a pioneer in the evolution of stoner rock.

In some ways Spiritual Beggars are a shade more talented, largely due to Mike Amott's pedigree. Undoubtedly his death metal extractions taught him how to dance all over a fretboard, and on Spiritual Beggars he naturally reveals his expertise. The difference maker, however, is Amott's discipline to completely dispel with all theories of conceptual metal and let rock instinct be his guide.

That's the biggest compliment one can pay Spiritual Beggars, the fact that it just rocks. Never once does this album fail to bounce atop its banging grooves and massive fills, pinpointing "Yearly Dying," "Pelekas," "The Space Between" and "Under Silence," the latter song giving early hint to what Clutch would ultimately develop into "The Soapmakers" on The Elephant Riders. Even the slower-paced nine-minute "Magnificent Obsession" keeps on top of its game courtesy of Amott's swoony, translucent and note-happy guitar work.

As before, this second reissue of Spiritual Beggars boasts four bonus tracks and by no means are they filler. "Blind Mountain" chugs and blares like a lost Leslie West cut while "Nowhere to Go" and "Sour Stains" stomp along at mid-tempo with some huge riffing and psychedelic soloing.

If sludge and stoner is your bag and Spiritual Beggars isn't already on your shelf, consider this one mandatory. If you're coming to this album expecting another "We Will Rise," then, well...

Rating: ****1/2


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cjk_44 said...

lovely spam.

spun the Spiritual Beggars' s/t disc today as i was driving to an out-of-the-office commitment.

i guess i still prefer "Ad Astra" over the self-titled disc. but the s/t disc is still pretty damn good.

Ray, thanks for the reminder.

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