In the aftermath of the critically acclaimed 'Divided by Darkness' (2019) and the heartbreaking agony of losing two furry friends, Nate Garrett and Marcus Bryant channel their misery into a fistful of pure metal triumph.
Words by Tyson Tillotson (@tytilly):
Heavy metal and it’s entire sub culture are invariably built around a couple of core attitudes, namely strength and machismo. It is easily felt in the pelvic thrust of old school Priest and Motörhead and would be taken to extremes in thrash, death metal, black metal, and grind. But a couple of other attitudes that are not discussed and often looked down upon in the metal world are vulnerability and open heartedness, the ability to bear one’s soul no matter how “uncool” it may seem. Doom has always been the breeding ground for this trait in the extreme metal community and in the last decade or so, it has become more wholeheartedly embraced as mental health awareness has become more widely accepted and de-stigmatized. But sometimes there is a very interesting cross breeding of these two core attitudes. I feel like the Old El Paso girl and ask enthusiastically, “Why not both?” Why can’t we have open shirted honesty whilst also feeling like we are wielding a battle axe in one hand and a Walkman with Accept’s Restless & Wild (1982) in the other? Well if you’ve been waiting for that sort of thing, SPIRIT ADRIFT and their newest offering Enlightened in Eternity have all emotional bases covered.
Created around 2015 by multi instrumentalist Nathan Garrett, SPIRIT ADRIFT began it’s humble beginnings as a way for Garrett to tackle his personal demons. He released the Behind-Beyond (2016) EP and the LP Chained to Oblivion that same year. They were released through the Prosthetic Records imprint before Nate would take the project to 20 Buck Spin for the sophomore masterpiece Curse of Conception (2017). Many people around the globe found healing and solace in an album that spoke to so many on a personal level, including yours truly. When the album was released, it had only been a few months since I had lost my maternal grandfather who I loved and adored very much. Being able to listen to tracks like Curse of Conception, To Fly on Broken Wings, Starless Age and Onward, Inward helped me to cope with this loss more than what was helping me at the time. Before the year was out, the project would also release a split (2017) with Denver’s Khemmis that is now long out of print.
It would be an agonizing year and a half wait between albums but when Divided by Darkness (2019) arrived in May of last year, it couldn’t have come at a better time. Not to sound cliché or anything, but it essentially became the soundtrack to my summer. How can you not love the blending of old school Trouble, Metallica, Ozzy and Thin Lizzy with the occasional nod to Tangerine Dream? The record became a critical success, as well as a commercial one, in that the band would soon after be able to tour Europe for the first time with Sanhedrin. They also had a North American tour which would spread the name of the band further. But before the commencement of the European tour, tragedy struck one of the members of the band.
Shortly before the tour, Marcus Bryant’s dog Dawkins passed away. According to Garrett, it was a tough thing to be able to go out on tour after this loss but they tried to make the best of the situation. Soon after writing would commence for the next record, Garrett would also experience a loss. This time, it would be his own dog Lizzy. Now, at the time of this writing, I still have my first dog. She’s about 13 or 14 years old and still clinging on. I have not had the experience of losing a family pet but I am anticipating that it will be of great sorrow and heartbreak. So, I could never imagine what Nate and Marcus both went through as they went ahead to record the next SPIRIT ADRIFT record. My initial thoughts on the album's sound would be that of the group's doomiest and heaviest affair to date. Fortunately for the rest of us and for the collective sake of everyone’s emotions this year, SPIRIT ADRIFT have decided to give us something to look forward to: an anthemic ride into glory that allows the band to flex their metal muscles as well as show us their sincerity and heart.
Much like Divided by Darkness opener We Will Not Die, opening track Riding Into the Light begins this affair with a gargantuan call to arms in the form of pounding drums and chugging six strings. The track then digs in and allows the listener time to mount their stead in preparation. When I first heard Nate’s vocals again, I grinned from ear to ear. On each successive album, it has been a pleasure to hear Nate gain more and more confidence as a vocalist. Retaining his trademark baritone with some added snarl and attitude, he gives this opener the much needed bravado we expect from a metal band. Marcus keeps time with utter precision and even throws in some tasty double bass bits to add some flair. The solo that comes in is, by this point, trademark SPIRIT ADRIFT. Sure, it may have hints of Thin Lizzy and Iron Maiden, but it is quintessentially SPIRIT ADRIFT at the end of the day.
Second track Astral Levitation has one hell of an infectious groove that may bring a heavier ZZ Top to mind. The lyrics for this track are some of my favorite on the album, speaking of refining who you are and being able to separate one's past from the future. The solo that comes in is jaw dropping in it’s orgasmic quality and the dual harmonies are as tasty as ever. Marcus gallops through the cut like a crazed yet weighted Nicko McBrain. It's a fun and headbanging cut, sure to get the whole scene bumping.
Cosmic Conquest emerges with a funky bass line before evolving into a riff pattern that wouldn’t sound of place on an Obsessed LP. In fact, Nate begins to sound a tad like Wino when he snarls and unleashes his ever growing vocal prowess. Marcus has one of his best drumming performances on this song as he stays in time completely with Nate’s furious riffing and bass slinking. If you’ve never seen them live, you must know that Marcus beats the everliving HELL out of his kit and it's on this track that he does just that. It’s awesome to see how far these dudes have come in the last couple of years with their performances on each album.
Screaming From Beyond has a simplistic yet catchy Danzig-esque riff that launches you into the mid 80’s mind space of which I’m certain SPIRIT ADRIFT are trying to invoke. It’s an attack of metal power that allows you to indulge in the open hearted subject matter without letting go of the attitude of metal’s heyday. The track dares to let in some gnarly bass before once again launching into a VERY Thin Lizzy inspired harmonized solo. If Phil Lynott were alive, he would surely give his approval of these Arizona-Texas boys. Maiden and Trouble-isms clash towards the end of the side A closer to draw everything into a black hole of righteousness fit only for the finest metal warriors before ending on a clean guitar outro that would please any Metallica die hard.
When first single Harmony of the Spheres dropped, I couldn’t believe that it was SPIRIT ADRIFT at first. It’s a fast and somewhat brutal affair for their standards. It almost has a Metal Church meets Saint Vitus type of feeling, if that makes any sense. It carries a tremendous weight and swing to it that is sure to get anyone to raise their fists high in the air. Nate and Marcus play off each other with utter perfection and the energy doesn’t halt for a single moment. The solo that enters knocks you in the dirt and proceeds to give way to some raucous lead work that would get any pit going, if shows were a thing. Brief blasting from Marcus transitions the track back into a heavenly sing along chorus before ending with bang.
Battle High is another short cut that reeks of Dio meets Corrosion of Conformity. The affair leads into some of Nate’s best riff work on any SPIRIT ADRIFT album, and this is coming from the guy who wrote such bangers as Starless Age, Hear Her and Form and Force. It's a stadium ready rager that has a triumphant spirit about it while also containing a sinister undertone.
Stronger Than Your Pain steps forth with a riff pattern that almost has hints of Mastodon circa The Hunter before giving way to Marcus’ riding gallop of a beat. Nate joins in to muse of how we can overcome any challenges that come our way: a pretty straightforward message for such a confusing time as we are currently living in. The riff serpentines it’s way before giving way to the final cut.
Reunited in the Void is simply put, classic SPIRIT ADRIFT. The slow burn riffing is very reminiscent of Curse of Conception with a bit more of a Crowbar feel to Nate’s vocal highs. The riffs and drum hits coincide to create a truly crushing contrast to the rest of the album. The subject matter, however, is definitely more straightforward, seeming more like a message towards Dawkins and Lizzy. These two furry little friends meant the world to Nate and Marcus and for them to write a 10 minute tribute song to them on how they will see them again in whatever afterlife you choose to believe in is sure to make any hardened metal head shed a tear or two. It’s a song that you can sing every word to while you have your fist raised in the air in tribute to the four-legged muses that inspired this record. Some organs come in that almost carry a Type O Negative World Coming Down (1999) type of atmosphere, especially in the vocal harmonies and bending of guitar chords. We are then treated to a clean section that pays homage to Nate’s love of old school country ala Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash and John Prine while organ courtesy of Marcus’ brother Preston swells and careens above the simple drum pattern and clean guitar threnody. The riff that follows is sorrowful yet hopeful, sad yet elated. We are then treated to a new riff that sounds very much like a metal version of ZZ Top around the time of Fandango. If Bill and Ted heard this, they would definitely want to enlist Nate and Marcus into Wyld Stallyns. This riff carries us into the very closing of the album where we come to our happy and fulfilled end.
As a fan from as far back as Chained to Oblivion, watching SPIRIT ADRIFT grow into the metal gods they have aspired to be is something that I am over the moon proud to witness firsthand. Nate and Marcus have fine tuned this band into a combination of old school rock, heavy metal and doom that is sure to catapult them to the upper echelons of metal’s attention seekers. The ability they have to create emotionally resonant music that can also soundtrack your next workout is something most, if not any, bands can do without sounding cheesy or just plain stupid. But like their influences, SPIRIT ADRIFT are able to tap into sorrow and bring forth successful fist pumping jams of the highest order. The death of man’s best friend is always a tough period in one’s life, but here, the modern metal masters are able to not only pay tribute to their fallen canine family members but also give us a glimmer of hope when we begin the process of living in a post COVID world. If the soundtrack to our void of a world is this good, I’m sure Lizzy and Dawkins are wagging their tails in excitement and happiness on the other side to watch their dads achieve their metal dreams in their honor.
Enlightened In Eternity arrives on October 16th via 20 Buck Spin. Get yours HERE.