Reaching Enlightenment: A Conversation with Spirit Adrift’s Nate Garrett

Spirit Adrift are one of the leaders of a cadre of bands currently pushing the sound of American heavy metal back to the forefront of the headbanger’s consciousness. Across

3 years ago

Spirit Adrift are one of the leaders of a cadre of bands currently pushing the sound of American heavy metal back to the forefront of the headbanger’s consciousness. Across three albums in four years – 2016’s Chained to Oblivion, 2017’s Curse of Conception, and 2019’s Divided by Darkness, the duo of Nate Garrett and Marcus Byrant (on guitar/bass/vocals and drums, respectively) have spun a timeless metal sound from a wide-ranging pool of rock and metal influences. The triumphant harmonized leads of Thin Lizzy, the anthemic vocals of Iron Maiden, and the heartfelt emotions of Crowbar mix into a sound that sits comfortably in the midpoint of classic heavy metal and doom.

Their newest effort, the upcoming Enlightened in Eternity, is a shocking jolt of stability and power in a year that’s provided anything but. It’s as bracing and heavy as anything they’ve done, but with a stalwart and effulgent positivity that radiates throughout. It’s also, at least in my eyes, their best album to date in how it mixes their influences into a sound that’s both so instantly recognizable while also being unique to them, and it’s been shortlisted several times over for my personal top ten. I conversed with Nate over email recently to pick his brain on the formation of Enlightened and to see how exactly Spirit Adrift have come by releasing an album like that at a time like this. See below for the result!

First of all, congratulations on the new album! You’ve mentioned that Enlightened in Eternity is an album that was recorded during an extremely tough time for both you and Marcus. Without asking you to delve into your personal life, do you think it’s something that listeners who aren’t aware of that aspect of this album’s creation can hear in the record itself? Is that turmoil reflected in your performances?

Thank you! Yeah, it’s an interesting situation, because when I wrote these songs I was at a high point in my life. I had finally let the Gatecreeper guys know I was done, and was fully committing to Spirit Adrift. Things were really starting to take off, I felt inspired, fulfilled, free, and at peace. Things in my personal life were great. So the material was taking shape as this triumphant, powerful, psychedelic, joyful, classic-sounding metal. But when it came time to go into the studio, things around me had come crashing down. So there’s a pretty unique dichotomy there. The songs are really exciting and triumphant, but the performances are raw and incredibly emotional. It resulted in something special that could have never been planned or rehearsed. I think that’s the type of stuff that results in classic albums. Real-life, unpredictable magic. Oftentimes that magic comes from a place of great suffering, unfortunately.

You’ve mentioned in the past that Curse of Conception and Divided by Darkness are sort of a duology of albums. Is Enlightened a continuation of that same aesthetic or is Spirit Adrift moving past that phase? Also, on the subject of a continuing theme, are you intentionally doing the Morbid Angel sort of thing with your album titles?

Yeah, the Morbid Angel thing became intentional with Curse of Conception. I’ve already got the title for the “F” album. Enlightened In Eternity was a natural response to Divided By Darkness. I wanted to get as far away from that experience as I could, in every way possible. That whole process was grueling, brutal, and unpleasant. I put myself in some really dark places for that one. So the goal with Enlightened In Eternity was to enjoy the process. I had no rules other than to have fun making music, which is the whole point. In turn, the themes of the album became more about solutions and less about problems.

To me, if there’s a word that characterizes Enlightened from a lyrical perspective, it’s “resolute.” Tracks like “Ride into the Light” and “Stronger Than Your Pain” show this in full force: there’s been hardship, struggle, and a lot of bullshit, but you’ve come out the other side stronger for having dealt with it and learned from your pain. Was this theme a conscious choice going into the writing process or did it emerge naturally?

As I mentioned, the direction of the album really began to take shape when I realized I wanted to make a positive album, since the last one was so negative. So that was a conscious choice, but that conscious choice was a natural result of the brutality of the previous album. With Divided, I was reading and practicing a lot of Crowley stuff, also reading Carl Jung. Studying the shadow of the human personality. Everybody these days seems to be dominated by their dark side, their weaknesses, and their anger. It’s that way in the states, anyway… not everywhere. I’m sick of it. I have no more interest in focusing on problems, negativity, and hardships. None. At this point in my life, I only want to focus on solutions. Let’s talk about the problem for exactly as long as it takes to identify the problem. Then shut the fuck up and figure out how to fix it. So this time around, I was reading stuff like the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, The Power Of Now by Eckhart Tolle, The Wisdom Of Insecurity by Alan Watts, and that sort of thing. I had a much better experience making this album, and that’s not a coincidence. Now if we could figure out how to apply that as a culture…

Keeping on that subject, do you feel the instrumentation reflects these themes?

Yeah. All the best metal bands have this quality that’s inspiring, uplifting, almost motivational speaker type stuff. Think about Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Dio, even an album like Vulgar Display Of Power by Pantera. These bands want the listener to know they’re not alone, they matter, they have the strength to crush any obstacle in front of them, and they can achieve anything they want. It’s a sense of “I know things are hard, but we’re in this together.” That sort of attitude isn’t en vogue these days. Everything is supposed to be ironic, everyone is supposed to be at least a little bit self-loathing and “roast” their friends and everything else nonstop. But I don’t give a fuck about that. I’m over it. I’ve had to overcome a lot of real adversity in life, and I wanted to make something that would provide some hope and inspiration to people who are going through similar challenges. Especially considering the circumstances of 2020, I’m glad I made this kind of album. We all need some positivity and hope, myself included.

I was reading in an interview from around when Divided came out last year where you said that one of the most important things going into that album was the feeling of wanting to provide people with a “light in the darkness,” which on the one hand is wonderful – it’s hard for me to even really quantify how much heavy metal has helped me in life, especially right now – but on the other hand comes off as sort of well, premature, in the sense that maybe last year wasn’t really that bad in the grand scheme of things. I don’t really know what the timeframe for the writing and the release of Enlightened was in relation to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, so I don’t know if it directly affected the album writing process or the release timeline, but what does it mean for you to be releasing an album at a time when people are the most isolated and stressed they’ve maybe ever been in their entire lives?

I wrote and demoed all of Enlightened In Eternity from March of 2019 to June of 2019. Lyrics and everything. Which is weird. Because like I said, I think this album is a welcome relief from the agony and negativity of everything that’s happened since we recorded it. I’m so glad I didn’t make some phoned-in, fake evil, try-hard spooky heavy metal album. That’s the last thing anybody needs, and there’s too many of those these days anyway. As always, I just hope this music helps even just one person.

In the same interview, you said you were raised by your grandparents “who spent their whole fucking lives working their ass off, raising kids, dealing with all kinds of shit that people should never have to deal with.” Personally, heavy metal’s relation to the quintessential American worker is something I think about a lot. It’s something that’s hugely present with groups like Dio, Cirith Ungol, and Manilla Road, who, in their ways, write anthems for the sort of no-bullshit salt-of-the-earth types. Where does Spirit Adrift fall in this tradition?

Music is sacred to me. My bloodline is mostly Irish, and we ended up in the American South and the Appalachian Mountains. To a lot of people in those types of cultures, music was the only thing they had in life that brought them any joy. People don’t realize how important something like the Grand Ole Opry radio broadcast was to these working folks. It’s the only thing they had to look forward to. There are countless cultures all around the world, from every time period, where music was the only thing that made them happy. This goes all the way back to tribal music at the dawn of civilization. It was the only relief from the grind. Whether that grind is running from lions or mining coal. I want to preserve and protect that sacred essence of music, and carry it forward with my own vision.

The album’s closer, “Reunited in the Void,” is the longest song you guys have put out since 2016. How was it returning to double-digit song lengths after the more compact running times of Curse and Divided? Did you intentionally set out to write a longer song or was the length of “Reunited” something that emerged organically?

I wanted to write a long, slow, doom song for all the people who kept saying we’re not a doom band anymore. Anytime someone tries to classify us, it makes me want to do something outrageous just to keep them guessing even more. In this particular case, it resulted in one of our greatest songs, which took on a life of its own and actually broadened the scope of the band even further, so that’s a win-win. But yeah, to anybody out there trying to throw a label on us or pin us down, y’all are playing checkers and I’m playing chess. Just stop. It’s Spirit Adrift, that’s it. Marcus and I do whatever the fuck we want. Not only with this music, just in general.

The cover art of Enlightened, not to mention the title, is very obviously inspired by a great deal of Christian imagery and the Crusades specifically. I’m curious what this says about the album: is it inspired by your personal feelings about religion or is this more harkening back to  some classic metal imagery that you would have seen on, say, a Candlemass or Iron Maiden album cover?

I’m not a Christian. Never will be. But I’m definitely more open to accepting other people’s religious beliefs than I ever have been. I used to be hardline “everyone who believes in an organized religion is a weak, ignorant piece of shit.” I’ve lightened up on that quite a bit. If you’re a good person, and religion helps you get through life, that’s beautiful. People use everything else in the world to justify doing horrible shit, so why should I specifically dislike religion? Money is just as much of an offender for justifying atrocities, but I don’t hate money. I guess I probably hate greed. You get the point.

But strictly from the standpoint of curiosity, I love studying religion. There’s something about the early stages of Christianity, when it was still considered a cult, that’s spooky and exciting to me. Esoteric Christianity has quite a bit of overlap with stuff like Paganism, even Chaos Magick and that sort of thing. It’s all a little goofy, but fascinating. Like a good horror movie. Take Meditations by Marcus Aurelius for example… it’s interesting to read a book written by a guy who had obviously discovered a successful, practical approach to living a good life, and Christianity is this brand new thing that he’s not even really taking seriously. It just shows you that there’s no one correct path to enlightenment. There’s a lot of different ways a person can figure out how to navigate this life in a kind and decent way. That’s definitely doable without subscribing to any one specific religion, philosophy, or spiritual indoctrination. So yeah, to make a short answer long, the cover is more just an aesthetic thing. It looks cool. The Knights Templar were pretty intense.

What older heavy metal bands do you wish got more recognition for their contributions to the sound? Either bands that directly influence spirit adrift, or groups where you just can’t understand why they don’t have a larger fanbase (or both!).

Lynyrd Skynyrd, Crowbar, Thin Lizzy, Solitude Aeternus, anything Jimmy Bower has ever been involved in. He should be the most famous musician on the planet. Lynyrd Skynyrd isn’t heavy metal, but they have the best five-album run of any band that’s ever existed. Nobody else comes close. I get the sense that some people think I’m being slightly ironic or sarcastic when I talk about Lynyrd Skynyrd. I’m not.

What other new/new-ish bands do you see carrying the torch for heavy metal?

Power Trip is the best band of this generation. Whatever happens with their situation, they’re the best band of this generation and I love everything about them as a band and as people. Some other great newer bands protecting the sacred essence of music and carrying it into the future are Pallbearer, Deadbird, Sweven, Inter Arma, Malokarpatan, Crypt Sermon, Eternal Champion, Duel, and Sanhedrin.

Do Spirit Adrift have any plans in lieu of what I presume in a normal year would be a tour for Enlightened? A livestream or anything like that?

We’re working on a quarantine album release show right now. No matter what happens with the virus, this will be the last time I do something like that. Next time we’ll be live in the flesh.

Lastly – and this is a Heavy Blog staple – how do you like your eggs?

Over medium with pepper and hot sauce! I love deviled eggs as well. A southern delicacy.

Spirit Adrift are releasing Enlightened in Eternity through 20 Buck Spin on October 16th.

Simon Handmaker

Published 3 years ago