SPIRIT ADRIFT – Ghost At The Gallows (Album Review)

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Singing multi-instrumentalist songwriter Nate Garrett has much to say. Or so it would seem, given his industrious nature while evolving his mixed-metal project Spirit Adrift. Today, with the release of the incredibly ambitious “Ghost at the Gallows,” Garrett marks five full-length albums in about as many years, a rare feat in today’s music industry, especially with any sense of quality in mind. However, this seems to be less about volumetric brute force quantity, and more about a desire to impatiently continue to accelerate the metamorphosis of the Spirit Adrift organism until it reaches its final form, if such a thing is possible in the hands of an expressive perfectionist. 

While traditionally billed as a mostly doom-genre metal band, or at least existing somewhere upon the continuum ranging from Black Sabbath to Opeth, in this latest LP release, the band tunes its motor while simultaneously incorporating more diverse rock and metal albums than ever before. Some examples of this selective diversity will be evident in scrutiny of the individual tracks, but on the whole, it is clear that Nate and the group have been taking masterclasses in the “Book of Heavy Metal” (hat tip to Dream Evil). The compositions themselves are like carbon fiber; their strength is in how the various threads, themes, and styles are woven tightly together into something which somehow exceeds the sum
of its parts. Let’s get into it.

The album fades into an opening made of what sounds like rain falling softly upon a riverbank at nighttime. This is then joined with clean electric guitar chords, strummed and dissected into individual notes, swirling with chorus and various other modulations. Finally, about one minute in, the same chord sequence comes thundering out in a metal wall of sound on par with Metallica’s “Battery.” Big, well-mixed drums, sweet layers of high-gain guitars, and thundering bass guitar are layered so well it would raise Flemming Rasmussen’s eyebrows. By the time the main riff comes in and the drums pick up their tempo, the rhythm chopping is more of something one might expect from Jake E. Lee or John Sykes

Nate’s vocals remain strong and expressive, perhaps most comparable to Racer X’s Jeff Martin, around the ”Superheroes” and “Getting Heavier” period, and perhaps with a hint of diaphragm and grit reminiscent of younger Gene Simmons. In the first brief instrumental break from the vocals, we get our first glimpse into the almost staccato alternate open picking of the guitars, paired perfectly with some
very tight drumming, right down to rock-solid double kick and ride action. There are times that these frantic interludes are a bit like Maiden’s “Where Eagles Dare,” with some of Nicko’s most innovative drumming to date. Also noteworthy are the harmonized guitar parts, while invoke a healthy amount of “Dave and Adrian” good-time nostalgia from the golden age. Once we have given her “to the river,” the song closes with more soft rain on the riverbank.

” Ghosts At The Gallows” Artwork

Speaking of Adrian, the alternating open note picking of the second track, “Barn Burner,” is almost in the same vein as the “Wasted Years” intro, but it’s unique enough to stand on its own as not being overly derivative. As a whole, however, the song exists more in a dirty early thrash sort of groove. About two minutes in, the instrumentation settles into a chugging, relentlessly driven, cymbal-heavy groove, featuring some of the same open note E string alternation found at the intro. Special mention should be given to the bass guitar creatively winding its way through the grooves, managing to avoid following the guitar parts exactly, or getting so creative that it becomes distracting.

Still keeping us on our toes, “Hanged Man’s Revenge” is raw 80s thrash at its finest. Aggressive tempo, straight-on riffage, and hard-edge vocals paint a wicked scene, complete with blistering lead guitar work. The track is not as simple as it may first appear, however, since about halfway in, it breaks down, getting nasty with the doomy and the gloomy. It’s like Iommi riffs with dueling guitar solos, fading into oblivion as the floor toms are beaten into submission.

“These Two Hands,” fades in with some lovely minor-key acoustic playing; definitely steel-string, but there might even be a subtle layer of nylon as well. Gentle, soulful vocals join the guitars for a few solemn verses, until around three minutes in, when layered high-gain guitars launch simultaneously into a bend reminiscent of the big crescendo of “Orion.” This sets a grandiose stage for some assertive vocal verse, before breaking for another interesting old-school technical thrash metal dual-guitar throwdown, full of interesting hammer-ons and pull-offs integrated into well-suited lead guitar phrasing. This slams us suddenly back into the same gentle acoustic guitar parts from the beginning, although with a small dose of violin strings. The effect is very similar to what was conveyed with the outros of “To Live is to Die,” or Maiden’s “The Prophecy.”

“Death Won’t Stop Me,” is one of the doomier and sludgier tracks on the record, managing to fuse together Corrosion of Conformity dirt with the sensibilities of Dio and Sabbath. The rapid-eight note lead guitar phrase laid over the top of the verse structure makes for a nice touch. As a whole, the guitars do an admirable job walking the line between blues and metal, in an almost Black Label capacity. “I Shall Return,” has some obvious Roads/Lee riff structure roots, probably most notably to material like “Crazy Train”, but when we spoke with Nate Garrett, he revealed some even more surprising origins to the track. It’s a fun, high energy romp for sure. It continues to explore the mortality angle found lyrically in the themes of the album, but with a more optimistic approach, both lyrically, and in the actual key changes of the composition.

One of the more technically interesting tracks of the record is “Siren of the South,” a track with a few different sounds and elements, fusing the dark and brooding with focused thrash energy. Layered lead guitars return with stellar effect, taking turns with effects-laden vocals. The rapid-fire rhythm section attacks in the last half of the song make effective use of varying pauses for varying counts, toying with

the listener. Are we headbanging? Or aren’t we? There is even an eerie unplugged interlude with a hint of lush chorus, before the song answers the question one final time: Yes. We are headbanging. What does this album have in common with “Seventh Son of a Seventh Son?” The title track is a juggernaut. In this case, weighing in at eight minutes, with no filler, this one is a bruiser. Reverse delay

and reverb on the vocals makes us wonder if we are supposed to go to the light or not. The tempo is just right, the heaviness is spot-on for a wrenching song about stepping up to the noose. Even the layered lead guitars making the big “Orion” bends come back again, before the song dips into clean guitars with some of the thickest chorus modulation ever put on a metal record. Nate’s vocals echo their way hauntingly into the clean guitars, as we get the occasional plucked harmonics to really set the stage before dark and pained “ahhhhhhs” lead us towards the bombastic conclusion. With all the knobs pushed to 11, the band pushes for one last swan song of beautiful heavy melody, before one last clean chord is plucked before fading to black.

This album is a whopper. With fries. It is a lot to take in and digest, for a seemingly simple eight-track album. It may take a few listens to learn the riffs, the changes, the grooves, and find your own personal favorite hooks and riffs. All in all, it is probably worth it. One may reasonably argue that taking some of the best ingredients in rock and metal, and fusing them with modern sensibilities into a metal record with streaks of thrash, doom, prog, and classic metal would be a derivative work. This could be true, even if it were to ignore the fact that virtually everything being done today stands on the shoulders of some preceding titan. However, the more practical view might be that if an automaker were to summon the very greatest engineers and design experts, most of whom would be retired or passed on, and infuse a modern production car with the steering of a 911, the handling of a Skyline, the heart and soul of a Hemi V-8, and the legendary lines of a Jaguar or a Ferrari, and put it into a single package, it could possibly end up being the most celebrated driver’s car ever created.

Well, forgive the laborious metaphor, but Nate Garrett has teamed up with Tom Draper on guitars, Sonny DeCarlo on bass, and Michael Arellano on drums to do the heavy metal equivalent of just that. They have taken inspiration from the lead guitar work of 80s Iron Maiden, the rhythm chops of Rhoads and Sykes, songwriting sensibilities ranging from “Master of Puppets” to “Youthanasia”, and fused that with the dark places discovered and explored by everyone from Sabbath to Dio to, well, Spirit Adrift, and created something that is still unique and very much worth remembering. And it’s sure as hell worth you listening to it. The mix is big and tight without losing dynamic headroom, the musicianship is world-class, and the songwriting is actually pretty original, and it’s unfortunate how we cannot say that about more albums.

Usually, we would say something like, if you like Band X, or Specific Genre Z, you should check this out. Forget that. If you like metal, any metal at all, you owe it yourself to check this one. It’s a highlight of the year, as far as we are concerned. It just hit the stores today.

Release Date: August 18th, 2023
Record Label: Century Media Records
Genre: Traditional Heavy Metal

“Ghost At The Gallows” track listing:

  1. Give Her To The River
  2. Barn Burner
  3. Hanged Man’s Revenge
  4. These Two Hands
  5. Death Won’t Stop Me
  6. I Shall Return
  7. Siren Of The South
  8. Ghost At The Gallows

Order “Ghost At The Gallows” HERE.

9.0 Excellent

Nate Garrett and the boys of Spirit Adrift continue to evolve, not only their own metal sound, but also
the state of metal as we know it today. This new record sets a new standard, doing a little bit of every
kind of metal, and doing it surprisingly well. Elements of metal’s greatest hits are alive and well in this
record.

  • Songwriting 9
  • Musicianship 9
  • Originality 9
  • Production 9
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