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When you get dealt a terrible hand, you want to go back to what works for you, to what gives your reassurance from life’s tyranny. That’s precisely what Nate Garrett — vocalist, guitarist, and primary songwriter for the Tuscon, Arizona metal band Spirit Adrift, and guitarist for death metal group Gatecreeper — does on Curse Of Conception, Spirit Adrift’s second record. Instead of making a hasty retreat into defeat and resentment, though, he taps into his earliest influences to make one of the year’s most exceptional metal records. Though struck by joy and wonder he hasn’t felt since he was a teenager, he makes it a point to deal with heavy stuff in the process.
Spirit Adrift’s first record, Chained To Oblivion, was written and performed almost entirely by Garrett. It was a drawn out and relentlessly doomy affair, reminiscent of the work of Pallbearer. Conception is still written by him, but with a band behind him in support — he won’t say exactly who contributed what, though his Gatecreeper bandmate Chase Mason joined as their live bassist. The result is a much more nostalgic record, taking in from a broader range of influences, mainly from Garrett’s formative metal days as an only child in Oklahoma. That’s not a knock; on the contrary, it’s what makes this album a quantum leap from Oblivion. Nostalgia can be a force for good when wielded properly. Gatecreeper, after all, takes from the best of early ’90s death metal, and Spirit Adrift encapsulates the gems from ’80s thrash, Judas Priest, and Dio-era Black Sabbath, with a reverence that also puts them in a modern context.
“My closest friends from growing up and all periods of my life — independently of each other, a lot of my closest friends who have heard this have been like, ‘this is the most you record you’ve ever made,’” Garret told me in a recent interview. “I think it’s the most honest and open and accurate portrayal of who I am.”
Conception is brimming with exuberance from its multifaceted approach. The title track takes meaty, slowed-down thrash riffs plucked from The Black Album and gives them a healthy thrust. “Starless Age (Enshrined)” draws equally upon the apocalyptic doom of Trouble as it does Metallica at their most nihilistic on Ride The Lightning; dual warheads that are even deadlier together. Garrett doubled down on melodies, making them more immediate and bringing them to the forefront.
Conception has many familiar reference points, but it’s united by the unbridled joy of discovering metal for the first time and the wisdom required to put all these discoveries together in brutal, beautiful ways. There’s an ever-present familiar excitement that’s comes for all metalheads, shared through experiences like seeing Black Sabbath for the first time on Pop-Up Video and begging your grandmother to go to the mall to buy their CDs. For Garrett, that’s one such personal memory that he reconnected with while making this record.