To say the least, 2019 has been a lackluster year for the heavy metal scene. In 2018, metal music had an underground renaissance. New artists have made their presence known in the mainstream and classic acts have declared that age really is just a number to these rock stars. Judas Priest released Firepower, not only one of the best metal albums of the entire decade, but their most rambunctious and ambitious sounding records they’ve produced in the last thirty years. Not to mention the revival of the Stoner/Doom Metal scene with Sleep’s comeback album, The Sciences and the commercial success of Ghost’s Prequelle. 2019 had huge shoes to fill after the surprisingly remarkable efforts of last year. For the most part, those shoes have not been filled. Perhaps the most awaited project for this year was Tool’s first studio album in thirteen years, Fear Inoculum, that had the band sounding incredible sonically. However, it is clear when listening to most of the songs on that album that there was no real direction the band wanted to go into. Nearly every song is drawn out over ten minutes when there is no need. Overall, a disappointing effort from a highly anticipated release.
However, one group that does not seem to miss a single step is Arizona-based band, Spirit Adrift. Starting as a side project for Nate Garrett, guitarist for Gatecreeper, Spirit Adrift started musically as a revivalist doom metal band. Drawing heavily from doom pioneers Black Sabbath and Candlemass, their sound involved slow and crunchy guitar riffs that left the earth shaking after every string pluck. This sound is especially evident in their sophomore release, Curse of Conception. Yet on their newest LP, Divided by Darkness, the band embraces other subgenres of metal to present in their own sound. And by all means, they succeeded. Released on May 10th, 2019, this record runs with the strengths shown on Curse of Conception and amplifies those same strengths across the board. In Spirit Adrift’s heaviest and most ambitious release yet, the band combines elements of traditional heavy metal, New Wave of British Metal, and even traces of thrash metal appear on some tracks as well as retain some of their doom roots. While they are not making music geared more towards the mainstream metal scene, Divided By Darkness is much more inviting than Nate’s previous albums. The guitar riffs are fast paced and bright, Nate’s vocals are soaring, and just about every instrument sounds great here.
Let’s get straight into this review. The way I rate my albums is that I go track by track and explaining the songs’ highlights, lowlights, and my overall thought of each song. To summarize my thoughts of the record, I have listened to this album in its entirety at least ten times since its release in May.
Track by Track Review
The album begins with “We Will Not Die.” In the first ten seconds, you can tell this record is here to make a statement as hard-hitting snare drums followed by high energy guitar riffs to match come flying through the speakers. The verse and chorus riffs are somewhat reminiscent of an Iron Maiden song the way the riffs are aggressively laid. Out of nowhere, a thrash metal section appears in the song’s bridge which fits surprisingly well. If this song isn’t a good way to prepare for the musical odyssey that is Divided by Darkness, I don’t know what is.
The title track, “Divided by Darkness,” starts in a similar way as the former track, yet focuses on much slower, heavier riffs. Nate’s lyricism mostly involves the use of science fiction, fantasy, and death as he sings about traversing the universe with a cosmic entity. The guitar solo on this song has the two guitar players soloing in a harmony, which is always a nice touch to add.
“Born into Fire,” possibly the heaviest song on the entire album, and my personal favorite is loud and authoritative with the daunting guitar work by Nate Garrett and Eric Wagner. The pedal point licks are a very nice touch to this song. Throughout the song, Nate is singing “I am the word that can’t be spoken // I am the bond that can’t be broken,” and “We are the earth, ravaged war // We are the fire burring all.” The track shows a beautiful contrast with Nate soaring vocals when he hits the higher notes and the guitars riffs being low and heavier than a cinderblock.
The ballad of the album, “Angel and Abyss,” starts off with this wonderfully crafted guitar intro with every note filled with feeling before going into a slow, clean riff. Nate begins singing about the feeling of depression and suicide. It’s the most emotional track considering the depressive state Nate Garrett was in years ago. Now, he is conveying how he felt by changing between mellow and heavy with each passing verse and chorus before exploding in this cataclysmic reaction that sees the band going full thrash metal once again. Once could say this section can be representative of Nate releasing all his emotions out at once in a beautiful explosion. This is probably the best sounding track on the album and the most worth listening to by itself.
Starting side two is “Tortured by Time.” Immediately, this cacophony of harmonized guitar riffs enters the ears in a dramatic way. Although I haven’t said this before, but the production is incredibly clean, and no instrument is buried in the mixing. The production quality is even more evident on Tortured by Time as the vocal work by Nate Garrett is just as powerful as the hard-hitting drums and roaring guitars. Not to mention this song has the most doom metal elements on the entire album which is shown with the slow, churning guitar work during the chorus and bridge. A fantastic track in every sense.
Track six is titled “Hear Her.” The fastest paced song on the album, sounding like it would fit perfectly on Judas Priest’s Painkiller album. As the shortest and most straightforward song on Divided by Darkness, there are no unexpected turns that the other songs take. From the repetitive prologue guitar riffs to the intricate interlude from the chorus to the short but sweet solo at the song’s climax. It’s a quick, aggressive rocker that kicks you in the teeth. Hear Her is a great song and a killer entry for heavy metal.
That leads into “Living Light.” In this song, the drums take the spotlight as drum and guitar patterns here mesh together greatly. I sadly would have to say this is the weakest track on the album even though I still think it’s a great song. The energy and drive that is all over the other songs doesn’t show up as prominently as “We Will Not Die” or “Angel and Abyss.” By no means is this a bad song. It just so happens to be the weakest number in this collection of tracks.
Last but certainly not least is “The Way of Return.” This is an entirely instrumental piece, but the words all come from the guitars with the way Nate Garrett and Eric Wagner move through their scales in a way that almost sounds like a vocal melody. At the two-minute mark, the song takes this clean, mellow interlude which is a beautiful addition to the song before building back up into their distorted riffs. As a way to mark the grand finale, the guitars get brighter as they both harmonize this fast lick repeatedly until the music eventually fades out. A great instrumental song that belongs on the album and deserving of closing the record.
Full Album Review
Divided by Darkness is an album that receives many comparisons from Metallica’s sophomore record, Ride the Lightning. In many aspects, that is correct. Both albums have very strong openers along with the power ballads, “Fade to Black” and “Angel and Abyss,” appearing on the fourth track. To even further solidify the similarities, the last song on both albums are long winded instrumental pieces that bring the record to a satisfying halt. However, that is where the similarities end for both albums. While Ride the Lightning cemented Metallica as kings of the thrash metal scene, Divided by Darkness leaves Spirit Adrift with a multitude of options to choose from. With the massive experimentation of various other metal genres with just about all of them working to the band’s advantage. Nate Garrett and his band now have the choice to move in any musical direction they want. Now, that isn’t to say Divided by Darkness was just to test the waters on what Spirit Adrift could do. They were drawing on strengths that no one knew the band had, and it worked magnificently. One small gripe I do have with this album, although it is very minor, is Living Light. Although it is a good song, it does sound similar to the title track, which leaves me to wonder what direction Nate wants to take. Does he want an entire album to sound like this? I don’t know.
Suggestions aside, Spirit Adrift have proven that they can carry the flag for metal music with Divided by Darkness to prove it. As a band who shed their doom roots for a more accessible and unique sound, there are both high hopes and high expectations for the Arizona-based metal outfit’s next project.