I reviewed the previous Spidergawd album three years ago, but haven't gone back to the first four yet, each of them titled exactly as you might think looking at this one. I'm really wondering about how their style progressed through them now, given that Discogs lists them as "alternative psych prog", which is truly not the case here. Sure, there was some of that last time out, especially on a few songs that featured the baritone saxophone of Rolf Martin Snustad, but it's entirely gone on this one and so is the colourful kaleidoscopic cover art.
This is a hard rock album, that continues to highlight the variety of hard rock influences that I was able to catch last time out, but in a more focused form. As before, the key name may be Thin Lizzy, whose sound pervades the entire album, from the power chords on opening songs like Oceanchild and At Rainbows End onwards to the Celtic melodies on Into the Deep Serene. The guitar tone is a very clean one, which is especially obvious during the many solos, but it still rocks hard, bringing a Brian Robertson style to mind.
The biggest difference between Spidergawd and Thin Lizzy is in the vocals, because neither of the lead vocalists, Hallvard Gaardløs and Per Borten, sounds remotely like Phil Lynott. They both have a clean alternative edge to them, the most contemporary sound the band has. Everything behind them this time out hearkens back to the late seventies and early eighties, as hard rock gradually morphed into the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, especially as almost everything feels British, surprising given that Spidergawd are Norwegian.
The extremes might be At Rainbows End and Narcissus' Eye, perhaps coincidentally a track in from each end of the album. While they're both up tempo rockers, the former is lighter Celtic rock and the latter is heavier and more English, trawling in Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden. I really like how the latter chugs along with broody menace but the former is just as irresistible. For a more overt contrast, At Rainbows End is followed by Running Man, which barrels along like Tank, with a bass that drives incessantly forward just Algy Ward's.
There's less variety on this album than the last, especially given that all eight tracks are up tempo rockers without anything slowing down to explore ballad territory. Like last time, the variety is all in the influences, a song like Into the Deep Serene scooting along like Heart's Barracuda or even Judas Priest's take on The Green Manalishi, but Morning Star wrapping things up with punky urgency, though it also features the most delightful extended hard rock soloing in its second half.
I should highlight that Maiden, Heart and Lizzy may be seen as having very different styles within the multi-genred world of rock and metal today but, back in the eighties, they all just played hard rock music or even just rock music pure and simple. So Sabbath or Priest were a little heavier than Lizzy or even the Waterboys? Nobody cared. They all co-existed naturally in a single stylistic world and this album underlines that with grace.
I really like this album and I really liked it on a first listen, because the style is familiar but it's all played very clean and with a real sense of vibrancy. In its way, each track is a highlight, and it's not an easy task to call any of them out above its peers. I haven't said anything yet about Prototype Design or Yours Truly, for instance, but the former is classic Maiden infused with the blues and I'd say the latter has a riff without equal anywhere on this album. Everything is excellent.
And that means that this isn't just a better album than Spidergawd V, it's a real gem. It's easily an 8/10 but it keeps getting better on me. It's one of those albums I have to struggle to move on from because COVID stole a month of my energy and I'm still notably behind with reviews. I just want to keep listening to this for the rest of the week. That and the fact that the worst track, if I could call any one of them out for that dubious honour, is still an absolute peach, means that this has to be a 9/10 and one of the best albums of 2021.