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Spirit Adrift : Curse Of Conception

Close to greatness, but Spirit Adrift need a little less hero-worship to really get there.

The greatest flaw in Spirit Adrift's Curse of Conception is also its greatest achievement. Simply put, the band have an excellent gift for drawing on a diverse pool of influences and forming them into a coherent sonic palate, but they quite often cross the line from imitation to outright mimicry. I feel reasonably confident saying that, assuming you are a fan of the source material, your appreciation for this release will be pinned down to your toleration of this kind executed but somewhat excessive over-borrowing. As for me, while I do have a number of strong reservations about bands who get so caught up in idol worship that it hinders their ability to form unique sound, I nevertheless find myself in awe of songwriter/vocalist/guitarist Nathan Garrett's in the detailed study of many of my favorite releases.

I'll start out with the negative, because that is just the kind of person I am. There are a number of occasions throughout this release where Spirit Adrift clearly cross the line from inspiration to imitation. The most egregious example of this is the verse from the album's title track, which rides so close to Black Sabbath's 'Lord of This World' that it flirts with violating copyright law. Elsewhere, we see a similar devotion to bands like Baroness (particularly 'To Fly on Broken Wings'), Pallbearer (in the "funerally" passages that are featured in many of the songs). The things borrowed, be they riffs, vocal phrases, or structural elements, are all impeccably executed, but the problem is that no matter how good your craftsmanship is, when you merely copy another group's output, you always cast yourself in the shadow of the original. Every time I listen to the opening of 'Curse of Conception', I felt a strong urge to stop the track and put on 'Master of Reality', and over the past couple of weeks I've found myself listening to 'Purple' nearly as often as I have this album. This is not a good thing. As far as I am concerned, a listener should either find himself sated at the end of a release, or, even better, desiring more of the band in question's music, but they should not get the sense that they would be better served by putting on the real McCoy.

So that was the bad end of the spectrum, now let's take a look at where Spirit Adrift got things right. I think the best example of this can be seen in the way the band were able to incorporate their obvious love of Metallica into a Doom Metal sound that does not water either of the two down. The influence of the four horsemen, particularly their third album, can be seen in a number of places throughout this release. Some good examples are the way the opening song, 'Earthbound', effortlessly transitions from an arpeggiated clean passages to heavy guitars in such a way that the metal riff bears the same rough melodic flavor as the acoustic part yet each fits the shape and texture of their respective styles/instruments, as well as the near-baroque song structures that define their sound on a macro level. The greatest debt Spirit Adrift owe, however is to their solos, particularly those by James Hetfield on 'Master of Puppets'.

To give an example I will again turn to 'Curse of Conception''s title track. Like the title track of 'MoP', Garrett opens his solo by bringing all the other instruments down and performing a riff on clean guitars. Unlike Metallica, Garrett does a bit more modulation with this clean passage rather than more or less repeating it, which blurs the line between pre-solo and solo. They then transition to a riff that once again echoes some of early Metallica's best stylistic choices, starting with a beautiful scale pattern for the first half and then transitioning into a a series of triplets. Then, as the solo starts, and Garrett again crosses into imitation, opening with a pattern identical to how Hetfield starts his 'Master of Puppets' solo, but then returning to a style that, in terms of sheer power, phrasing, and tension and release, is everything Hetfield himself has consistently failed to reproduce since his '80s heyday.

Hopefully the above example illustrates just how thin the line between facsimile and influence lies. At the end of the day, the difference is a thing that is entirely felt. When listening to the solos, I found myself drawn to them for the same reason I was drawn to Metallica, the way they could find that perfect balance between elegant, simply melodic phrases and complex, heavy instrumental intricacy. I did not, however, even once find myself with the urge to put on 'Master of Puppets', nor did I find that their use of the stylistic devices of a Thrash Metal band to be in conflict with the Doom Metal sound they were going for, and that speaks to the bands gift for synthesis.

In the end I find myself frustrated with this release. It comes so close to true greatness that I can almost taste it, but the band are too entangled in the music they themselves admire to really break through to the highest echelons of metal. Zen monks speak of a practice called "killing the Buddha". The gist of it is that if a person reaches the point where anyone, even the founder of a religion, becomes so enthroned in their minds that their words become dogma, one must then slay that person and break free of their influence lest they become enslaved. In the same vein, it is vitally important that Spirit Adrift slay the metal gods that loom so heavily in their own minds. If they can succeed in doing this, I can see nothing save the fickle twists of misfortune that would stop them from rising to the heights of the groups they so admire.

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Reviewer's rating: 8/10


Tracklist :
1. Earthbound
2. Curse of Conception
3. To Fly On Broken Wings
4. Starless Age (Enshrined)
5. Graveside Invocation
6. Spectral Savior
7. Wakien
8. Onward, Inward

Duration : Approx. 47 minutes

Visit the Spirit Adrift bandpage.

Reviewed on 2018-03-30 by Pat Jenkinson
Rotten Copper
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