Spires – A Parting Gift
So, where do you go after releasing two near flawless albums? Manchester lads Spires dropped one of my absolute favorite albums “Spiral of Ascension” back in 2010, and followed up with the, if possible, even better sophomore release “The Whisperer” in 2014. In addition the acoustic EP “Lucid Abstractions” from 2012 was also amazing. From this I guess that you, the reader, can easily surmise that I’m a fan. And I’ll come clean. From the first time tracks like ‘Broken Hourglass’ and ‘Symmetry’ entered my ears, I heard something unique and quite fantastic in the excellent songwriting of this UK band.
It has taken the band, led by guitarist and vocalist Paul Sadler, four years to write the follow up to “The Whisperer”, and let’s just start by saying that that time has been well spent. With “A Parting Gift” the band has matured even further, and their sound and personality are focused through a crystalline lens. The way the music is able to touch on both the philosophical and the emotional is something that I don’t find in many bands. There is an outreach to both the logical and the passionate state of the listener, or to put it more bluntly, it speaks both to soul and mind. There are few other bands that regularly manage to do this, for me personally at least, but acts like Tool, Fates Warning, and perhaps Opeth (in their best moments) spring to mind.
Something that possibly also added to the wait, is that the band has experienced some lineup changes since their last release. Drummer Chris Barnard has been replaced with veteran Zak O’Neal (Extreme Noise Terror, Criminal), and guitarist Richard Corrie is out, giving room for Danny White (Ascent/Konom). Both these new musicians add their own distinct flavor to the Spires sound, but I’ll get back to that later.
“A Parting Gift” gives us more than an hour of music, so let us get into it. It starts out strong with ‘In Black Ravines’, one of the albums shorter tracks, at around seven and a half minutes, so that should tell you a bit about the aspirations of the band this time around. A short melodic interlude leads into a cascade of riffing and growled vocals. The song features the patented Spires harmonic middle-part, where the dynamics of Sadler’s vocals really get to shine. Added are two great guitar solos, from Sadler and White, that helps elevate the track even further.
‘The Court of Clashing Skies’ is next, an ominous build up featuring interweaving guitars and bass-lines, accentuated by growls and intricate drum-details from the new guy behind the kit, O’Neil. Once again the interchange between the brutal and the canorous adds layers of atmosphere to the track.
The amazing ‘The Seer’ opens with yet another example of impressive bass-work from Alex Jolley, a vital part, running like a red-hot line through the track. ‘The Seer’ might be my favorite on the album. Here everything just slots perfectly into place for Spires, and this might be the highlight of their discography so far for me. Just a merciless dulcet, that keeps on building and exploring new facets of the same flawless gem. It also features some of the best vocals I can remember hearing from Sadler, just listen to the emotion in the line “And when I reach my destination…” leading into a delicate choral part before rising up to meet a fantastic guitar solo, also performed by Sadler himself. Towards the end, the track leads us into a more mellow landscape, complete with cello, and a distinct bass-solo by Jolley. The track then rises towards a savage crescendo fully embellished with enraged screams and howling guitars.
The title track, ‘A Parting Gift’, is also the shortest track, with its little over six minutes. A calmer and more sentimental piece, driven by clear guitars and voice. It’s a welcome little breather from the bands more extreme moments, and features an impressive solo by guitarist Dan White, that dances around the main theme with its almost Holdsworth’ish style. All in all a delightful little track.
A more harsh and malevolent atmosphere greets us in the opening riff of the following ‘Seed of Dionysus’. Even with the, prominently featured, clean vocals on display, the track has a more ominous, baleful feel, and dives quickly into more extreme terrain once the growls come bursting through. Like many of Spires songs, it keeps you on your toes, continuously adding new elements and layers to the solid foundation provided by Jolley and O’Neil. The later part also features another monumental solo by White, showing once and for all the virtuosity his talent brings to the table.
Finally we get to ‘Etchings in the Emptiness’, which is the magnum opus of “A Parting Gift”, and , I believe, one of the longest track Spires have ever recorded, only beaten by the title track from “The Whisperer”. Clocking in at a hefty seventeen minutes, it definitely is a challenge, but it is also one of the more rewarding listens I’ve had in quite a while.
The track fluctuates from the nostalgic to the intense and never gets repetitive or boring over its course. Sadler alternates between melancholic cleans and forceful growls with ease, and together with delicate choral backgrounds this adds another layer to the already rich sound of the band. The vocal melodies are impressively harmonious on this album in general, and is thus maybe the part of the bands music that has seen the most improvement since “The Whisperer”. Add to this fantastic solos both from Sadler, and White, and an almost hypnotic repeating pattern towards the end, expertly performed by Jollie and O’Neil. From its sinister opening whispers, to its clockwork-like cyclic end theme, ‘Etchings in the Emptiness’ manages to keep true to its focus. Spires does with this produce a track that, in many ways, sums up the ethos, and the sound of the band.
“A Parting Gift” is well produced by Sadler himself, and mixed by Jaymz Stephenson (Rift, The Black Styphalian, Sellsword). The sound is clear but powerful, and to my ears, perfect for this type of progressive, yet extreme, metal. The album is a masterpiece, and possibly one of the best I’ve heard in this genre. The band weave grand tapestries with sound, and manage to make their complexity sound easy and accessible, something that is quite a feat in itself. I will definitely be returning to “A Parting Gift” on a regular basis, and I could not recommend it highly enough to anyone who has more than the slightest interest in progressive music. Get hold of this album!
- In Black Ravines (7:24)
- The Court Of Clashing Skies (10:44)
- The Seer (11:35)
- A Parting Gift (6:06)
- Seed Of Dionysus (10:04)
- Etchings In The Emptiness (17:14)