Desert Psychlist likes grooves that come at you from unexpected angles and the album up for review today certainly delivers on that level. "Spiritual Crossing" by French quartet A Better Tomorrow is an album that will probably divide opinion, there will be those that can't get their heads around its soulful undercurrents, there will be others that will be confused by its frequent forays into jazz and there will be some who will find it leaning a little too close for comfort to a mainstream sound. We at Desert Psychlist understand (to some extent) all those concerns but there is also plenty of metal to be found here, crunching riffs and thundering rhythms that sit comfortably beside those other musical dynamics in perfect, if unexpected, harmony and if you suspend your misgivings for a while you might just find (like us) these grooves starting to hit your sweet spot.
"A Better Tomorrow", the song that gives the band their name, opens proceedings with guest musician Lionel Martin blowing a sweet unaccompanied saxophone solo that is slowly joined by dark droning feedback before suddenly exploding into a strident metal groove drenched in fuzz and distortion and pushed by insistent percussion. Sound good so far? well it gets even better when Vanessa Ghisolfi joins the fray with a vocal that is powerful without being overly ballsy and sweet without being saccharine, her vocals a perfectly balanced display of vocal dexterity. Things get downright delicious with next track "Spread" its ascending/descending dynamic constantly shifts between a full on metal assault and a laid back jazzy soulful stroll in the clouds and is routinely interrupted by the sort of instrumental prowess usually only the reserve of fleet fingered proggers or jazz-rock fusioneers and that's all without mentioning the superbly pitched vocals that waft serenely overhead. Lovers of jazz-rock will fall head over heels in love with next track "Blow By Blow" a song that begins with a Thomas Jullien liquid bass motif and finishes with guitarist Benjamin Lousky doing his best Grant Green (respected 60's jazz guitarist) impersonation the band filling the spaces in-between these two performances with a mix of swaggering hard rock and modal jazz that finds drummer Grégory Ogier showing us that not only can he pound the living daylights out of his kit he also has that swing thing going on too, the song also once again highlights Ghisolfi's vocal range, the singer roaring like a Viking shield maiden one minute scatting like a modern day Flora Purim ( legendary Brazilian jazz chanteuse) the next. "Black Cats" follows and begins with a riff that has a Led Zeppelin/Budgie vibe but then settles down into a chugging hard rock/metal groove with Ghisolfi telling us her tale of dark felines in powerful emotional tones thick with soulful gravitas. Proceedings are brought to a close with "Ghosts of Remembrance" a proggish torch song that gives free reign for each member to show the best of themselves and end what has been a breathtaking musical journey on a massive high.
Those of you out there who might be a little scared by the references to jazz and jazz legends we have included in this review don't be, there is enough metal and hard rock here to fill a small canyon and despite the A Better Tomorrow's constant forays into soul and jazz territories that heavier side of the bands sound is very, very pleasingly HEAVY! For those that do not need to be convinced to listen to something with jazz and soul overtones and whose minds are already open to other forms of music then "Spiritual Crossing" will be manna from heaven, this is an album that fuses soul and jazz together with metal without getting overcomplicated or convoluted and may, if you let it, open a gateway to whole new world of music for you.
Check it out ....
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