Album of the Week 27-2013: Spiritual Beggars – Earth Blues

On this second album with former Firewind singer Apollo Papathanasio, Spiritual Beggars finally did the right thing and shed most of the edge that betrays the (extreme) Metal roots of most of its members. As much as I liked their music before, some of the low E-string chugging of Michael Amott sounded somewhat out of place with the band’s retro Rock approach. With a more organic guitar sound than ever before, a distinct live feel and lots of room for Per Wiberg’s fantastic old school keyboard work, ‘Earth Blues’ is a Rock record first and foremost. Heavy Rock, but Rock nonetheless.

Since I thought this album’s direct predecessor ‘Return To Zero’ was decent at best, I wasn’t expecting ‘Earth Blues’ to be this good. Sure, all the musicians are experts of their instruments and Papathanasio is a very capable Bluesrock singer, but ‘Return To Zero’ had nowhere near the amount of memorable passages this album has. Papathanasio gives us a passionate performance reminiscent of David Coverdale’s earliest days, Amott’s riffwork takes place mainly on the higher regions of his fretboard and Ludwig Witt’s rhythms have a swing that many Metal drummers should envy. Even more importantly: the songs are well-written and invite to give them another spin.

What makes albums like ‘Earth Blues’ such a delight to listen to in general is the love of the original music displayed by the musicians. ‘Earth Blues’ is a perfect example of this sense of late sixties, early seventies euphoria. Spiritual Beggars isn’t a simple soundalike though. Sure, the influence of Deep Purple, Uriah Heep, Black Sabbath and Rainbow is more than obvious and if you like those bands, you should most certainly give ‘Earth Blues’ a listen, but the band puts its own spin on those influences with great success.

Many Rock and Metal records these days are pretty much frontloaded with the good stuff. ‘Earth Blues’ luckily is an exception. ‘Wise As A Serpent’ and ‘Turn The Tide’ are great songs to open the album with in the sense that they represent the band’s music in an accessible manner, but the best stuff comes later. Like the quasi-psychedelic middle section of ‘Sweet Magic Pain’, the amazing cover of Bobby Bland’s ‘Dreamer’, ‘Kingmaker’, which has an intro strongly reminiscent of Uriah Heep’s ‘Gypsy’, Witt’s awesome percussion work on ‘Too Old To Die Young’ and the fantastic closing epic ‘Legends Collapse’. Other highlights include ‘Hello Sorrow’, ‘Dead End Town’ and the relatively heavy ‘Freedom Song’ and ‘One Man’s Curse’.

Despite always having liked the band’s retro sound, I have to say that they hadn’t yet released an album as fantastic as ‘Earth Blues’. And my first impression of the album wasn’t even that good, but it grew on me quite quickly. A well-written album with a fantastic production. If you get the limited edition, you’ll get a bonus disc with the band’s gig on Loud Park 2010, proving once and for all that Apollo Papathanasio has a fantastic voice perfectly suited for this kind of music. I have always loved his voice, but I do think this kind of Rock works better for him. I sometimes hear people complain there aren’t any truly good Rock albums anymore. ‘Earth Blues’ definitely proves them wrong.

Recommended tracks: ‘Legends Collapse’, ‘Hello Sorrow’, ‘Kingmaker’, ‘Freedom Song’, ‘One Man’s Curse’

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