Ronnie James Dio. Rick Wakeman. Ritchie Blackmore. None of these musicians have anything to do with this album, but I’d forgive you if you thought otherwise. Such is the way they’ve channeled their influences that “Retro-Rock” just doesn’t cut it; they’re time travelers delivering music once forgotten to the mistress of time. You can almost hear the flares on the frontman’s sequinned trousers tapping along to the drum beat, and they all work so well together towards this end it’s easy to forget it’s actually a super-group of musicians better known for other projects. With Sharlee D’Angelo and Michael Amott handling bass and guitar respectively [Arch Enemy]; Per Wiburg [ex-Opeth] delivering the keys; Ludwig Witt [Grand Magus] on the drumming duties; and Apollo Papathanasio [Firewind] ensuring there’s something to sing along to, they handily manage to avoid the ‘supergroup trap’ of the sum not equating to the talent in the individual parts. Quite frankly if they decided to make Spiritual Beggars their main project I wouldn’t be complaining about it.
They’ve always retained something of a Retro-Rock feel to their work (the project intended partly as an homage to their own early musical influences), but it’s only since their last album that it felt this vision took centre stage. Their previous work still retains stellar to listen to, but it leaned on Bluesy Stoner Rock style more akin to Clutch, but with with the addition of Papathanasio in 2010 their vision suddenly seemed all the more renewed and refined. And whilst retreading the classics isn’t anything new, the sheer accuracy and attention to detail here is beyond what I’ve found elsewhere; it’s less an attempt to write modern music in a classic style as it is a complete return to that period in time. The production retains that raw, live feel of the late 70’s with all the tracks recorded with every band member playing one long take—no “tracking the instruments individually” or breaks between sections to “get it perfect”; there’s the pacing and Deep Purple’s love of organs; soaring Dio-esque lines; and solos straight from the Michael Schenker playbook—it’s all here in spades and it’s glorious to listen to. To think of it is as some Retro-Rock act is doing it a disservice. This sounds less like a re-imagining of the Classic Rock era as it does a collection of those artist’s lost work.
Yet, their greatest strength is also their greatest weakness, because they don’t compare to modern bands. They compare to the classics. I keep being reminded of tracks like Scorpion’s “Rock You Like A Hurricane”, Dio’s “Last in Line”, Deep Purple’s “Woman from Tokyo—there’s even a Beatles-esque psychedelic moment; music that remains popular forty years since the date is was written, and music that will ultimately still outlive the work here. It’s lacking a certain sense of power; that excitement, creativity and urgency found in the music busy breaking boundaries, and the aura of fun they had doing it. Perhaps it’s simply the curse of all those that look back. Like those ridiculously life-like robots now emerging, it walks the walk and talks the talk, yet there’s something almost impossible to put into words that just seems out of place. Spiritual Beggars have probably come as close to anyone as recapturing the lightning in a bottle that first struck 40 years ago, but with the train of nostalgia only going so far, perhaps its greatest gift is in reminding us all that there still remains a plethora of classic work most modern music fans have yet to explore.
Release date: 04-04-2016
Reviewer: Thomas Bawden