It would be simple to say that Spirit Adrift play doom metal, and this would be true, but to say so would miss so many of the delicious details that make their debut record, Chained to Oblivion, so lovable and so easy to return to. For instance, there are the psychedelic and progressive flourishes: choruses are rare and riffs are plentiful, but played at a doom metal pace, giving the listener time and meat to chew on and digest before moving on, and recurring riffs given the space and development necessary to feel earned when they come back. There is the profundity of the accomplishment of the playing, all handled by Nate Garrett, formerly the guitarist of blackened sludge band Take Over And Destroy, playing that is so supple, rich and layered that makes it hard to believe this is a one-man project for the first few listens. There is also, of course, the strong similarity to the progressive doom brought into modern popularity by Pallbearer, with this record scratching a very similar itch that Pallbearer’s latest EP, simply by its length, couldn’t quite do.
These would all miss, however, the greatest accomplishment of this record, and that is its sense of scope. Metal since its earliest years took after that much-maligned aspect of rock music, its ecstatic near-spiritual mysticism, that virtuosic grandiosity and absolutely epic sense of scale. Led Zeppelin were made gods, after all, for their gaze-into-eternity monumental scale in works “Stairway to Heaven,” “No Quarter” and “Kashmir.” Deep Purple likewise were liked by rock fans but adored by early metalheads as living gods for works such as “Fireball” and “In Rock,” and so, too, were forged the early mythical statuses of Judas Priest, Black Sabbath and Rainbow. This epic grandiosity and absolute sincerity in its indulgence set metal apart from rock and from early punk; what mattered was not the cool nor even in truth the attitude, but the ecstatic and sincere devotion to this thing, this monumental behemoth somewhere far beyond. Everything in metal works best when ratcheted up, to make whatever is made the most intense form of itself.
Spirit Adrift trades in this grandiosity of vision and succeeds. Garrett layers harmonized dual guitar riffs and solos over mid-tempo heavy doom almost exclusively song to song and section to section. With different production, these songs would merely be solidly performed modern doom, an admirable record that learned as much from Mastodon and Pallbearer and the more classic metal moments of Inter Arma as it did from foundational bands such as Candlemass and Type O Negative. What makes this album so compelling is how effortlessly it seems to evoke its vastness, how easily it gestures to the universal and how believable and earned it makes these gestures feel.
The guitar harmonies sit in the higher register, in classic vein of Wishbone Ash, Thin Lizzy and Iron Maiden. Garrett wisely does not shy away from the aspects of traditional heavy metal that eventually differentiated themselves into power metal; his playing on this record represents a growing return to acceptance of power metal, at least of certain kinds, that you can find in bands such as Visigoth and Crypt Sermon. Garrett’s background proves he is no stranger to the more brutal, intense, and punk-related forms of metal, which makes the move to create and release this record all the more deliberate. It is a validation of the continued importance and continued power of these aspects of metal.
It is the ability to convey this monumental scale that marks so many of the greatest metal bands of all time. Emperor did not ascend to the top of the second wave of black metal by ferocity but by scope of vision; Enslaved surpassed them in time by similar virtue, and contemporary Mayhem returned to relevance by pushing themselves deeper into the avant-garde. Dream Theater did not deliver their classic earlier prog metal records by shying away from ambition, nor did Mastodon craft their staggering first four records by limiting their scope. It’s hard to talk about without sounding a bit cheesy, but it’s undeniably an aspect of metal, and perhaps the thing that makes it perennially unhip: if cool is determined by not giving a fuck, metal will forever be out of the loop, because it is always seeking the most profound form of itself and most intense manner of revelation. Chained to Oblivion, despite the sincere gloom of its subject matter, is a devout and sincere testament to this power, and it succeeds because it devotes itself so fully.
Langdon Hickman is listening to progressive rock and death metal. He currently resides in Virginia with his partner and their two pets.