What do you get when you cross Pink Floyd and Porcupine Tree with Rip Van Winkle and space cowboys? That would be Spiral – a 2-piece prog rock band from Albuquerque, New Mexico. Their 2011 release, The Capital in Ruins, begun a modern retelling of Rip Van Winkle, only Rip is a scientist who creates a nano-mech plague that wipes out all of humanity except for himself.
Spiral continue with part two of a three-part musical story about Rip and his daughter Anomaly in The Traveller, and I’m, somewhat reluctantly, along for the ride.
Why “somewhat reluctantly”? Well, when you receive as many review requests as I do, you start to notice patterns. And one of those patterns is that albums with complex backstories tend to have not-so-complex music. In other words, the band has worked so hard on creating the concept, they’ve forgotten to actually write an album people want to listen to. This tends to be true x 1000 if the band cites Pink Floyd or Led Zepp as an influence.
Luckily, The Traveller is one of the first records I’ve heard in a long time for which the Floyd comparison fits. The meandering song structures and Gilmorish-style guitars definitely give this album a pleasing sense of atmosphere. If you pick up this record hoping for a metal release, you’re going to be disappointed. In fact, Spiral have more in common with psychedelic rock than metal, but the few progressive metal elements are incorporated cleverly, their edges worn down with softness, their fire lost in the vast emptiness of space.
The album contains only four songs, the epic opener “The Red Giant Stirs”, which follows a fifteen-minute story arc from soft, ambient flickers to a Floyd-style instrumental stretched across the galaxy, to the trippy Mike Oldfieldesque guitar section toward the end. “An Epiphany Near Vega 9” begins slowly, with a few simple strums of an acoustic guitar, a haunting keyboard tone and soft, crooning vocals, and the vocals – low, sorrowful – don’t stretch to fill the gaps left from the instrumentation. It’s the sparseness of this song that creates the emotion – we feel an overpowering sense of loneliness and loss.
“The Caves of Anamnesis” continues the theme of sparse, soulful riffs and soft, low, dirge-like vocals. My favorite track is the closer, “R.I.P Rip”. Coming in at 12 minutes, you may be forgiven for feeling daunted by the possibility of a spoken-word dirge to an invented sci-fi character, but Spiral instead create the layered, haunting sensations of deep emotion lost in music. It’s the echoes, the spaces between notes, that make the music here. And then it all gets fuzzy, and goes a bit mental, and you think “fuck yeah!” But they never lose the soft, low thunder that makes this song so great. It builds, it carries, and it brings what it promises – desolation and silence.
The cover is also quite cool. It’s “Martyrdom of Saint Bartholomew” by Luca Giordan, in case you didn’t know.