Tuesday 21 January 2020

Spirit Adrift - Divided by Darkness (2019)

Country: USA
Style: Heavy Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 10 May 2019
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram | Metal Archives | Official Website | Twitter

Spirit Adrift's third album made half a dozen of the best of 2019 lists I'm looking at, so the magic of statistics tells us that it's tied for the sixth best of last year. If that isn't enough of a reason for me to pay attention, I'll add that they're based right here in Phoenix, so I need to keep my eyes open for local gigs because I'd really like to see them live. I really like this sound, even if it's not remotely what I expected coming in.

When I've seen the name before, it's always come with a doom metal tag and I just don't buy that, even though there's certainly plenty of doom within the core of what Nate Garrett and his band do. This is heavy metal, too fast and too varied, in mood, style and tempo to simply count as doom. It starts out like Diamond Head, for a start, with a set of riffs and solos surrounding a memorably pounding drum rhythm. Also like Diamond Head, it's very eager to explore new ground.

It gets heavier, with an emphatic doom song in the title track, but it never loses its progressive edge, which takes over completely towards the end. For all that the vocals remind of Ozzy, it never quite feels like a Sabbath song and, by the time Angel & Abyss ends, it's obvious that Garrett's influences focus in as much on Ozzy solo as Ozzy in Sabbath. Four minutes in, it seems like the guitarist is auditioning to take over from Randy Rhoads in Blizzard of Ozz. There's even a patented Ozzy laugh to wrap things up.

There are wilder mixes here too. Born into Fire is another heavy song but it isn't doom. It's more like it was constructed from mosh parts borrowed from thrash songs, but without any of the faster material around it. There's also a contemporary feel in that the vocal emphases are rather like what I might expect from alternative rock or even nu metal, but applied to a traditional heavy metal style. It gets progressive late on too, so there are a heck of a lot of genres wrapped up in one song.

There's a lot running through the rest of the album too. Tortured by Time is a grower that slipped by me the first couple of times. It's nowhere near as catchy as Hear Her, which is another more overt, if up tempo doom song, but it's mature songwriting that weaves textures and, when it finally grabs our attention, it's impressive stuff. The album wraps with a prog instrumental, The Way of Return, which starts heavy but finds a Dave Gilmour solo sound, shifts to a very different but just as Floydian mellow guitar. Then it's a Tangerine Dream-esque synth section, before sounds combine to take us home.

For a band that really sound like a band, I'm surprised to find that it was one man for the longest time. He's Nate Garrett and he handles vocals, bass and guitar on this album, with Marcus Bryant on drums and Preston Bryant on keyboards (credited as synth and Wurlitzer). Kayla Dixon of Witch Mountain guests on Living Light, though not prominently. However, the first Spirit Adrift album, Chained to Oblivion, released only four years ago, appears to have featured Garrett on absolutely everything.

I haven't heard that yet but the word that springs out here is "mature". It's thoughtful and consistently interesting, moving from style to style in ways that are often surprising but still make agreeable sense. It's not the sort of thing that happens on debut albums but demonstrates that, by album three, the band is successfully growing and exploring their sound. That's a good thing.

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