Mesa, Arizona cuts a stark contrast from Fayetteville, Arkansas: justsk Nate Garrett, the man behind the soaring doom metal of Spirit Adrift. Garrett grew up in Fayetteville, a city nestled within the Ozark Mountains which loom over the humid southeast corner of the United States. It was there he cultivated a love of classic metal and Southern rock, falling especially hard for local sludge fiends Deadbird. "For a minute, Fayetteville, Arkansas was the most magical scene I've ever been a part of," Garrett told me. He grew up in the city's scene playing in various bands, even as the more destructive trappings of that scene took hold of him. Garrett was drinking heavily and doing drugs during his time in these projects, and unfortunately, the inspiration in Fayetteville would soon dried up. "Things changed," he explained. "The Deadbird dudes all moved away, all the good bands broke up, all the cool venues shut down. At that point, I felt like I was just wasting my time."
He soon decided to leave Arkansas behind and move out West. He had friends who attended a recording school in Arizona, and decided to follow a similar path in search of a new well of inspiration. The move would ultimately prove fruitful for Garrett. He spent his first few years in Phoenix, taking part in the local scene there and playing guitar for black 'n' roll outfit Take Over And Destroy. By 2015, Garrett had sobered up, moved to Mesa, and started Spirit Adrift as a conduit for his new lease on life; that same year, he joined the ranks of local death metallers Gatecreeper. Spirit Adrift released its debut album, Chained to Oblivion, in 2016 and returned earlier this year in a split with Denver doom rockers Khemmis. This coming Friday sees the release of the newest addition to Spirit Adrift's catalog: the solo project-turned-full band's second full-length record, Curse of Conception. The album is out October 6 via 20 Buck Spin, and represents a bold new direction, conveyed with much greater ferocity.
The Sabbathian aura of Chained to Oblivion has moved away from the foreground. In its place is an aggressive, doom-informed take on classic thrash and traditional metal. Towering, crisp riffs and subtle melodies carry Southern-inspired swells as Garrett's Arkansas roots shine through on songs like "To Fly on Broken Wings" and "Wakien, the latter a staggering instrumental composition that billows with majestic arioso. Meanwhile, heavier songs like the title track, "Graveside Invocation" and "Onward, Inward" are reminiscent of Master of Puppets—if it were played at two-thirds the normal speed. "I have come full circle, and am obsessed with the bands that first got me into metal, like Metallica, Black Sabbath, and Judas Priest." Garrett said of Spirit Adrift's new sound. As a result of these influences (as well as the use of his Gatecreeper equipment on the new record), the band's music has evolved into a fiery display of vintage sound that belies its creators' years.
This record marks a new era for the band itself, too: since its conception as a solo effort, Spirit Adrift has now grown into a full band. Garrett is now joined by his Gatecreeper bandmate, Chase Mason, on bass, guitarist Jeff Owens, and drummer Marcus Bryant. In Garrett's opinion, bringing in permanent members has truly allowed Spirit Adrift to flourish. "Having a full band has changed everything; I never anticipated playing live, and I think part of me was worried that I wasn't good enough," Garrett admits. "I've got the support of three great guys now, who all contribute to this thing. It has given me more confidence and joy than I have had since I first started playing music… We joke a lot about how, in every band we have been in, we have each been the guy to get things done and take control. Most bands only have one guy like that. With Spirit Adrift, it's every guy in the band."
Yet beneath the band's recently heavier sound and expanded lineup, there still remains the same deep stream of emotion and unique ideas from which Spirit Adrift has always been drawn. The project is understandably close to Garrett's heart, and it has provided him a way to express more complex emotions and lyrical themes. "I keep finding myself drawn to science fiction and religion, which I think are pretty closely related" he explains. "I get weird ideas that are probably left over from doing mushrooms. The last time I ever did them, it fried something in me permanently, I'm pretty sure. Sometimes I think it turned my brain into a kind of antenna or receptor for weird shit."
Whatever the reason for it, the lyrics for Curse of Conception are certainly more than a little far-out (especially for a doom recording). "I had this idea that there is this pure source of energy out there in the cosmos," Garrett tells me. "Like a well of life where our souls come from. This massive, swirling generator lets a little bit of life out and enters our human forms when we are born. Then from that point forward, this pure, beautiful life force is relentlessly beaten down by the experience of living. We become jaded, depressed, or overwhelmed. We get cancer, kill, and judge each other. In order to put an end to this cycle, we have to get back in touch with that beautiful, positive center of existence. In the real world, people meditate, pray, take drugs, play music, make art, and all sorts of things in order to try and find that peaceful, loving source of energy."
Curse of Conception's theme and lyrics rang even truer for Garrett following the results of the presidential election and its subsequent consequences. In many instances, the words he sings are sharply influenced by last November, and the fervent tone of Garrett's displeasure at what happened is noticeable throughout the album. "It affected me a great deal; the result made me physically sick for days," Garrett says. "Spirit Adrift is not a political band, but to say the material was unaffected by our current situation would be a lie. It definitely made the lyrics even angrier than they would have been otherwise. Instead of being that typically sad doom type of album—it became something far more pissed off."
Even as the election itself has begun to fade from memory, Garrett remains angry and disillusioned by the current political climate. As a resident of Arizona, he has seen the social impact of those affected by the uncertainty of DACA and the pardon of Joe Arpaio first-hand. "Joe Arpaio is a disgusting piece of shit," Garrett spits out. "Anybody with any moral compass and even a slight knowledge of him knows that. The thing is, most people in positions of power are horrible, spiritually bankrupt fucking parasites."
While the anger both within and outside of his music is evident, it is how seamlessly he weaves it together with other emotions that turns Curse of Conception into a cathartic escape. That's ultimately what Nate wants his music to be—a vehicle for conviction. "That sense of hope in the midst of seemingly insurmountable cynicism and misanthropy is basically just my perception of the world in a nutshell," he says. "My natural state is to be discontent and even angry, but I never fully lose hope. You can't let anger and doubt keep you from contributing positively to the world and those around you."
"I wanted Spirit Adrift to be a great doom band. Now I want Spirit Adrift to be the best band in the world, period."
Garrett's view is a good lesson for those who continue to struggle even as humanity is beaten down by its various demons, and as for Garrett himself, he's taken his own advice, and worked to promote affirmative changes in his own life. "Curse of Conception was the hardest I've ever worked on anything," he says with pride in his voice. "At no point was I anything other than motivated, excited, and determined to make the best album we possibly could and we succeeded."
The riveting arrangement and message of Spirit Adrift's second album delivers an intangible takeaway. We may continuously face adversity, but there are always means to positively affect progress—be it personally, politically, or globally. Sometimes, it all starts with a riff.
SPIRIT ADRIFT Curse Of Conception release shows:
10/07/2017 Yucca Tap Room - Tempe, AZ w/ Atriarch, Take Over And Destroy, Divine Hammer
10/14/2017 The Hi-Dive - Denver, CO w/ Khemmis, Abrams
Cody Davis is doomed on Twitter.