Spirit Adrift - Curse of Conception - (8.5/10)
Published on October 12, 2017
Label:20 Buck Spin
Doom metal is the metal genre that simultaneously understands metal best at its most fundamental level with how it takes such simple riffs at tempos most would find trudging and makes the most basic of techniques sound massive in scope and crushing in weight. At the same time, it is the genre that loses sight of this all too often with how much of it easily devolves into reverb soaked plod where there could instead be riffs and aimless songs carried moreso by a vague sense of forcefulness than any sense of development or adventure. As Pagan Altar has demonstrated, alongside groups such as Hour of 13, Capilla Ardiente, and Däng, doom can be as crushing and funereal as even when it picks up additional layers of melody, accomplished musicianship, and complex or otherwise unconventional songwriting; if anything, these augment its strengths and its skull-cracking power rather than downplaying it. Spirit Adrift appear to have set out to remind the world of this exactly with their third album, Curse of Conception, after a solid start last year with Chained to Oblivion. Some might call it doom metal for non-fans of the genre but I believe a more accurate description is an improvement on a classic style.
Spirit Adrift’s style has all the muscular weightiness of Pentagram and Candlemass but rather than dressing up chord progressions as riffs, they hit with a level of aggressive crunchiness akin to an NWOBHM or speed metal band slowed down in bullet time combined with a group like Magic Circle or Greece’s Litany. This is riff-driven doom metal, using active fretting actions and curling lead patterns in the thick, muscular configurations of doom metal. While the songs rarely go past what we might call a jogging pace in terms of actual speed, it never feels dragged out with the charismatic nature of the riffing and one-man war machine Nate Garrett’s husky bellow, mournful yet bearing a bit of a wild, rocking character to his tone. It does not come off as what we’d expect from your average “clean” singer but he has a knack for straining certain notes at key junctions in order to emphasize and strengthen a particular melody. His lead guitar playing is no less worthy of mention, equal parts Thin Lizzy esque hard rock and Cloven Hoof or Satan style compact weaponized virtuosity. Articulate in their phrasing, these elaborate melodies sometimes take over his bulldozer riffs to reward the listener with some truly gorgeous harmonies that can stand toe-to-toe with many of the so-called NWOTHM bands of today. Some of the best parts, such as on “Starless Age (Enshrined)” are when he pulls back with the rhythms and lets it rip with aggressive solos, semi bluesy in formation but like Judas Priest, played with a technically competent vigour that brings songs to explosive climaxes.
At eight songs and a little under 50 minutes, the album is a reasonable length for its choice of style. More importantly, there’s quite a bit of variety present that while not particularly intricate, gives each song quite a bit of character and even elegance that ensure no minute wasted and no moment trudges. Opener “Earthbound” features an excellent folky acoustic opener with excellent bass harmony before unleashing a blazing solo, simple in its rise-and-fall motions but elegant in how it sets the stage before a graceful mixture of crashing chords and gradually descending leads picks up the pace. “To Fly on Broken Wings” works a careful dense between lumbering, tense passages and aggressive uptempo stomps, all under the careful reign of hovering lead riffs. “Graveside Invocation” shows they are no stranger to energetic runs, unleashing an agile armoured beast of a riff steamrolling through the verses to unleash rigidly cadenced lead barrages in its choruses. Afterwards it breaks its momentum to work through waves of marching, mournful chords in a mournful, rainy day procession. The band even included a short instrumental interlude in “Wakien”, where what sounds almost like a mix between a banjo and a harp converse with an acoustic guitar matching it note for note befoe pulling off a big bluesy doom metal finale. Finally, closing epic, “Onward, Inward” opens it with an almost absurdly punishing chugging riff that foregoes all subtlety for raw impact. Nate even pulls off some throaty roars, breaking away into a short thrash like assault before a clean, semi-ambient section almost prog like in its delicately picked clean guitar and keyboard melodies. Finally the album then concludes with a swelling burst of backing chords washing over overlaid vocals and meditative undistorted leads, hypnotic in their gentle motions.
I’ll admit that I don’t listen to *quite* as much doom metal as some of my compatriots do compared to all the death, black, trad, power, thrash, and even prog I spin. However when I do find examples of the genre I do enjoy, rarely do they get lost among their numerous neighbours among those genres. Spirit Adrift might not break the mold and reinvent what Black Sabbath, Saint Vitus, Trouble, and Solitude Aeturnus made a worldwide movement. However by virtue of their ironclad songwriting skills, wide arsenal of riffing, gorgeous lead playing, and Nate’s special knack for working charming melodies into a gutsy, down to Earth package, they are on a level far above the majority of what passes for the genre regardless of the specific subgenre or style. Everything here fits into pace; from simple changes in tempo and between rhythm and melody to the specific phrasing of every lead and the small journey encompassed n each song, Curse of Conception demonstrates an unshakeable grip on both the fundamentals needed for good doom metal and the sorcery of one’s personal touch needed to go from serviceable to immortal. For those who prefer doom metal when its 70’s influences are prominent and when it’s not too far distanced from traditional heavy metal, grab this one quick!