Nostalgia – it’s great, but only when the experience of the original was a good one. And it’s even better, as in this case, when you no longer have the originals and haven’t listened to them in a while as a result.
Formed in 1993 by Michael Amott following his departure from Carcass, Spiritual Beggars were (and still are) a huge departure from the style of his former band, as well as some other band he’s in called Arch Enemy (yes, tongue is in cheek there). Channelling the vibe of early Sabbath, stoner/doom was the order of the day and it was delivered in spades.
This remastered set of albums from Music for Nations covers albums number 2 to 5 and is part of a set of reissues following the very welcome return of Music for Nations. The chances are that if you grew up in the 80s/90s then you got several albums as a result of this label….I’m getting all teary-eyed as I reminisce. But back to the band…..
First up is 1996’s Another Way to Shine. I loved this album at the time it was released and with opener “Magic Spell” I remember why. Simply put – the song rocks, and this continues with “Blind Mountain” and the slightly psychedelic “Misty Valley”. A brilliant 3-song opening salvo that grabs you right in – felt great hearing those again.
That’s not to say that the rest of the album doesn’t deliver – “Picking from the box” and “Entering into peace” are further standout tracks, but don’t quite hit the earlier peak. The thing is though – there may be some slightly dull moments, but it’s still a great album to this day. A good starting point if you’ve never heard the band before.
However Mantra III, released in 1998, is a much better starting point as it hits you straight over the head and doesn’t let up at all apart from just one point. “Homage to the Betrayed” gets things going and immediately it’s obvious that the heaviness of this album has been upped from its predecessor. “Euphoria”, “Broken Morning” and “Lack of Prozac” proceed to kick you while you are down from that initial smack.
That ‘apart from one point’ I mentioned earlier – it’s called “Superbossanova” and if you’ve been waiting for a breather from the energy of the first half of the album then this is your chance. It’s a short funky & jazzy instrumental and coming straight after “Lack of Prozac” it is needed. The funkiness conntinues with “Bad Karma” and then “Send me a smile”, which brings the keyboards fully into the mix for a fantastic duel with Amott’s guitar – think Deep Purple and you’re not far off at all.
Now, for me, those last 2 songs lead into the standout track on the album – “Inside Charmer” doesn’t immediately sound like it’s going to grab you, sounding somewhat somewhat Santana-esque, but after 30 seconds or so the band kick in and then it’s back to the vibe of the intro. This is a trippy affair switching back and forth between two styles, and deserves a second listen as soon as you can after the first. Love it. The closing track, from the original album release, “Mushroom Tea Girl” is another song which brings a trippy vibe to the mix. Midway through there is a cool keyboard/guitar jam, before returning to the main riff. That song doesn’t close this version of the album though as there are 3 bonus tracks included: “The band is playing”, “Redwood blues” and an alternative mix of “Euphoria”.
And so we arrive at Ad Astra which, in my humble opinion, is the peak of the powers of this band. Everything seems to work on this album – the music is bang on and the vocals (delivered by departing vocalist Christian ‘Spice’ Sjöstrand) are top notch. However, it’s the more concise nature of the songs that nails things here – the jamming evident on previous albums is pretty much gone. There are forays into longer songs, but the majority of the album consists of tracks that are in the 4 minute
I’m not going to call out any specific songs from this album at all as everything works, everything stands out – it’s nigh on being perfect. Please…if you’ve never listened to the band then please do not get this album as your first. Instead go for one of the earlier releases and build up to this one – it’s worth the wait.
On Fire, released in 2002, saw vocal duties taken over by JB Christoffersson and a sterling job he does too. Additionally I love the keyboard work on here, with a very strong Deep Purple influence at some points. A good album, but not great, this one opens with 3 really strong songs but then we hit “Fools Gold” & “Black Feathers” and momentum is lost. Not bad songs by any means but the position of them on the album doesn’t work. Don’t get me wrong – overall the album is good but the song order lets things down and stop it from being a great album. It’s a a slight niggle.
In closing, Spiritual Beggars deserve your attention and these 4 reissues are a great way to get it. Music for Nations have done a brilliant job with these reissues, with each available on coloured vinyl, with each package also including a CD copy. Welcome back.