Forged in Pain, Designed to Enlighten: Inside Spirit Adrift's Trad-Metal Spirit Quest | Revolver

Forged in Pain, Designed to Enlighten: Inside Spirit Adrift's Trad-Metal Spirit Quest

Frontman Nate Garrett talks tragedy, inspiration, Iommi's astral projection
spiritadrift_credit_jimmyhubbard.jpg, Jimmy Hubbard
Spirit Adrift, (from left) Nate Garrett and Marcus Bryant
photograph by Jimmy Hubbard

Nate Garrett always thought he had a pretty high threshold for enduring pain and adapting to loss.

The Spirit Adrift leader has persevered through the untimely deaths of family members and friends, and he's clawed his way out of a debilitating addiction that nearly cost him his own life. But in late 2019, just weeks before the multi-instrumentalist's trad-metal band was set to record their new album, Enlightened in Eternity, Garrett's "tolerance for suffering" was tested like never before — when his beloved seven-year-old pit bull/lab mix, Lizzy, contracted a devastating fungal infection called Valley Fever.

Garrett and his wife tried all kinds of diagnostic and treatment methods — from MRIs to aggressive medication courses — but Lizzy's condition only worsened as the infection settled in "her spine up by the base of her skull."

"It was living fucking hell," the 32-year-old musician says today from Bastrop, Texas, where he recently moved with his wife from their longtime home base of Phoenix. "We had to put her down January 2nd. She deteriorated so fast ... Something that innocent and pure suffering [like] she was suffering ... hurt me in a way that I've never been hurt before."

When the Enlightened in Eternity sessions commenced later that month, Garrett's grief was so all-consuming that the music became "like a life jacket that kept me from drowning." "A couple times I almost went home," he admits. "If I would have written some cliché, fucking dark, depressing metal album — like every single metal album that's out these days — I would have said, 'Fuck this.'"

Thankfully, Garrett was in a much different headspace when he and his creative partner, drummer Marcus Bryant, began writing the new material. At the time, during the first half of 2019, he had moved past the sinister themes and "brutal" process that surrounded Spirit Adrift's stellar Divided By Darkness. Plus, he was excited by the plans that were in motion to separate from Gatecreeper, the rising death-metal stars he'd played with since 2015. (Gatecreeper's Chase Mason and Eric Wagner also played in Spirit Adrift, and they collectively agreed it was time to split up the lineups so each project could realize its full potential.)

Garrett's optimism was so resolute, in fact, that he set an explicit intention to create an "uplifting, positive, joyful, strong" statement that would inspire people. The result of that work became Enlightened in Eternity — an absolute spirit-boosting banger that not only helped the bandleader get through the tumultuous events surrounding its recording, but will likely rank as one of the year's standout metal releases. It's a triumphant love letter to the classic groups that Garrett loves — Sabbath, Priest, Thin Lizzy, Lynyrd Skynyrd — that avoids any paint-by-number retro-revival traps. It's also the latest example of one of Spirit Adrift's most potent qualities: Its ability to act as a vessel for Garrett to process some deeply personal shit, from heartbreak and addiction to spirituality and the subjective nature of reality itself.

nategarrett_credit_jimmyhubbard.jpg, Jimmy Hubbard
photograph by Jimmy Hubbard

Garrett always felt different growing up. He was born to two deaf parents, and his mother died when he was only an infant. His dad was in his life, but he was raised primarily by his grandparents in Oklahoma. Despite the loving household, he seemed totally out-of-place as a Black Sabbath–loving kid in the Bible Belt. The discovery of alcohol and drugs at 12 provided a welcomed respite from "any anxieties … or sense of not belonging, inferiority, fear, weakness or negative thoughts," but they eventually turned on him as he descended into full-blown addiction. In the years that followed, Garrett watched as friends became casualties of drug overdoses, and in March 2015 he reached his own grim crossroads: change or die.

"I was drinking a liter of Wild Turkey a day … bare minimum," he says. "I was doing Xanax, too. I don't know how I'm alive … I've seen people die who were doing a lot less."

Thanks to an intervention and support of close friends and family, he checked himself into the "shittiest free detox" and emerged three delirious days later with a clear head and modest ambitions. "The only thing I wanted was to be able to go a day without having to drink," he says. "I think when your intentions are that pure, good things happen."

As it turned out, the good things started happening pretty quickly for Garrett. Within a week of exiting detox, he had written the first two Spirit Adrift songs: "Specter of Ruin" and "Perpetual Passage," which would become the 2016 debut EP Behind - Beyond). By the fall he had joined up with his longtime friend Mason in Gatecreeper and was also wrapping Spirit Adrift's doomy debut full-length, Chained to Oblivion.

Over the years, Garrett's continued sobriety has allowed him to open new doors of personal, and musical, discovery — and the freedom to course-correct as needed. For Enlightened in Eternity, he drew on spiritually positive sources including The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle, Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, Hermann Hesse's Siddhartha and Alan Watts' The Wisdom of Insecurity. He also gleaned a bit of esoteric inspiration from Black Sabbath's Tony Iommi, whose 2011 autobiography, Iron Man, influenced the roiling Enlightened cut "Astral Levitation." "He claims … he [can] sit there, and leave his body and fly around," says Garrett.

While Spirit Adrift's main man hasn't achieved any Iommi-level out-of-body experiences yet, he has investigated "a lot of really out-there stuff," including the study and practice of lucid dreaming. ("It was like coming out of The Matrix!") "I don't close my mind off to anything," Garrett says. He laughs. "I don't really believe in anything, necessarily, either. But I'm open to try anything I can to better understand the nature of reality."

Whereas Garrett is still seeking ways to peek behind the veil for a clearer look at the fabric of existence, he's pretty well situated when it comes to his musical source material. "Sabbath, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Thin Lizzy, Judas Priest … [bands] who have albums that are 40 years old and people still listen to them every day."

When asked how Spirit Adrift approach serving up a fresh take on classic sounds, he returns to the aspirational alchemy of his favorite Southern rockers. "You can't find a band that has a five-album run like those first Lynyrd Skynyrd albums. It's perfect," he says. "It's 'cause they were in a shed in a swamp in Florida drinking mushroom tea, trying not to be fucking murdered by bigoted rednecks.

"They were practicing and going after it … And they made something new. They had their influences, too, but none of their influences were in that shed in the Florida swamp on mushrooms. That was Lynyrd Skynyrd. That's what I'm striving for."