As with the past couple of years, I'll spend January alternating a new 2021 release with an album from 2020 that I should have got round to but didn't. I'll kick that off with the fourth Spirit Adrift, which is showing up on a bunch of best of year lists, just as their previous effort, Divided by Darkness, did last time around. I reviewed that in January 2020 as a catch up, so I should clearly pay attention in 2021 to catch the next album when it comes out.
The band, which is primarily Phoenix's own Nate Garrett on everything except drums, the territory of Marcus Bryant, used to play doom metal but had moved almost entirely to a more traditional heavy metal style by the last album. Initially, this follows suit, with clean vocals, fast and lively guitars and a reliable beat on the opener, Ride into the Light. It's imaginative as well, being both progressive and commercial, accessible and deep, recognisably Spirit Adrift but wearing its influences on its sleeve.
The second song, however, Astral Levitation, highlights that doom heritage. It's still too upbeat to be truly called doom but it definitely plays more in a Black Sabbath style, especially with strong Heaven and Hell era riffs, than the Iron Maiden or Judas Priest styles I'm more used to from Spirit Adrift. The vibe was so overt that it was surprising to not hear Ronnie James Dio's voice kick in. Now, the solos in the middle of the song are definitely Maiden rather than Sabbath, but the push to doom strengthens as the album runs on, meaning that the further you get through it, the doomier it gets.
Cosmic Conquest isn't doomy, the exquisitely catchy initial riff rising not falling and the drums perky enough to work for a Billy Idol song, but the vocals obviously come from the Ozzy school. Screaming from Beyond kicks off like an AC/DC song but moves back to Sabbath and ends in neat doomy fashion. Harmony of the Spheres barrels out of the gate like it has somewhere else to be and urgently at that, like high energy power metal, but it settles into a doomier groove, the music almost Blizzard of Ozz-era Ozzy with an ever-eager lead guitarist. Battle High is old school American doom, but with perkier guitarwork.
The doomiest this gets, though, is the final track, an epic at almost eleven minutes called Reunited in the Void. It opens at half the speed of anything thus far, the first twenty-five seconds being a building guitar note, and it really milks that. There's a real aching in this, a stubbornness driven by keyboards and riffs, but, with heroic effort, it draws itself up out of the morass and takes it home in style. It's an excellent example of just how far Spirit Adrift have moved stylistically, because it's hard to reconcile a song like this with a song like Ride into the Light. They seem like the product of different bands.
I like this album, but I don't like it as much as the last one. Much of what it does right is what Divided by Darkness did right. Everything is instantly enjoyable, for one, and the guitarwork is glorious, from the riffs to the solos via all sorts of little touches here and there. Individually, the songs are all good and I enjoy the variety with them, like the way Harmony of the Spheres slows down and Stronger Than Your Pain speeds up at points. However, while I like the songs individually, they don't sit particularly well together in the form of this album, especially because the vocal style changes so much.
Rather than showcase a variety of styles as a declaration of how versatile this band has got, it feels as if Garrett is having second thoughts about the direction he's taken Spirit Adrift. Divided by Darkness sounded united in approach, while Enlighted in Eternity doesn't sound that enlightened.
Now, there are options here. Garrett could return to doom and the band would sound great, as indeed they do on Reunited in the Void. He could ditch the doom entirely and the band would also sound great, as they do on Ride into the Light. Or he could combine the two like he does on Astral Levitation and arguably sound even better. But choose one of those options, not all three.