Ghost At The Gallows

Century Media
rating icon 9 / 10

Track listing:

01. Give Her To The River
02. Barn Burner
03. Hanged Man's Revenge
04. These Two Hands
05. Death Won't Stop Me
06. I Shall Return
07. Siren Of The South
08. Ghost At The Gallows

One of the main things that keeps heavy music afloat after all this time is the diehard's undiluted passion. Nate Garrett has been on a mission for a full decade now, leading SPIRIT ADRIFT from their low-key origins to their burgeoning status as one of the best and purest heavy metal bands on the planet. After the epic, doom-driven squall of the 2016 debut "Chained To Oblivion", Garrett has incrementally nudged his vision forward, and SPIRIT ADRIFT have become a much more distinctive beast in the process.

Across three acclaimed LPs — "Curse Of Conception" (2017),"Divided By Darkness" (2019) and "Enlightened In Eternity" (2020) — the Texans have established a vibe that comes closer than most to invoking the power and glory of old-school heavy metal. Two subsequent EPs added to the legacy: "Forge Your Future" was a brilliant stopgap in 2021, while "20 Centuries Gone" emerged last year, offering covers of songs by METALLICA, PANTERA, ZZ TOP, and THIN LIZZY among others. Garrett has been building towards something big, and his songwriting has grown with each successive step. Throw in the formation of a brand-new lineup, featuring ex-CARCASS live guitarist Tom Draper, and the band's fifth album can hardly fail to be significant.

How do you like your heavy metal? Epic and overblown, or gritty and soulful? It turns out that you really can have both. SPIRIT ADRIFT have reached a sublime peak of efficacy here. Opener "Give Her To The River" is steeped in '80s metal and the lissome rush of '70s rock, but the sum of those parts is neither nostalgic nor derivative. It's some trick to pull off. Classic sounding but gently ingenious riffs, a stirring vocal from Garrett, some blistering solos, and a structure that ebbs and flows across eight glorious minutes: this is almost magically timeless stuff, as relevant to 2023 as it would have been at any time over the last 50 years. And you may sense that SPIRIT ADRIFT know it too. These are all great songs, but it's an electrifying ensemble performance that seals the deal every time. The lengthy, shape-shifting instrumental section in "Give Her To The River" brings to mind mid-'80s MAIDEN, through sheer energy and melodic verve. In fact, the intro to "Barn Burner" has a certain "Wasted Years"-like charm to it, but even when they echo the greats, SPIRIT ADRIFT remain a wholly individual band. The rest of the song is pure dirt-metal nirvana, with smart vocal harmonies, a big chorus and bonus gnarly thrash riffing. Again, the instrumental section oozes natural authority.

Garrett flips the speed metal switch for "Hanged Man's Revenge", which takes off at a snotty clip and keeps foot to floor until SPIRIT ADRIFT slip seamlessly into classic doom mode, with solos firing in from all angles and a woozy wash of stoned intent enshrouding the riffs. "These Two Hands" builds from a delicate, acoustic intro into a swaggering, bluesy affair, with flurries of twin-lead harmonies, before ending with another hazy hippie strum. In contrast, "Death Won't Stop Me" is straight-ahead, mid-paced and catchy as hell: a slight METALLICA influence evident in the riffs but underpinned by a rhythm section that really swings. "I Shall Return" is unapologetic in its debt to RANDY RHOADS — the opening riff will have OZZY fans salivating — but as it evolves, it becomes another miraculous hybrid of trad meta and psych-tinged '70s rock, with a chorus that becomes hypnotic as it cycles around. Similarly, "Siren Of The South" is a trippy waltz, with roots in the groovy slurry of early grunge, more of that rugged, thrash-influenced riffing and a melancholy, occult rock feel. Again, SPIRIT ADRIFT have whipped up great originality from the most familiar of ingredients.

As with "Give Her To The River", the closing title track confirms the full extent of Garrett's ambition. Nine minutes long and almost overburdened with great riffs, it is both a masterful piece of (progressive) heavy metal songcraft, and a dazzling showcase for the current lineup. The somnambulant mid-section that pitches Garrett's elegant vocal against the ambient swell of ghostly guitars is simply beautiful, and perfectly sets up the arrival of yet another avalanche of guitars.

This is heavy metal that you can bask in. Rich in detail, borne of great passion, and cognizant of the past but in no way bound by it. "Ghost At The Gallows" is a seriously brilliant piece of work and a righteous victory for one of the modern scene's most dogged diehards.

Author: Dom Lawson
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