Released: 2000, Music For Nations
Reviewer: Nathan Robinson
I didn’t bother renewing my subscription to Terrorizer magazine for three reasons: black metal, hardcore, and retro-rock. Hardcore basically sucks, and I’m not too big on black metal. As far as the retro movement goes, I’m just so sick of the whole boring, rehashed, Sabbath-worshipping, ‘70s flashback bullshit music and image. I discovered Spiritual Beggars after their first self-titled release, on the now-defunct Wrong Again Records, back before the whole retro movement became so big. And since then, in my opinion, no one has even come close to comparing in terms of musicianship and songwriting.
Most metalheads, including myself, have come to discover Spiritual Beggars because of guitarist Michael Amott. As you should know, he has done work with Carnage, Carcass, and currently carries an axe in Arch Enemy. And that is about as far as Spiritual Beggars’ semblance to metal goes. You see, this band is a guitar-heavy bluesy rock band, reminiscent of the ‘70s, yet original enough to stand out. Imagine a heavier version of Robin Trower. Spiritual Beggars’ songs are mid-paced to slow, relatively simple, but contain a wealth of feeling, groove, and a full, warm, heavy sound. I put emphasis on the word “heavy” because this is the essence of Spiritual Beggars. Think of latter day Cathedral with a vocalist that can not only sing, but do so in a down-to-earth manner. No “supersonic-nebulonic-space-ride-come-on-let-me-see-you-groove” bullshit lyrics. Ad Astra is an album that will make you grab that air guitar, bang your head, and sing along…and perhaps all at the same time! In the middle of summer, on a hot and humid day, what are you going to listen to? My Dying Bride? Obituary? Kreator? Hell no! I believe every type of music has a particular weather condition that best suits itself. This kind of bluesy heavy rock (call it “doom rock” or call it “stoner rock”…whatever…), like Kyuss for example, goes best with the summer sun and heat. So the time is ripe (at least for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere)!
And a couple things that you skeptics may want to hear: One, Spiritual Beggars has so far been a three-piece…just guitar, bass/vocals, and drums. But now there is a new member! Enter Per Wiberg on organ, mellotron, and other assorted instruments. But fear not, because Ad Astra is still a guitar-heavy album. The organs, etc., lie primarily in the background and are similar to those found the previous album Mantra III. In fact it was Per who provided his talent on back then also! Secondly, the production on Ad Astra is probably the heaviest yet, thanks to Fredrik Nordstrom. Actually, Fredrik worked with the band before, but Ad Astra sounds more similar to Arch Enemy that past albums do. This may be a welcome quality for most, however I prefer the slightly more primitive and natural sound on previous albums, especially on Another Way to Shine. But then again, it’s nice to hear this style of music sound so modern, as opposed to sounding like Paranoid or Physical Grafitti. The only things I feel are missing are the more experimental moments found on previous albums, like odd drum beats, vocal effects, backwards guitar, weird bass sounds…you know, the “trippy” stuff! I would have also liked to hear an extended jam like “Mushroom Tea Girl” on Matnra III. So perhaps this album is their most straightforward. In any case, it rocks! Michael’s brother Christopher even makes an appearance in one song, providing some slide guitar!
Ad Astra is Spiritual Beggars’ third full-length album, their fourth release overall if you count their self-titled debut. Fans of this band must pick this album up! And for those not familiar with Spiritual Beggars, I suggest you check them out, especially if you dig Cathedral and Kyuss. And you should also know that there’s a limited edition European digipak available that contains the bonus track “Let the Magic Talk”. Furthermore, there’s the Japanese version, which includes two bonus tracks: “Let the Magic Talk” and “It’s Over”. Both songs are along the same lines as the regular album tracks, which means they too rock! So it was worth paying the extra dollars in my opinion. In addition, the Japanese version contains lyrics, which the digipak does not. Check out the Spiritual Beggars web site: http://hem.passagen.se/beggars/index.html.
And by the way, if anyone out there can help me get the Japanese versions of any of Spiritual Beggars’ older albums, please drop me a line!