Thursday, March 24, 2016
Album Review: Spiritual Beggars - Sunrise To Sundown
There was a time not too long ago that it seemed you couldn't go more than a few months without hearing a new album featuring the vocals of Apollo Papathanasio. He was everywhere, and while Firewind was at their best, he was unfortunately wasted in many bands that seemed to be wasting his talents. Circumstances changed, and he has all but disappeared. Now, the only place I know to find him is here with Spiritual Beggars, the band led by the workaholic Michael Amott, who only takes a break from the relentless touring schedule of Arch Enemy so he can work with his other project.
Spiritual Beggars is supposed to be a fun time, a group of musicians getting together to blow off some steam and play the kind of dirty rock and roll they grew up listening to. Over the years, what I've heard from them has been exactly that, but with the caveat that it sounded like something done as a lark, and not as a main creative focus. Take the title track that opens the album, for example. It finds a simple groove, and then rides it for three minutes. Similarly, "Diamond Under Pressure" finds an organ riff it likes, and then churns through it without letting Apollo find much in the way of a melody. It's enjoyable, but it does give the impression that the album was put together from the first idea everyone had.
That's what I find disappointing about this album. While the band does come up with some nice riffs and grooves, they don't use them as the cornerstone for interesting songs. They're all one riff affairs, where everything follows the main line too closely, and the talent of the players is wasted on parts that aren't allowed to do what they're best at. I think I can pinpoint the problem, which is that outside of Amott, who has spent twenty years playing death metal, the other members of the band aren't talented songwriters. Apollo, in particular, has never impressed me when he didn't have an entire band of songwriters there to help him. He's a great voice, but nto a great writer.
So what happens is that "Sunrise To Sundown" begins to feel like a bluesy death metal album that has had the death metal sanitized out of it. The song constructions, particularly in the vocals, is right out of the playbook of simple rhythms that a growler would have to follow. It simply isn't interesting enough to work in a band that isn't focused on pure throat-ripping brutality. The songs sound flat in the writing, and in the soupy, dirty production. Instead of sounding raw, the guitars sound broken, and never heavy.
I was hoping that this time would be when Spiritual Beggars finally hit the mark for me. They've had songs before that I've enjoyed, but they never carry it out to full records. They're one of those bands that sounds like a side project, and if you know what I mean, I don't need to say any more.