If you want to you can shortcut reading the rest of this rambling post, and simply take it from me that The Whisperer from Spires is the most beautiful and overall amazing progressive metal album you’re going to hear this year!! Epic is an oft overused word these days, but not by me, and this truly is an epic album! Simply spend £6+ for the digital download and have your ears (and possibly your musical horizons) expanded.
If you’re still reading, I will openly admit that I’m a huge Spires fan, so clearly any claimed objectivity is underpinned by huge subjectivity. I discovered them by way of my friend @LennyLaw, who’d heard a track from their debut album played on Radio 6 and said I’d probably like them given my love of Opeth and similar bands. He wasn’t wrong and, whilst clearly I’m not going to attempt to diminish Opeth’s global mega-metal-stardom, I love Spires even more since, put simply, they’re even better!
I think it’s fair to say that the fundamental anchor point of Spires is progressive death metal, in as much as they at times use growled lyrics and blast beats, but they self-declare as simply progressive metal. What is important is that this is music with huge dynamic range, and that’s what’s always key to me. No standard song structures here! Quiet to loud; slow to fast; growled to clean lyrics; brutally heavy to light and dainty; multiple achingly beautiful complex solos; and all in the one song. This is the sort of stuff that’s only possible with talented musicians at the top of the technical scale, and Spires are that!
I played their debut album, Spiral of Ascension, to death and if only the CD player in the Vee could scrobble you’d see the impact of me listening to the same album on repeat for about 6 months whenever I was driving. Amongst that album probably Broken Hourglass got the most plays, with its guitar solo at the end being enough to make me feel like giving up pretending I can play guitar!
A while later they brought out a great acoustic EP, Lucid Abstractions, that broadened their sound and that I naturally bought, along with a band T-shirt which is pretty rare for me! I’d worn that T-shirt to various other bands’ gigs, but didn’t think it likely I’d get to wear it to a Spires gig since they’re Manchester based and most of their mini-tours haven’t made it down to the south coast. However, I felt very lucky when they announced they were playing The Face Bar in Reading in September 2013, and so of course I was there along with son#1. It was a great night of music from various bands including Mark Their Silence and Collibus, naturally finished off with an awesome set from Spires! Great kebab afterwards too!
Between then and now, there’s been a bit of change in the band. Sadly just as they began to record their second full album, original guitarist Paul Cuthbert decided to leave the band, courtesy of a move down south and to concentrate more on family life. That Paul (since the vocalist, guitarist, producer and band founder is Paul Sadler) was replaced ably by a new recruit, Richard Corrie. Also, as is the vogue currently, to help finish off the new album there was a Kickstarter campaign run by the band to support mastering and pressing. I enjoy funding things on Kickstarter anyhow, but clearly this was a no brainer for me … “Limited edition 6 panel digipak first issue of the album, including exclusive artwork, and 6 page lyric booklet. SIGNED BY THE BAND (!), Plus T-shirt featuring the album artwork.” = sorted!
The Whisperer was released on Monday 10th November, and I was itching to get my hands on it!
As is the aim with sophomore albums, Spires have moved onwards and upward. The songs are bigger and the instrumentation broader and bolder. The Whisperer builds from Spiral of Ascension, but also Lucid Abstractions with strings and piano and some female vocals. It’s got a beautiful melancholy about it, and regularly has me eyes-closed in awe of how moving it is (to me). The seven tracks vary between 2 minutes 43 seconds and a whopping 20 minutes 57 seconds. This is adult music!
I’m not going to go through each track, but here’s a bit of a feel of things. The opener, Ethereal Organisms, starts with beautiful deep cello before being joined by acoustic guitar and then violin with a mournful eastern European vibe, and then we’re off, building into an increasingly heavy track of the sort you might expect from a progressive metal band. Then at halfway you’re suddenly into complex clean interweaving guitar lines underpinned by great bass lines and subtle drums, the strings return, and then just like that we’re back into the world of heavy again! Track 3, Surrogate, is gorgeous classical guitar which builds to when the strings come in to wind around that guitar with more European sadness. Straight off the back of that, the awesome Primal Revelation opens with a scream of feedback, double bass drum pedals pounding away and a growl of lyrics, then around 2 and half minutes in it’s like the “stoner metal” pedal has been hit, everything slows down to a wonderful bending crawl before a simply gorgeous whammy-bend-ladened solo leads into a dainty minute of calm. Then we’re off again into left and right and left again screaming metal solos, finishing with a rising growl! Track 6, Elsewhere, wouldn’t be out of place on a 70s’ prog rock record from somebody like Gentle Giant! Building from vocal harmonies, you get intertwined acoustic guitar parts, then piano, then the strings build, the vocals harmonies return, ending in a fade out to lapping water. And finally to my second use of E-word in this post – the title track The Whisperer. Take all the light and shade we’ve seen across the album, and put it into almost 21 minutes of epicness! To add to everything there’s a nice bit of a djent tone in the tail end too with some 7-string guitar layered with bass showing through I reckon. Tracks at this length are a bit difficult to play on repeat, but I’ve found myself doing just that!
And there you have it! My first ever “serious” album review. Hopefully other similarly rave reviews will follow from reviewers who actually matter, and I’ll naturally be looking out for others’ opinions, but ultimately I don’t care! I absolutely love this album! The only sad thing to report is that the mini-tour that Spires are supporting the release with doesn’t get any further south than Brum!