I’ve always worried whenever a band leaves their roots behind to explore different paths that, depending on who you ask, either betray their humble upbringings (and rabid fanbases) or turn them into creative juggernauts. Case in point: Arizona’s Spirit Adrift, once a one-man doom metal project spearheaded by vocalist/guitarist Nate Garrett, has blossomed into a fully-realized heavy metal machine,1 and both 2016’s Chained to Oblivion and 2017’s Curse of Conception being radically different from each other in terms of both mood and style, but thankfully not quality. That last point is startling, as the band’s not even been around five years yet. So I approached Divided by Darkness with an open mind, curious as to where Garrett and company were going to take me this time.
And here we are in the 1990s. My beat-up SNES (or Super Famicom for you non-Americans) works again, my flat-screen TV has been replaced by the familiar TV/record player/liquor cabinet/wooden fire hazard all-in-one that my parents flat-out refused to get rid of,2 and opener “We Will Not Die” wears its Painkiller t-shirt with pride as it reworks Priest‘s epic “Hell Patrol” into a slightly more modern twist. The tight-riffing Garrett flings about retains the drive of its influence while adding a slightly crunchier tone, with his bass work and drummer Marcus Bryant providing a groove-laden pocket for the duo to work with. Garrett’s voice definitely leans more towards James Hetfield than Rob Halford, helping to differentiate itself from the Priest classic even more. No lie, it had me grinning ear-to-ear from beginning to end, and made itself a spot among my small list of Songs o’ the Year in no time.
If Curse of Conception was starting to walk away from the sound and trappings of the American doom metal scene, then Divided by Darkness sees them taking off to the skies, waving one final goodbye before flying off to parts unknown3. Only “Living Light” peers back at the band’s younger days, with the second half delivering hefty riffs before Garrett delivers yet another beautiful Trouble-inspired vocal harmony to close out the song. The rest of the album pays homage to the greats of metal, with “Angel & Abyss” being the clear standout. Opening with a mood that recalls Metallica‘s “Fade to Black,” by the song’s end, it goes into full-bore “Bark at the Moon” territory, complete with maniacal laughter, keyboards, and staccato riffing to close the song out.
And that’s also a bit of a nitpick with the album. Sometimes, Spirit Adrift wear their influences a little too close to their sleeves. Not to the point of being flat-out plagiarizing, but enough for an eyebrow to be cocked every now and then (the aforementioned “Angel & Abyss,” for example). Granted, I was smiling just about the whole entire time I heard the album, and it still plays more like a love letter to the classics of yore than trying to cop a well-established style. Also, the title track and “Tortured by Time” don’t hit as hard as the rest of the album, but even then they’re good songs on their own.
Much like Pallbearer4 before them, Spirit Adrift left the trappings of their doom metal beginnings behind for a sound more classic and all-encompassing. With not even five years of existence behind them, the future definitely looks bright for this young quartet, and Divided by Darkness accomplishes the unthinkable: moving forward by giving a respectful glance to the past. Between this and last month’s incredible Exile by Black Sites, there’s no shortage of wealth provided by digging into our genre’s glorious past to see what can be made for future generations to enjoy.