When Cam Mesmer and his brother Al Lester aren’t summoning magic with their band Spell, the pair hold down very different day jobs. Cam is an elementary school teacher, Al works as a mortician.
“I see them off at the beginning of their lives, Al sees them off at the end,” says Cam. “And everything in between is up to them.”
What the very young or the very dead make of the Vancouver duo’s esoteric conjurations is anyone’s guess. But Spell’s third album, Tragic Magic, looks backwards and forwards at the same time. While it wears its love of trad metal on its scuffed leather-jacketed sleeves, it draws inspiration from a wider musical pool.
“A lot of bands feel like they’ve got to jettison extra influences to make their metal purer,” says Cam. “But I want to take the parts of the different music I love – whether it’s jazz or punk or the Cocteau Twins and Motown – and use it to push the boundaries of what heavy metal is.”
While the band’s name and the new album’s title consciously plug into heavy metal’s occult lineage, the mystical trappings mask the fact that Tragic Magic is rooted in reality: songs address mental health issues, family illness, impending mortality.
“It’s music for an ascetic age,” says Cam. “The last few years have been difficult for everyone. It just felt trite to sing about some fantasy bullshit when there’s so much real stuff going on. I like fantasy a lot, but I worry that the heavy metal genre has become narrowed to just bands singing about fighting dragons and swinging swords. I want heavy metal to be more open to singing about stuff that is real.”
That combination of the glorious past and the very different present extends to Spell’s music. Rather than lose themselves in wig-outs, songs such as Fatal Breath and the swirling Ultraviolet are pop songs in trad-metal drag – heavy and heroic, but compact and shining with synth-powered melody too.
“People’s attention span is a lot shorter than it once was,” says Al. “We want to make music that people can digest and enjoy. I don’t want to make an album that’s too self-indulgent.”
The immediate future for Spell holds live shows, with plans to expand to a four-piece for gigs. The main obstacle they face, at least at home, is the vast distances between their base in Vancouver and every other major Canadian city.
“Sometimes you drive for thirty hours straight to get to the next town,” says Al.”
Hard going, for sure, but worth it in Spell’s view to spread their music and their magic.
“My view is that music is magic,” says Cam. “If you define magic as something outside the physical realm that can affect how we think and see things, music is the closest thing I can think of. There’s no scientific theory that defines how it has the effect on our brains that it does.”