Reviews

Spirit Adrift, Divided by Darkness (20 Buck Spin, 2019)

In the first panel, we see a man, his angel wings and halo suggesting that he's deceased. He rides up a cosmic elevator where he’s greeted by a heavenly gatekeeper. "Welcome to heaven," says the gatekeeper, handing him an instrument. "Here's your harp."

In the next panel, we see a man in a similar getup, except this time he's descending a dingy, subterranean staircase. At the bottom, he meets a demon. "Welcome to hell," the demon laughs and hands the man an instrument. "Here's your accordion." 

If it sounds familiar, it's a Farside comic (Gary Larson) that I think about often. I find it a funny metaphor for musical morality. It makes me think about the Black Sabbath / Blue Öyster Cult 1980 "Black n' Blue" tour too. I didn't live through it but have studied it. There's something about that "heaven sent/hell bound" vibe of the arrangement, the weird combination of darkness that's at times dour and hellish and other times indicates the unsullied vastness of space, of galaxies without end.  A newly minted, Dio-fronted Sabbath sings (us a song) about the bringers of evil, while BÖC employs Michael Moorcock to write spacey sci-fi shit about Elric. They work well together, even if they're angling towards different ends.

You might best describe Spirit Adrift's newest album, Divided by Darkness, using those same dualities: earth and space. Light and dark. Heaven and Hell. It never manages to slip entirely into one or the other but maintains a triumphant grasp of the whole spectral chasm.  Many writers will call it "doom rock." That's fine; it probably IS doom rock, but please do not expect drop Z/bongwater weirdness. As with previous efforts, you'll find those steely twin leads ("Divided by Darkness), soaring vocal melodies ("Tortured by Time") and lofty, existential lyrics ("Angels and Abyss") present.

Divided gets a touch more (gulp) cosmic though. You'll hear more prominent keyboard washes (is that an organ on "Living Light?") than past efforts, with "The Way of Return" an absolute scorcher of an album closer, encapsulating everything good about this band, and the genre in its 6-minute 22-second runtime. 

While the album seemingly tangles with great galactic themes and questions, it's not esoteric. Gun to my head, I'd describe it as "catchy as all hell." Take the mystic rock tropes from the great writers of yore, all that grandeur, and all that craft. Those unrepentant guitar passages and sinewy basslines. Songs and stories that take you to distant climes and planets, times and seasons, angels and demons, science and sorcery. It's all here, and you needn't dig too hard for it. 

Photo: Joey Maddon

Welcome to heaven here's Spirit Adrift. Welcome to hell, here's...Spirit Adrift. 

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