Spell are an enigmatic power trio from Vancouver, Canada and they consist of Cam Mesmer (lead vocals/bass) Graham McVie (guitars/backing vocals) and Lester Spectre (drums/backing vocals). I use the word enigmatic because I am struggling to decipher just what it is I’m listening to. This would appear to be the desired effect according to Mesmer ‘I believe there is just as much value in mystifying, shrouding, cyphering’, he goes onto to state that the truth is ‘that which you arrive at yourself’ and for the ‘listener to take what they want from it’.
Opulent Decay, both with its Lovecraftian style cover art and title would make you think this was a mid-90’s Morbid Angel album, or even Malevolent Creation circa Retribution/Stillborn. Any death metal fan would be in for quite a shock if they were to pick this up expecting blast beats and gruff vocals.
Looking at the tags at the bottom of the Bandcamp profile I see doom metal, psych, progressive rock and hard rock listed and even these feel somehow inadequate to describe the music on offer. It’s a curious mix of tripped out progressive metal (King Crimson and Rush) and 80’s bombastic influences such as Judas Priest and the Scorpions.
The music does have a definite doom aura but it’s hardly Saint Vitus, there is a lot of experimentation with songs veering into melodic Wishbone Ash and Thin Lizzy territory, in fact the influence of the latter is definitely evident on the track Dawn Wanderer. Ataraxia is the shortest track on the album and originates from a Greek Philosophical term denoting a lucid state of robust equanimity characterised by ongoing freedom from distress and worry. Listening to the harmonic vocals and gentle folk like strumming, that’s the effect I get from it. This sets us up nicely for the next track Imprisoned By Shadows which is possibly one of the heavier tracks that makes you think of early Judas Priest Sin After Sin era.
there is a lot of experimentation with songs veering into melodic Wishbone Ash and Thin Lizzy territory…
There is a definite horror inspired vibe about the band, which like contemporaries Lucifer, suggests they have a connection to the somewhat ludicrously named genre of ‘occult rock’. A genre that has its roots in the early 70s and focussed on acid/hard rock bands ala Coven and Black Widow who had an interest in the occult. Modern day equivalents would be Blood Ceremony, The Devil’s Blood and er…Ghost (alas).
The band recalls these outfits in places and there is a big emphasis on melody both musically and vocally. The songs are beautifully and meticulously crafted, and this is, if you like, the antithesis to say garage-rock or punk, which has a far more spontaneous approach in ethos as well as musically, hell, even Sabbath recorded their self-titled debut in 3 days. One cannot imagine Spell simply turning up to the studio, banging out the tunes and then exiting the next morning to get down to the pub.
As a massive Darkthrone fan I spotted that the mighty Fenriz had included Spell’s previous album For None And All in his top 15 albums of the year for 2016, which has inspired me to investigate that record as well. This brings me to the conclusion of this review. If there is any criticism, it’s that it’s not an easy album to listen to, it’s not particularly heavy, its melodic, sometimes overwhelmingly so, and its progressive nature sometimes makes it hard to engage with. It requires a good couple of listens to fully get your head round it but it’s definitely worth it in the end.
Scribed by: Reza Mills