It happens every year. I always manage to build a sort of back log of must-listen albums that sits on my phone, no matter how many times I tell myself that I need to break this habit. Any time I read or hear something that catches my attention, I make sure to jot a note down so I can get around to it at a later date. This happens a lot, and that later date gets perpetually pushed back. As of now, there’s still about ten albums from this year (so I have made some improvement) and too many to count from 2015 and prior. There’s just tons of great music out there and only so much time in a day, so I’m confident there’s many of you out there doing something similar or feeling the same way. Allow me to help you learn from my most recent mistake. Earlier this year, there was a little buzz about an EP release from one-man doom project Spirit Adrift. At the time of it’s release in February, I paid little mind to the hype, and Behind-Beyond expeditiously and reflexively made its way onto my “2016 must-listen list.” It wasn’t until last month that by a stroke of crane game-type luck it was picked at random off my list. I was dumbfounded by it’s quality and filled with excitement and hope at the potential that was on display. I would not miss the debut of Nate Garrett’s (the brains of the operation) full-length, and fortunately for my already-too-long list, that didn’t take long.
Chained to Oblivion is flat out an excellent record, front to back. Everything that was presented on Behind-Beyond has been refined. The songs have been reined in to a listenable length, and the riffs don’t quite dawdle on as long as they do on the EP. They’re still long songs, but this time around there’s nothing much longer than eleven minutes, and more importantly, you never feel like you’re listening to a long song. And while I wasn’t necessarily bothered by the riffs that carry on near-ad-nauseam (because they’re killer riffs), Garrett makes more out of less this time around with more interesting structures and more efficient songwriting. Overall, it’s more dynamic, employing more active roles for the bass and drums. I mean, this is a guitar album first and foremost, but other instruments aren’t overlooked, little things like how the bass transforms into this heartbeat sort of counterpunch at the end of “Form and Force,” or the tribal drumming intro to “Hum of Our Existence” confirm the not just the attention to detail, but the effort required to not phone this sucker in with sterile, programmed drums or even oversimplified instrumentation.
Fear not, the riffs here are still killer, hitting like sledgehammers to the chest at a steady slog, but that’s not where this record strikes hardest. Subtle and simple things like the use of silence and volume go a long way, and the themes he creates and revisits are impressive, but the way the harmonies (guitar and vocal) work with these parts is truly spectacular. Just get a load of the last minute of “Marzanna” and try to tell me you don’t want to hear that for an eternity. The solos and harmonies shine, becoming the real voice of Chained to Oblivion, metaphorically louder and truer than Garrett’s own vocals. They don’t merely tug at your heartstrings, they strap them to a cigarette boat and drag you in the wake. There’s good variety in these performances, some with techniques that are surprisingly flashy (or just uncommonly used in doom), others make use of unusual effects or production, and most of it steeped in whatever it is that makes the guitar work of Baroness so evocative. Needless to say, this guy can play his ass off, and it works on every level.
Garrett’s vocals are still delivered with an uncommon passion and sort of yearning-like quality, but there’s a marked improvement in not only the general character of his voice but also the variety of styles and techniques he explores. For the most part, his tenor is dripping with reverb, but it remains warm and spirited. There’s definitely a fire burning in this guy, but it doesn’t sound ominous or malicious (or phony) like some of the harsh vocalists in the genre – the breath he exudes toward the end of final track as he sings “dawn of man…” is startling, but that vibe is calmed and resolved within the remaining 30 seconds – again, it’s the details. He’s been honing his skills as a frontman, from his wicked sneer on the title track to the Alice in Chains-esque haunting harmonies, he has a toolkit to keep things interesting – and does. I do feel like there are times where his phrasing may mirror the riffing a bit too much, but I assume that’s how it works when you’re working with such a plodding pace. Regardless, they’re a great compliment to the sonic palette of the band.
Chained to Oblivion is defiant. There’s a confidence and desire within this record to push things forward, to fight against whatever it may be that’s pushing back against it, like it’s finally awoke and understands what it needs to do. There may be tons of other doom records out this year (some of which may be on my list), but I am certain that none will be as moving or complete as this. It’s as if this record is a sort of beacon, and I’ve finally received its signal after ignoring it for so long. Now I’ve been awoken, and understand that I need to get back to that list so I don’t miss out on the “next” Spirit Adrift.
Chained to Oblivion is out now on Prosthetic Records.