Curse of Conception is the second full length effort from desert dwelling Spirit Adrift, but one could be forgiven for assuming this is the work of a band with twice that output under their belt. Formerly a hyper-competent but somewhat conventional doom band, Curse clearly demarks a new era for the Phoenix outfit, one that showcases the band evolving from a heavy band into highly a skilled rock ‘n doom songwriting machine. And, to be sure, that’s not to slag off the band’s previous efforts. Their debut, Chained to Oblivion, is fantastic, fuzzy, and shouldn’t be ignored by anybody considering themselves a doom fan. But the band’s split with Khemmis earlier this year makes even more sense in hindsight. To both Spirit Adrift and Khemmis, good songwriting and heaviness isn’t an either/or proposition. And simply playing heavy music mid-tempo doesn’t forever handcuff a band to traditional doom. Just like their Colorado cohorts, Spirit Adrift are too restless, too musically curious and, as it turns out, too talented not to explore beyond their initial doom origins.
Ostensibly, Curse of Conception is a doom record, but this isn’t the fuzzed-out, drone-heavy, amp-worshipping doom that dominates the scene today. Instead, these relatively tight compositions are peppered with influences from classic rock, traditional metal, psych rock and blues that allow the doom framework, such as it is, to stay limber and move in unexpected ways. The album’s title track, for example, has at least four distinct sonic sections, each bringing a unique and diverse sound into the single track. The verses are slinky, nearly acapella sections dominated by Nate Garrett’s trademark howling. The chorus kicks in – literally with an audible “oomph” – and the guitars coming roaring back to life with a meaty rhythm section behind filling out the sound. The latter third of the song is dominated by a bridge of shimmering guitars and, there’s no other way to describe it, a kick-ass, Kirk Hammett-worshiping solo that flows directly into the final distinct movement of arena-worthy anthemic rocking, all instruments on full blast as the track builds and then quickly dissipates into an emotional conclusion. Perhaps the most impressive feat is that these don’t feel like disparate elements slapped together in the mastering; all these distinct sections flow seamlessly into each other to create a memorable and successful song.
Headbangers, rest easy. Just because this is a diverse and more refined record that Chained to Oblivion doesn’t mean for a second that Spirit Adrift have softened or neglected the heavier elements of their sound. “Spectral Savior” is a pure doom doozy, all riffs and groove and topped off with a solo-drenched, euphoric 90-second outro that never fails to bring goosebumps to my skin. And speaking of outros, “Starless Age (Enshrined)” has one of the greatest finishes I’ve heard to any song this year. The song’s first half is mid-tempo and contemplative, with plaintive swirling guitars and Garrett’s soaring vocals lamenting the fragile nature of objective truth in our modern times. But right at 3:17 the song kicks into a higher gear. Much higher. Seemingly out of nowhere, the tempo at least doubles and the track becomes a galloping rager with careening drum fills and a thrashy solo finale that wouldn’t sound at all out of place on early Metallica or Megadeth records. It’s an invigorating about-face that serves as a microcosm of the entire record: showcasing the band’s willingness to experiment with unusual song structures while keeping a premium on listener immediacy and gut-level payoff.
With Curse of Conception, Spirit Adrift is a band looking outward, open-armed and ambitiously embracing the possibilities around them. It’s the same leap forward and confidence that bridges Kill ‘em All and …And Justice for All: rather than burrow down deeper into the genre’s well-established tentpoles, Spirit Adrift have instead doubled down on composition, production, and, importantly, songwriting, not just riff-writing. Of course, this is the same band that created Chained to Oblivion but the bludgeoning hammer of that record has been refined into something more technically precise and, as a result, much more durable and affecting. Doom is a genre where repetition is often something to be praised – both in the sense of extended, lumbering song structures and in a more existential sense where the bands that rise to the top are also often the bands that wear their influences most obviously on their sleeves. Curse of Conception rejects repetition in all senses and refreshingly dares to grasp for something broader and potentially greater than simply recycling ideas and genre tropes. With their sophomore effort, Spirit Adrift don’t reject their past or their forbearers; instead, they embrace them with eyes fixed ahead, forging eagerly toward the next sonic horizon.
Curse of Conception is out October 7, 2017 via 20 Buck Spin.