Review Summary: Strap yourselves in stoner fans, because you’re in for one hell of a ride.
Formed by former Carcass and now Arch Enemy guitarist Michael Ammot, Spiritual Beggars is a band that takes the psychedelic infused hard rock of the 70’s and fuses it with the fuzzy, groove-heavy monolithic nature of contemporary stoner rock. I want to make it abundantly clear right now that this band holds a special place in my heart not only because of their sound but also because how loyal and consistent they remained to it. But they are also smart enough to not remain in one particular place as they always find new ways to explore every inch of their musical genre to make sure they remain energized and fresh.
The band’s pervious self-titled record, released in 1994 had already laid out everything the band build their musical core upon: the retro style, the catchy grooves, the crunchy rock riffs, the space-like trips that they can enter at any given moment. Not to mention a vocalist that really can give the band a unique identity. However what were raw ideas on the first record, are now a fully developed sound on the second one, as “Another Way to Shine” not only shows a confident band with no-hold-barred delivery but also sets up the musical standard from which they have yet to fall upon from.
It only takes about twenty seconds for this album to convince any fan of quality stoner/hard rock that they are at the right place, as “Magic Spell” conjures the listener with its heavy, instantly memorable and head-moving main riff. This song is quite simply one of the best songs in the bands entire catalog and a masterful exercise in well-done simplicity. The incredible rhythm between the guitars and the drums is palpable, the bass is juicy and mixes well with the other instruments. The guitar solos are both impressive yet tasteful never once crossing the lines of meaningless excess due to their melodic-driven nature. And of course the vocals. Christian Sjöstrand aka Spice is without a doubt one of the best singers in the stoner rock genre and his raspy yet powerful voice (very reminiscent to Kyuss’s John Garcia) shines not only in this songs but on the whole record as well. Just listen to the chorus of “Magic Spell” and you will get what I’m talking about.
In terms of musical structuring the album oscillates between the straightforward rockers (Magic Spell, Picking from The Box or the title track) and the looser, longer jams that trades the simple hooks for a more varied approach. But even so the band’s music cannot be easily boxed into certified categories, as they can easily transit between classic hard rock, to metallic sounding stoner to straight up 60’s psychedelia in just one song alone, thus creating a musical grey zone that mixes everything. A perfect example of this is “Misty Valley” that begins as an ordinary mid-tempo song with heavy Sabbath influences, becomes heavier and more doom-laden as it progresses, only to end with a spaced out wavering onslaught of feedback and effect-driven guitar solos.
One highpoint comes after another on this record. “Nowhere to Go” a pulsating trippy affair of slow crunching riffs and LSD, where even Spice’s voice has given a weird feedback sound but even that adds more to the song’s atmosphere. “Entering into Peace” and the closing track “Past the Sound of Whispers” are the songs where the band gets the closest to the blues-driven, tight-yet-loose, desert rock sound that Kyuss perfected and they do it without sounding like a cheap imitation. And those who want their dose of early Black Sabbath worship can visit “Sour Stains” which from start to finish really sounds like something Tony Iommi would have written in the 70’s.
There is simply no way one can overlook how accomplished the musicianship on this record. Michael Ammot’s guitar skills are fully displayed on nearly every song of this record, perfectly emulating every sound and musical approach he wants to pay tribute to and whenever it comes to the headbanging rhythms, the freehanded jamms, the Jimi Hendrix-inspired lead guitar parts his execution is flawless. It’s also a testament to his skill as a songwriter that the songs are all composed in a concentrated and strong yet diverse and creative way so that every track would have its own character. That my friends is not an easy thing to pull off, but it’s also the thing that makes the songs fresh-sounding. And keeping the replay value high as well.
“Another Way to Shine” is not only the perfect kickstarter to Spiritual Beggars’s amazingly consistent musical track record, but one of the best stoner rock albums of the 90’s and a perfect encapsulation that both the record and the band are something that deserves much more recognition. It may sound blasphemy but when it comes to his post-Carcass days, I rather associate Michael Amott with this project than Arch Enemy. In AE he often sounds being caged by the conventions of melodic death metal, here he always sounds somebody who find the perfect way to shine.