Ghost at the Gallows continues an excellent run of form for Spirit Adrift, one that truly began on their second album, Curse of Conception (2017). Five full-length studio releases deep since 2016, and incredibly, sole founder Nate Garrett keeps improving as a songwriter. The hooks get bigger and bolder just as his vocals get more distinctive, confident, and compelling.
Inspired by metal’s heavy-hitters—from Metallica, Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, and Iron Maiden to Pantera, Type O Negative, Ozzy Osbourne, and Corrosion of Conformity—Garrett’s gilded riffs have also progressed during a prolific seven-year period of creativity; the talented guitarist has displayed ample ability to crisscross doom, thrash, trad metal, and classic/Southern rock with instinctual ease, forging his amalgamated style in the process.
While this Austin, Texas-based band does not have the selling-point spooky gimmickry of a commercially successful peer like Ghost, they have the same anthemic nature regarding songwriting. Track five, “Death Won’t Stop Me”, might be the most perfectly contained song Spirit Adrift have written. The central riff could have come from the celebrated right hand of Metallica’s James Hetfield, such is its impact, while Garrett’s vocal tone and phrasing have a noticeable feel of Pepper Keenan circa Corrosion of Conformity’s Deliverance. Yet despite these influences, all the killer melodies arranged here are his and his alone.
“Death Won’t Stop Me” is a defiant and defining statement, and it comes directly after the most vulnerable and emotionally raw track on the LP, “These Two Hands”. This song is Ghost at the Gallows‘ version of “Angel and Abyss”, a standout from the band’s 2019 album Divided by Darkness. Beginning with a beautiful campfire acoustic section overlayed with Ghost-like vocal melodies, this song is about the death of someone close. It has the kind of ecclesiastical melody you’d hear in religious music, matching the funereality of the line, “These two hands / Carried you out of this life.”
It’s a very open and raw track, especially when Garrett sings, “We did all we could to keep you alive”, then later laments, “Learn to live without you by my side / Wishing I’d be the one who died.” It’s lyrically profound. Blunt. Free from flowery imagery. The gut-punch doom riff and Corrosion of Conformity-esque guitar wails add to the drama, as the song ends on a positive note after Garrett admits missing a vital force within him: “I have to believe it gets better,” he claims.
Loss is universal, and metal will always be one of the best genres of music for expressing such sorrow. That thought rises as “These Two Hands” ends with acoustic guitars and violin coalesced in a mournful refrain. Yet, as a whole, there’s strength and hope to be found across Ghost at the Gallows. Even if opener “Give Her to the River” also tackles such heavy themes to the tune of swinging doom and 1980s metal classicism, replete with stunning guitar solo trade-offs and a fiery crescendo that evokes the alchemical lyricism of transcending form through fire and then becoming reborn in water.
“Hanged Man’s Revenge” is pitched right in the prime Judas Priest era, but its doom-laden breakdown takes the song to a level beyond Painkiller worship. As mentioned above, such style blending is something Spirit Adrift have perfected over the years, and Garrett does it smoothly and seamlessly here. “I Shall Return” is another fantastic example of this in action. The opening riff is all Randy Rhoads—the 1980s solo Ozzy inspiration being a recurring theme across most Spirit Adrift records—and the chorus is pure doom metal. This lump-in-the-throat-causing chorus, which repeats emphatically towards the end of the song, hits hard both melody- and lyrics-wise: “If I leave, I shall return / No need to grieve, I shall return / Giving back my body to the earth / I shall return.”
“Barn Burner”, meanwhile, sees Garnett questioning, “At what point does all of this end / How long will you pretend / That any one of us is free from sin.” The song appears to be a commentary on the hypocrisy of “cancel culture” in a similar, coincidental vein to the recent Metallica track “You Will Burn!”, whereby Hetfield posits: “Smile as it burns to the ground / The perfect don’t want you around / Question yourself, you may learn / Who’s the next witch you must burn? You must burn!” While here, Garrett warns: “Go ahead and light your torches / Just remember / You’ll be the next to burn.” Musically and more deliberately, Metallica’s imposing shadow also looms over “Barn Burner’s” stomping riffs and rhythms.
Now backed by drummer Mike Arellano and lead guitarist Tom Draper, Garrett has the kind of players and excellent new songs that could take Spirit Adrift to metal’s upper echelon (the closing pairing of “Siren of the South” and the title track are as equally impressive as what’s laid down earlier on Ghost at the Gallows). Of course, industry movements are primarily out of a band’s control and instead determined by the clout a label can provide, the right timing, and the intangible element of good luck. All Spirit Adrift can do is focus on writing the finest, most engaging songs they can, and the new record is absolutely crammed with them. There isn’t a weak moment to be found across its stacked 45-minute running time.