Spell – Opulent Decay (2020)REVIEW

The awakening comes in its first wave due to an intensifying need for salt. Food becomes increasingly flavorless, the palate pickled and desensitized by the need to pour. Gout and howling inbred kin restrain the belted bulge with general gastrointestinal malaise enough that rotting piles build beyond the walls; Without consumption the intensifying stench resultant is far worse than the usual sluice of oily diarrhea of the elite we’ve grown accustomed — A freshly grotesque molder bears a cadaverous waft, strong enough to reach the wide-open casements of luxury’s view and snap them shut. Even those who’d inherited their flag atop the mountains can no longer ignore the cesspool their greed creates in wake: Blood, spoiled food, distended sewers, and the smoke of burning trash to warm the poor. Inequality only ever eased by way of violence against those with shallow capacity for guilt, and one breath of fresh air is all either side needs to ease, yet no breath comes when heartless generations persist. If a dream is a window to reality observed and clarified by the subconscious then, by divining their resting lucidity Vancouver, British Colombia heavy metal/psychedelic rock trio Spell craft timely, pressing parable from the nightmare of all waking hours today. ‘Opulent Decay’ might be remembered as a meaningful leap forth in sonic quality, performance and general distinction for the Canadian heavy metal trio though the true power of its experience lies in conveyance of what consequence lies in wait for humanity untouched by empathy.

The third album from any persistent enough band is typically split between two eventualities: Peak refinement of core ethos or alternately, a ‘last gasp’ of original identity due to shifting partnerships, interests, etc. and the moment a young band have grown out of their naïveté a true maturity comes less frequently than disagreement and insular strife. None of this applies to Spell, a trio of friends who’d gotten their start a lifetime ago in the Ontario-bound feelin’ of Stryker (see: ‘Possessed by Heavy Metal‘, 2012) a true metal gig with a Blackie Lawless worthy howl who’d quickly begin to discover their potential in creation of melodic heavy metal, the scene wasn’t moving as fast as their tastes were shifting and Spell would be the answer by the end of 2013. From that point on it’d be natural to see the trio’s transformation more or less in line with their further east cousins Cauldron, though I’d suggest each band angled their gib toward different shores in the long run. The Full Moon Sessions‘ (2014) was pure heavy metal gold for my taste, a speed metal-smooched wailer that is perhaps noisome and fraught with youthful metal zealotry in hindsight but a record that’d struck me as special back in the day. As many would note it was the imaginative psychedelic fringes expressed, those melodic gushes from vocalist/bassist Cam Mesmer would provide foreshadowing for their unique expansion over time. ‘For None and All‘ (2016) was essentially the ‘shit or get off the pot moment’ where it was clear there was a melodic rockin’, 70’s metal band brewing within and (without belaboring the point) it was clearly time for the vocals to evolve to meet their then already astounding songwriting prowess. ‘Opulent Decay’ took just over three years to finally land and take that next step beyond but it takes that step bravely and capably nonetheless.

You’ve got your special edition copy of ‘Sister‘ on the wall, your pre-order of ‘New Gods‘ prominently displayed and yet the next step, that next thing that’ll satisfy would appear unthinkable until ‘Opulent Decay’ arrives. If gloomy and melodic heavy rock powered by the spirit of late 70’s heavy metal has a ship-launching face in 2020 it is Spell‘s latest moon-eyed visage, an almost too righteous n’ breathy record with nothing but catchy-as-Hell tunes front to back, that will sate. So, if all you’re after is the right style and you needn’t dig any deeper than that, this’ll no doubt be an underrated but joyous jewel in your record collecting crown. But if you dug a mile deep into it, could there be something life affirming, or even life changing therein? No doubt firing up the third Spell record will strike most folks with a plain enough observation, they’ve gone full-on rock with a sound described as their own direction, a distinct brand of “hypnotizing heavy metal” with some clear nods to 70’s, 80’s and current new wave insurgencies informing a purely memorable and oft mellowed experience. “So… Its soft, right?” That’ll have to be the right way to say it, this isn’t a macho chest-beaten record and probably far, far more sincere than most NWOTHM records that’ve come out these last five years because of it. The value lies in a beautifully designed sound, performed with liquid ease and featuring late 70’s/early 80’s-sourced stargazing highs, those Rainbow levels of bop with introspection and intelligence cranked to Rush-worthy highs, a spirited but yearning presence entirely needed in the murky mental drought of 2020.

Just beyond the unforgettable “Opulent’ah De-cay” cadence of the title track, it’d be the ‘Chinatown’-era Thin Lizzy worthy binding of “Sybil Vane” that I began to key into the greater theme of ‘Opulent Decay’. Setting my mind to the lyrics, and not just the stellar dual guitar soloing and growling heavy rock bass tone, the song was in clear reference to The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890) where the parable couldn’t be more fitting; Vanity and hedonism are steps upon a flowery, self-loving path to “Hell” or ruin, or whatever toxicity a human being can bring to the world without first caring for others. There couldn’t be a more clear suggestion of consequences for inequality than suicide due to unrequited love, but the act isn’t the point of the song but rather the emphasis on the empathy-in-hindsight of the one who’d sent her to reckless action is the important notion therein. Probably the most Cauldron-esque piece on the album, “Primrose Path”, reinforces the lyrical motif of the album in such a way that it now becomes unavoidably the subject of reflection, it becomes something personal to consider as they insist upon is the consequences of pleasure’s unhindered pursuit. It is likewise yet another Shakespearean device used to make this point as “Sybil Vane” and that part of the referenced story is in direct line with the playwright’s influence. Yet another dewy, golden path to ruin for the protagonist. At the lyricist’s suggestion this is clarified to have resulted from the influence of classic poets, the opulent and the austere unbalanced and scaled to an emotionally connective message intended to suggest love and selflessness are naturally the balance desired by both.

In the midst of figuring the humanist and touching intent of this sweetly psychedelic but never spaced-out n’ haunting psychedelic heavy rock record it would be the shorter heavy metal jogs rooted in 80’s fantasy metal that held interest for my taste. “Deceiver” is both a good example and a (potentially) horrid one as it amounts to a striking sing-along piece that should immediately remind folks of ‘Infestissumam’-era Ghost at their most Roky Erickson-meets-ABBA cleverness. This unforgettable moment is soon usurped, almost mind-blowingly dropped into “Ataraxia”, a two minute a capella piece that feels pulled from a very spirited 80’s Uriah Heep record (or, later The Devil’s Blood?) and without a doubt it comes as the biggest surprise on the full listen. Here I become conflicted as to whether Side B is too ambitious or perfectly genius for Spell at this point of development. One leap towards catchy, prog-infused psych rock is impressive but an extra leap forth on Side B is almost too much of a good thing. As I’d come back and spin this album in addictive spurts these last few months the hits kept coming, superficially and then dug into hungrily for meaning. “Dawn Wanderer” was just a woozy pop-metal song until its selfless aphoristic realizations became more clear within prose extended from a brimming heart. This’d serve as the most clear example of Spell reaching out to the listener, just short of grabbing them, and doing their best to shake loose their humanity a bit. There are ten songs and perhaps too many long-winded paragraphs to divulge from each and every one so, I’ll resolve to suggest that young men certainly mature as musicians over time yet Spell extend said maturity to their lyrical themes and intent, I don’t hear the usual wanton destruction or flexing insecurity of man-children anywhere near ‘Opulent Decay’.

Solace, affirmation, literate themes, and empowerment aren’t requisite or expected within the realm of retro-reaching modern melodic heavy metal/psychedelic rock hybridization and despite being a huge fan of Spell‘s earlier work I’d no clue they had this sort of infectious rock record in ’em. Hell, I’d barely given it a chance back in April when it released yet I’ve found it impossible to put down since. Surreal, gloom-stricken, melodramatic, and nigh theatrical in its brainy motioning when all it said and done, it’d have been more kind of me to trust these guys to know what they’re doing and to be sure I’ve come around on this one entirely. Old and new, timely and timeless, melodic yet stamping when called for ‘Opulent Decay’ was a hand that’d hung there waiting ’til I needed it. A high recommendation.

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Artist Spell
Type Full-length
Released April 10, 2020
BUY & LISTEN on Bad Omen Records’ Bandcamp! Spell on Facebook
Genre Heavy Psychedelic Rock,
Traditional Heavy Metal,
Progressive Rock

High recommendation. 4.25/5.0

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