Spirit Adrift, a duo from Phoenix, Arizona, play traditional metal: loud, not too fast, catchy and headbang-worthy at once, aiming for operatic grandeur but settling for fist-pumping grit. This is not a genre known for openness to new ideas, but Nate Garrett (who writes all the songs and plays guitar, bass, and sometimes keyboards) and Marcus Bryant (who plays drums) have undergone a surprisingly thorough evolution over the course of four albums.

Their debut, 2016’s Chained to Oblivion, was released on Prosthetic. It had five songs ranging between seven and 11 minutes in length. They were an orthodox doom metal band at that point, drawing from both the Ozzy Osbourne and Ronnie James Dio versions of Black Sabbath, but tilting more toward the latter. Bryant hadn’t yet entered the picture, so it was all Garrett, indulging his retro impulses and sonic perfectionism the way only one man in a recording studio by himself can.

Once Bryant came on board, they left Prosthetic for 20 Buck Spin, the label that’s given the world traditional doom/power metal acts like Pallbearer, Khemmis and Magic Circle, as well as avant-garde death metal bands like Oranssi Pazuzu and substantially less avant-garde death metal bands like Tomb Mold and Vastum. With Bryant backing him up, Garrett evolved on 2017’s Curse of Conception and 2019’s Divided by Darkness, his incantatory vocals bringing to mind Karl Simon of the Gates of Slumber, as well as Scott “Wino” Weinrich of Saint Vitus and the Obsessed. On the latter album, the band’s music shifted from thunderous doom to something more power metal-ish, the riffs more anthemic and the drumming faster and almost explosive. The first track on Divided by Darkness, “We Will Not Die,” was a fist-pumping metal anthem worthy of Manowar; all it needed was a chorus about fighting for metal.

The newest Spirit Adrift album, Enlightened in Eternity (yes, they’re sticking with the “verb-preposition-noun” structure and going alphabetically), is their most power metal release to date. The first track, Ride Into the Light,” has an Amon Amarth-ish gallop and features newly gutsy vocals from Garrett. But the second track, “Astral Levitation,” is a real achievement. Slow and almost bluesy, it rumbles along like a bulldozer before building up to a gloriously anthemic chorus with subtle synth backing that’s not quite Dio, but definitely in that neighborhood. In its final stretch, it speeds up and erupts in a series of call-and-response shredtastic guitar solos, followed by some Judas Priest-ly dual leads, all over a hard-driving beat.

The next track, “Cosmic Conquest,” is even more epic. It begins with a countoff and a thunderous wave from the rhythm section, and Garrett’s verses are explosive and declamatory, leading to an absolute monster of a chorus — “All I want to be/One with everything” — that’s 100 percent intended to be screamed by an arena full of drunk headbangers. The doubled guitar leads are, again, stunningly shredtastic.

The album goes on in this vein for a solid 45 minutes. It sounds like the 1990s and everything after never happened. It’s a long-haired, denim-vest, ripped-jeans Heavy Metal Album, cathartic and glorious. At his grittiest, Garrett is a passionate screamer on the level of Deep Purple‘s Ian Gillan (who briefly sang for Black Sabbath, too, don’t forget). “Screaming From Beyond” could be a cover of a forgotten DP album cut. There are a bunch of bands around right now, including Grand Magus, Pallbearer and Elder among others, that explore this kind of traditional sound, while injecting it with enough modernity and novelty to appeal to listeners under 40. Spirit Adrift might be more purely metal than either of them, though, and Enlightened in Eternity is their best work yet.

Phil Freeman

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