Spirit Adrift : Ghost at the Gallows

tom morgan
spirit adrift ghost at the gallows review

More than any other genre, metal is enthralled by the past—both human history as well as the history of the genre itself. The former observation is self-explanatory; metal from Iron Maiden to Panopticon reanimates past events as subjects worthy of reverence and caution. However, metal is also a highly self-reflexive genre. Much of the subculture’s distinct aesthetics (from adherent’s long hair to battle jackets to lyrical fascinations with the occult) have changed little in over five decades, meaning that the genre is imbued with a uniquely out-of-time quality.

This timelessness sometimes manifests as retro pastiche. There’s a whole subgenre of trad metal that deliberately harks back to ’70s and ’80s sounds like speed metal and NWOBHM, both in terms of musical craft and broader aesthetic choices. Retro culture is generally a pretty depressing phenomenon, but within the already historically-conscious metal, it can feel uniquely natural. On the scale of paving new ground to pastiche, Arizona’s Spirit Adrift sit much closer to the latter than the former, but bend their self-aware genre worship into some engrossing shapes.

The band’s skilled songwriting chops ensures that enough of their own personality is visible throughout their oeuvre, more so than pretty much all other traditionalist metal acts. On their latest full-length Ghost at the Gallows, tracks like “Death Won’t Stop Me” with its commanding mid-tempo stomp and “Hanged Man’s Revenge”’s deceptively ambitious structuring prove that Spirit Adrift have more on their mind and more ability at their fingertips than arch imitation. These eight tracks are full-bodied and muscular, backed by glistening production that possesses a crystalline and modern glint.

The heartfelt nature of the music and lyrics of frontman/bandleader Nate Garrett also stand out from other tradition-venerating music, which can often veer towards irony or playful flippancy. Garrett takes an ultra-sincere approach, writing endearingly-upbeat lyrics about overcoming grief and finding hope within darkness. As the title suggests, these sentiments are brought to life by plenty of fun metaphors that imagine adrift spirits returning to the earth. Of note is the lively “I Shall Return,” which pairs ghostly lyrics with momentum-filled rhythms that marry up nicely with the thematic sentiment.

This rich well of emotion is what imbues Ghost at the Gallows, like all of Spirit Adrift’s albums, with life. Appreciation for it will depend on one’s tolerance for power chords, dual guitar leads and soaring vocals. It very occasionally strays a little too close to cheese (“Barn Burner”), but these scant moments aside, Ghost at the Gallows functions as a sufficiently commanding and soulful journey through the storied halls of metal’s past.

Label: Century Media

Year: 2023

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