June 14, 2020

“Music, like dreams, exists in feeling rather than explanation. In sleep, the strangest things can elicit joy or terror — this is why dreams are so difficult to articulate. Creating music, for me, is similar; often, I’ll wake in the dead of night with a powerful feeling or melody in my mind, not connected to reality in any concrete way. I’ll then leap out of bed to try and capture it before it disappears!”

Thus reckons Cam Mesmer, bassist and vocalist of Spell. Hailing from Vancouver, British Columbia, this band have already proven themselves mighty chroniclers of the more supernatural quarters of the heavy music sphere.

Their 20014 debut album Full Moon Sessions and 2017’s For None And All demonstrated a trio (completed by drummer and co-vocalist Al Lester and guitarist Graham McVie) whose grasp of crepuscular atmosphere and great dynamics already matched their infectious song-craft. However, these are mere stepping stones towards Opulent Decay, the band’s third and finest record to date on Bad Omen Records, creating a musical landscape of moonlit melody, strident heaviness and potent romanticism – it’s thoroughly enjoyable!

left to right: Cam, Al and Graham

Lyrically, as well as the influence of romantic poets like Keats, Shelley and Coleridge, there’s an underlying concept, as Cam explains: “All of the songs deal with the contrast between opulence and austerity, and the decay that results from imbalance. Our drive to avoid suffering is strong, but it can be overcome by the love for another and the desire to put them before yourself. Opulent Decay examines this balance and the dangers that await on either side of the pendulum.”

Some might hear the echoes of legends like Rush, Budgie, Blue Öyster Cult and late-period Wishbone Ash in this, but Spell do cast their own aura, and Opulent Decay marks a definite progression in the band’s musical journey. “After being obsessed with straight-forward heavy metal for most of our lives, we feel entitled to take it in our own direction and decide what that music might look like” elucidates Cam. “We’ve taken the heavy metal sounds we know and pushed them to the most exciting places we can. Whatever people choose to call it, this is still a heavy metal record as much as anything else — hypnotizing heavy metal!”

Opulent Decay was recorded by Felix Fung at Little Red Sounds studio in New Westminster, British Columbia. It’s an emotionally charged collection, wreathed in the mysticism beloved by the band. The album as a whole centres around their trademark harmonic guitar heraldry while displaying a variety of different styles, all of which the band are adept at. “Many bands find their third album the most difficult because they’re trying to recreate what they’ve already done; for us, it gets easier and better every time,” says an obviously happy Cam.

The album opens with Psychic Death, it has a sort of a ghostly, echoey guitar line underpinning the narrative (see video below). It’s followed by the very catchy and barnstorming title track – great riff! before Sybil Vane, which is very ‘Thin Lizzy-esque’ in its structuring albeit with very different vocals. Primrose Path follows, which is very prog, very Rush-like, again nice licks alternating with meaty riffs. Graham really earns his keep on guitar here. The Iron Wind again features Graham’s jangly, very tuneful guitar work within a sound which is nicely full for a trio. Dawn wanderer follows, wistful and melancholic, very Wishbone Ash-like, great clean licks, it’s lovely stuff!

Deceiver is another extremely Rush-like track, complete with gentle acoustic intro before the trademark power chords take over. Ataraxia is completely different, a beguilingly hymnal acapella piece, pure folk, short but beautiful! Talking of mysticism, Imprisoned By Shadows could be Budgie reincarnated with the tone of its guitar work, it’s eerily similar and I love it. The album then closes with Saturns Riddle, a slow intro feeding into a heavyweight tale. Okay, this last track is a bit ponderous.

One minor flaw to this album might be the vocals, which sound a tad stretched at times, sort of like shoegazers, Ride. I’ve not seen the lyrics but get the feeling there’s some creative storytelling in here which I’ve missed. Other than that though, it’s a thoroughly enjoyable set of tracks – not massively heavy any more, much more tuneful and melodic, nicely composed and a great full-on sound produced by the threesome. Guitarist Graham in particular has a trademark jangly sound in his licks which reminds me of so many other great bands. There’s much for fans of many styles, certainly mainstream prog and heavy rock, to enjoy here, so give it a whirl!