(A mighty big thank-you to Dan Holloway for this review on Spiral Pitfall, as Eric & I have been taking some time off, oops, happy New Year, but we’ll be back this week)
I usually write about UK bands I’ve discovered on cold winter evenings as support acts in the seamier venues of South East England. So how did I end up writing about a band I’ve never seen from San Diego? Well, first up, alt/metal band Spiral Pitfall aren’t actually from San Diego. It turns out they’re from an area called Sugar Camp in North Michigan/Wisconsin,and just happen to be hanging out in San Diego right now. OK, that’s till not exactly on my doorstep.
I “met” Ian Sheffer, the band’s vocals/guitarist, when he signed Spiral Pitfall up to Free-e-day back in November. Never one to skip a freebie myself, I listened to the band’s material and was blown away. I wanted to know a bit more about the band, so I sent them some of my usual weirded out questions, mainly about food, and we got talking.
Spiral Pitfall’s first full-length album will be out this spring. It’s taken them a long time to get to this stage from their roots in 1998 Sugar Camp, but as Ian runs me through the band’s history, and I begin to picture myself inside the shoot of Spinal Tap talking to David St Hubbins it becomes clear why the journey has been so long.
Just as the band was getting into its stride in the early Noughties, playing an increasing number of gigs and compiling more and more original material, the central combo in a regularly shifting line up, Ian and drummer Bill Schattner, were split up when Bill headed to college and Ian ended up in Denver. It was only in 2007 that they finally got back together, peddling the 6-song EP Cryptic Poetry that Ian had written during the separation.
Spiral Pitfall’s history explains, I think, a lot more than why it’s taken them 11 years to produce an album. As I listened again to their fabulous “Say What you Mean” after reading the band bio, the indefinable quality of their sound became clearer. There’s a clear metal background to the song (or is there? I always wonder about how we classify music on different sides of the Atlantic – without any cues from the band I’d have called them alt/electro, but more on that later). But over the top are some wonderfully paranoid, disembodied samples of people spouting political er, for want of a better word, bollocks. It reminded me a bit of the sinister matronesque voiceover on The Smiths’ Rubber Ring.
The sample/metal elements sit very well together. It turns out that during his time apart from Bill, Ian recorded a lot of material on his own, playing everything and layering it into a final piece. It’s surely this experience that’s led to the band’s current seamless blending of sounds.
Talking of the band’s influences, Ian mentions the likes of Black Sabbath. It’s clear why they call themselves alt/metal. Which is why I was so surprised I like Spiral Pitfall as much I do. I’ve never been fond of American bands who call themselves something/“metal”. I’ve always found them a bit, well, generic, and decidedly lacking the seedier, industrial edge I like. But Spiral Pitfall aren’t really like any American metal I’ve heard before. They’re much more like the industrial urban electro I love. Which just goes to show you should listen to the music and never go by labels. Further conversation on the topic reveals the band count the likes of Midnight Oil and Radiohead amongst their influences. Now we’re talking.
If I had to pick one band of whom Spiral Pitfall remind me, it would be one of the handful of genuinely exciting bands to burst onto the UK scene this year, The Big Pink. Which is praise indeed.
There are several lessons to take away from my meeting with Ian and Spiral Pitfall. If something new comes into your inbox, give it a listen! Listen before you’ve read any of the stuff people have posted on their myspace, or before you’ve trawled through the e-mail – let the music speak for itself. And finally, make sure you keep your ears to the ground for the release of Spiral Pitfall’s first album – this is a band that’s waited and waited and is now ready to hit the ground running with their hunger and their talent.
Spiral Pitfall’s music is available for free download from www.myspace.com/spiralpitfall
–Dan Holloway, http://yearzerowriters.wordpress.com