May 10, 2019 Spirit Adrift – Divided by Darkness (Album Review)
Phoenix-based Spirit Adrift may still be in the dawn of their career, but with Divided by Darkness, due out on Friday, May 10th, the band fills the canvas like seasoned veterans. Having already mastered the art of visiting every corner of Heavy Metal, both old and new, dark or otherwise, the band subsumes and absorbs influences from each stop and combines them into a a fresh, original stew.
Those expecting a straight-to-video sequel to 2017’s Curse of Conception will be sorely disappointed. Indeed, if Curse of Conception was the rapid maturation from the slow dirge of debut Chained to Oblivion, then Divided by Darkness is a ground-up drawing-board redesign. The album could qualify as a bit of a “Dear John” letter, if that letter was addressed to John “Ozzy” Osbourne and his bookend stints with Black Sabbath, from which Curse of Conception drank deeply. Instead, this album takes the hold of the 1980s nadir of Sabbath as it rolled with the likes of Ian Gillan, Tony Martin, and Ronnie James Dio.
Main force Nate Garrett, also of Death Metal outfit Gatecreeper, has fleshed the out band since his jack-of-all-trades days of 2016’s Chained to Oblivion. That said, he still handles all of the studio work here, save Marcus Bryant handing the drums and Preston Bryant behind the keyboards and Wurlitzer. On stage, Garrett takes charge of vocals and guitar, Bryant sits behind the drums, Chase Mason (another Gatecreeper alumnus) plays bass, and Jeff Owens adds guitar. Their third overall album, it was recorded, engineered, and mixed by Sanford Parker, know for his work with Darkthrone, Eyehategod, and Tombs. This while Joe Petagno, who worked on Curse of Conception, returns for the cover art.
Eight songs in total, those like “Tortured by Time” start with brooding guitar that threatens to continue the Curse of Conception work, but the tempo immediately brightens and drags the listener to a denser end of the Heavy Metal spectrum. Then there is “Living Light” which includes guest vocals from Kayla Dixon of Witch Mountain, and her work keeps the track from veering too far into the Mastodon end of things.
The grinding pulse of the stunning title track almost arrives prematurely. Too often the bass guitar is either completely forgotten or blindly overwrought within the Heavy Metal scene, but on this album, particular on tracks like the namesake “Divided by Darkness,” the lower end is almost perfectly entrenched and given the proper space to move. This song, combined with its successor “Born into Fire,” cement the framework used by Spirit Adrift for this album – pounding rhythms set by the galloping bass and drums, captivating guitar work–be it lead, rhythm, or twin–reaching a slow-paced introspective detour
While individual progressions can be isolated and analyzed to specific eras on the Heavy Metal spectrum, but they are so seamlessly integrated that dissection ruins the fun. “Angel & Abyss” bounces from a power ballad, to Judas Priest, to Iron Maiden, to early solo efforts from Ozzy, without regret and without pretense, and the slowly building jaunt belies the serious tones of the track and the album in general. Garrett has noted in interviews that the crumbling of modern-day society is rooted in the growing divide based on the simplest, most tribal aspects of life, and both the title Divided by Darkness and the intervening tracks bemoan the efforts to widen these gaps rather than close them.
Which leads us to the instrumental closer “The Way of Return,” a conclusion that adds shades of Prog Rock mixed with the highest nadir of Candlemass. How much deeper can Garrett plumb for these gradually crushing riffs? Even with six minutes of room to work within, the lack of vocals is impossible to notice beneath the harrowing guitar that fills the majority of the track, and vocals would only ruin the surf-turned-cosmic departure that appears at the midway point.
In five short years, Spirit Adrift has grown from a one-man outfit helmed by Nate Garrett to a full-fledged recording and touring band. That same span has yielded three drastically different albums, each demonstrating a maturity far beyond the years of the band at that point in time, and, in the case of the latter two, leaps of growth away from earlier efforts. The ease with which Divided by Darkness moves across the milieu to cover nearly a dozen genres, without evidence of movement or impersonation, is nothing short of stunning.
Spirit Adrift could have a successful, effective career alternating subsequent albums between the styles of Chained to Oblivion and Curse of Conception, but immediately, with Divided by Darkness, Nate Garrett and his ever-solidifying band have chosen to immediately challenge themselves against the Heavy Metal landscape at large. For these reasons, Cryptic Rock gives Divided by Darkness 4.5 out of 5 stars.