Thursday, June 25, 2015

Album Review: Spearfish - In the Meantime

Sometimes, through no intention of their own, a band happens to be an uncanny ringer of a more famous group. That can have its negatives; people will assume it was done for the sake of riding coattails, and they will forever be compared to the bigger group, much to their detriment. But there are also positives that come from such a situation. A band like that can also fill the gap, keeping a very particular sound alive when the original band either has abandoned it for something new, or just doesn't make records with enough regularity for their fans. In that case, having someone around to fill the void, even if they aren't quite as good as the original, is something absolutely worth the effort.

Spearfish is one of those bands that fits that bill, a power trio whose sound is remarkably reminiscent of mid-to-late era Rush. The guitar tone is the same, and the vocals are almost a dead ringer for Geddy Lee. It's enough that if I wasn't listening intently at first, it would have been very easy to believe this record came from Rush sometime just before "Snakes & Arrows".

The chord construction of the opener, "Quicksilver Linings", keeps that comparison right at the forefront. Those ringing notes feel like something Alex Liefson would play, but what makes the song work is that when the chorus comes along, there's enough melody there to elevate it from being a pastiche to being a good song on its own. There's a difference between being inspired by a band abd being a copycat, and Spearfish is able to stay on the right side of that, using a familiar sound to anchor their own well-written songs.

"Put Me Down, Diamond" has a bit more rock energy, including a recurring guitar melody that could have come off a Thin Lizzy record. The core of Spearfish's sound is still there, but you can hear that they aren't going to be a one-trick pony. "South" continues the string of solid tracks with huge chords, the first appearance of acoustic guitar for texture, and layered vocals in the chorus that help sell the hook. "Gazing At The Moon" ups the drama, with a piano figure that gives it a darker feeling, and then the best hook so far on the album. It shows that Spearfish is more than capable of writing those kinds of melodies that don't veer off into pop territory, but are able to stick with you even after you hear them once.

Smack dab in the middle of the record is an instrumental, "Ursus Polaris", which has some interesting bits of playing and new sounds, but doesn't do much for the record. It's nice to hear the bursts of keyboards, tribal drumming, and especially the heartfelt soloing, but the song does what most instrumentals do and forgets to have an anchor riff that is hooky and memorable. It's nearly eight minutes of very nice playing that doesn't feel like a complete song.

Thankfully, it's the only time I have to say that, as the second half of the record follows the intermission with another batch of songs that balance the shimmering chords and hooky choruses. Some of them lean a bit more towards the 80s with pronounces keyboards, like "Hawks Of War", but they never stray far from the core of Spearfish's sound.

By the time the record is over, I'm thinking that Spearfish has done something that is awfully hard to do; they've made a record that I can't help but constantly compare to Rush at every turn, and yet it's a record that I don't feel is hampered by that fact. It's obvious who the band's influence is, and the sound comes through in all aspects, but the core of Spearfish's songwriting is strong enough that I can overlook what might be considered a bit too much of a lack of originality. Rush doesn't release records very often anymore, so it's nice to have a band like Spearfish around to scratch that itch, especially if they're going to do it with albums that are as enjoyable as this. I don't know if it's going to grow and endure the way great records do, but it's a thoroughly enjoyable way to spend an hour.

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