On the crucial third LP, the Arizona riff wizards ride the lighting over the mountains and into the great beyond.
It's mid-2017 and I had just been made aware of a local doom metal band that would be releasing an album later in the fall. The band was SPIRIT ADRIFT and the album was their sophomore outing, Curse of Conception. I immediately let my friend Jake know that we needed to attend the record release show in Tempe on October 7th. That night, they instantly become one of my all time favorite bands and Curse of Conception rose to an all time favorite album for me. There was something about their live show that I became extremely invested in. I had a very strong feelign that this band was going to resonate with people on a deep emotional level. I wasn't alone as the album was given the prestigious honor of being the 2nd best album of the year in Decibel Magazine, falling only to Paradise Lost's Medusa.
Not even five months later, I would again have the opportunity to witness Nate, bassist Chase Mason (vocalist of Gatecreeper), guitarist Jeff Owens and drummer Marcus Bryant (both of Goya) tear up the stage once again opening for Denver's Khemmis on their last show after the conclusion of the Decibel Tour with Enslaved, Wolves in the Throne Room and Myrkur. Ever since then, I have tried to spread the good word of Spirit Adrift to everyone I know. From the old head to the novice riff junkie, I shared the knowledge of this incredible band with everyone like the Apostle Paul among the Romans. Not only were they a band of great talent, but through both of those live shows and seeing these guys at almost every local metal show since then, I feel like they have become synonymous with Arizona's budding metal scene.
When it comes down to the crafting of music, Nate Garrett does not have the words "lazy" or "half assed" in his vocabulary. Growing up in Arkansas, he was essentially raised on the classics (Sabbath, Metallica, Priest, etc) as well as gaining a budding love for heavier styles like doom. Fast forward many years later and after the release of an EP and two full lengths under the SPIRIT ADRIFT moniker, he has decided that looking to the past is the way of the future for his baby. Almost instantaneously as opener We Will Not Die begins, it becomes very apparent that Nate and the guys have stepped out of the doom metal darkness and into the electric chair of 80's metal grandeur. Dare I say, if Garrett was trying to write an album that presented an alternate universe where Metallica stopped playing thrash metal after Ride the Lightning and embraced their melodic side due to the complete song writing takeover of Cliff Burton without him dying, then not only was that accomplished, but surpassed in every conceivable way. Now, I'm not saying that this is Garrett resting on his influences. He has ingested everything acquired as a music fan and as a musician to mold however he sees fit.
The title track features a stellar opening that propels with palpable energy, courtesy of Owens and Bryant. Along with Mason, they help birth Garrett's vision of metallic bliss into a reality. One of the strengths of this album that is noticeably different from it's predecessor is how lively and galloping this is. Whereas Curse of Conception was the solemn march of a soldier returning from war, Divided by Darkness as a whole is almost like the unfolding of a grand adventure, not heavily distant from the works of Joseph Campbell. Lyrical output has always been a major strongpoint of this band and like Campbell's works, they take you on a stoic journey through winding paths of sharp dialogue and even sharper edged riffs. Born Into Fire has some of the best lines ever penned by Garrett and as always, he marries these deep and often bleak lyrics with melody lines and rhythms that are damn near arena ready in their execution.
Fourth track Angel & Abyss is where the band truly take hold of your attention. With a clean reverb opening that is eerily similar to the clean guitar tone littered throughout And Justice For All, Garrett launches into a soulful as all can be solo. It's not before long that he begins crooning another epic of...well...epic proportions. Just when you think the band can't knock you on your ass again, Garrett and Owens channel their inner Randy Rhodes/Jake E. Lee and rip into an Ozzy Osbourne-inspired chug that pistol whips you back into reality as if you were astride a horse that just got spooked and now you must hold on for dear life, because the horse is now bolting through a swamp littered with water moccasins. It's a snap back to a time when Ozzy was still considered by many to be the most dangerous man on the planet in terms of influencing the youth of tomorrow. Garrett echoes that in the final seconds with a SPOT ON impersonation of Ozzy's cackle that can be heard on classic cuts like Bark at the Moon.
Tortured by Time and Hear Her are two knockout punches that will be live staples for the foreseeable future. In the case of the latter track, the chorus line is personally the most earworm chorus of the year. Not only is the vocal line catchy, but the solo and main riff are just as lethal. It ranks as one of the best riffs that Nate Garrett has written and it's a perfect track to throw on before hitting the road with your friends.
The last song with lyrics on the album, Living Light, also does a fantastic job of showcasing the band as a cohesive, well oiled machine that can stand toe to toe with the best of them in a live setting. Closer The Way of Return melds electronic synth and heavy metal into another amazing entry in the SPIRIT ADRIFT catalog. Much like Curse of Conception's closer Onward, Inward, it ends the album on a very mellow and introspective note. In metal, it's often looked at as a weak move to end an album without a bang but SPIRIT ADRIFT throw that age old concept down the stairs into the dankest of cellars. Any band that can stay as consistent as this throughout an entire full length can end it however they damn well please.
Curse of Conception set expectations sky high but Divided by Darkness utterly destroys any and all doubts by the closing notes of The Way of Return. I'm fully convinced that if this band started forty years ago, they would be headlining stadiums much like their San Francisco-based deities. Nate Garrett and co. have proved to it the metal world that even though Metallica no longer play thrash and Ozzy is nearing the end of his professional career, you can take the sounds that initially struck a chord with you as a young man or woman and push yourself to emulate them not only in style, but most importantly, in substance. Brace yourselves because four new horsemen cometh swiftly to separate the weak from the strong. Where will the darkness divide you in that day?
FFO: Trouble, Metallica, Ozzy Osbourne, Pallbearer, Deadbird, Khemmis and Black Sabbath
Divided by Darkness is out May 10, 2019 via 20 Buck Spin. Pre-order your copy here.