Based in Maryland and Virginia, Spiral Grave has been on the scene since 2019, dishing out aggressive doom grooves with insightful lyrics. The new project seemed to be on an upward trajectory, rising to high expectations set by members’ previous bands Iron Man and Lord. And then… 2020 struck.
But Spiral Grave used their time wisely, finding a label for their already-completed first album and writing a most of a second one. With their debut Legacy of the Anointed now coming out on Argonauta Records in July, guitarist Willy Rivera and vocalist Dee Calhoun had a virtual sit-down with Alternative Control to talk about the release.
You guys got off to a very quick start in 2019, with some of your first gigs being at awesome festivals and releasing a single with Salt of the Earth Records. Then the pandemic happened, and all of a sudden you guys are back with a full length coming out on Argonauta Records. So fill in the blanks for me — what have you guys been doing between summer 2019 and now?
WILLY: Well, we played shows regionally throughout all of 2019 and even into 2020 with our last show before the outbreak being the ShadowFrost festival that took place in Frederick, MD at the end of February. Once the lockdown was announced, we took about three months off before regrouping in May to begin rehearsing for what we thought would be the Maryland Doomfest — but that ended up being cancelled along with everything we had booked throughout the spring, summer and early fall.
Since we didn’t know how long the lockdown would go on, we decided to be productive since we’d already started rehearsing again and started writing a new record to give us something positive to focus all of our negative energy on. It made it easier to cope with the disintegration of everything else in our lives. We did manage to play a few random shows around Halloween of last year when the restrictions eased up a bit, but that didn’t last once the pandemic seemed to be surging once again. So we just chose to regroup and focus on finishing the writing for the second album. We now have 7 out of 8 songs ready to go and we’re hoping to hit the studio in the fall.
DEE: We were sidelined for the first couple of months of the pandemic, but then we were able to resume rehearsals. Since we couldn’t gig, we started writing. We continued to shop the first album, which Argonauta is releasing, but now we also have the songs for album number two nearly completed.
How did you deal with the pandemic, both as a band and personally?
WILLY: We were riding on such a high as a band and personally, I was the happiest that I’d been in years because I’d just met an amazing woman, the band was firing on all cylinders and gaining serious momentum. We were in talks with a label about releasing the debut and once COVID struck, the rug just got pulled out from everything in one fell swoop… It was frustrating.
I’m an essential worker so for me, it just meant longer hours, dealing with disgruntled customers, and putting our health at risk on a daily basis while being at the mercy of the public and how they chose to deal with the guidelines. Needless to say, only being able to work and not having my usual outlets to let off steam quickly began to take their toll on my disposition. I know myself well enough that idle hands for me are never a good thing, so I began writing; once I did that, the floodgates began to open. It wasn’t just me though, we all were throwing in ideas, riffs, and concepts that took the record in a nastier direction to reflect what we were dealing with. We just wrote what came naturally to us at the time and the material was just darker, nastier and more brooding.
DEE: Just as Spiral Grave did, I kept very busy creatively. I wrote and recorded my next solo album, did some voice work, and wrote my fourth book. Jobwise, I was moved to telework status, so in that respect I was very lucky and made things a lot easier on the job front. I was suddenly handed all of this free time, and I decided to make use of it.
How did the band get hooked up with Argonauta Records? I understand SOTE is doing US distribution for them, did Scott Harrington from SOTE help connect the dots?
WILLY: The Argonauta thing came at the right time as we’d been talking to a label but that fell through. They realized that investing in a new act wouldn’t be financially feasible if they weren’t even sure if they were going to be able to pay their staff, due to how the pandemic had effected everyone’s spending habits and ability to stay afloat financially. Gero had been aware of us through the connection with Dee being a solo artist on his label and he’d expressed interest in taking us on. Dee spoke very highly of him and I trust his judgement so it just seemed like a no brainer and he was offering us the ability to do things that we couldn’t do on our own as far as marketing and distribution.
Finding out about Scott’s involvement was a happy accident. We had approached Scott last year when we thought we were going to sign with the other label because we wanted his blessing to move on and his permission to use the two songs we’d released through Salt Of The Earth — because to me, those songs belonged with the rest of that debut… It was the complete session and idea. Scott was very gracious and gave his blessing so we could try to broaden our scope a bit. So to have him in the mix along with Gero & Argonauta, it gives a great foundation to build upon and the perfect vehicle to finally get this debut out there since having finished it in 2019 with Noel Mueller (Yatra, Foehammer, Black Lung).
DEE: I’ve been with Argonauta since 2016 as a solo artist, and Argonauta released the live Iron Man album that came out earlier this year. It’s been a great partnership and working relationship, so it only seemed natural that Spiral Grave should end up on their roster.
What kind of lyrical themes does Legacy of the Anointed deal with? I caught Lovecraft in the first song; is there a theme that runs through all the songs, or does each one stand alone?
DEE: Each lyric stands alone. Each one is a little glimpse into something I’ve seen or experienced at some point in my life.
“Legacy of the Anointed” is not a song title. Is it part of the lyrics somewhere? (My own band likes to do this too.) Why did you choose this phrase as the album title?
DEE: It springs from the themes in the song “Modern-Day Golden Calf.” The song has to do with Trump worship, and the album title has to do with the proclamation that he was “anointed.”
What is the post-pandemic scene like in Virginia and Maryland these days? How are local venues doing? Of course Maryland Doom Fest has new dates announced for October, but are smaller local shows coming back?
WILLY: Well, now that the restrictions have eased up and people are getting vaccinated, shows are slowly starting to come back and people are doing what they need to do to be safe and have a great time. It’ll be a slow burn but the last few shows that I attended were well attended and people were complying with the venue’s mask rules.
I think Maryland’s scene will bounce back quicker than that of Virginia but that’s mainly because there aren’t many venues in Virginia that support heavy music anymore, so you have more bands than you have venues with show opportunities. COVID only made it harder to get that back off the ground but there are some promoters that will put their money where their mouth is and keep the underground scene alive like Shamla Mills. She chooses worthy causes and will book benefits to raise awareness while also contributing art and donations so there’s still people working to keep it alive.
JB Matson has been the driving force in Maryland, doing what he can do to not only keep the bands playing but helping to keep the venues afloat. Now that the band is fully vaccinated, we’ll be hitting the ground running with our first show being at the end of May. We already have several others booked including a prime spot on this year’s Maryland Doomfest.
DEE: Slowly but surely, a sense of normalcy is coming back. I don’t know that we’ll ever have “normal” in the same sense as pre-pandemic, but with restrictions recently eased and in some instances done away with, shows are starting to happen again. Bands and fans alike are very happy, and I hope that continues. I think a lot of people didn’t realize how much they would miss live music until it actually went away.
Legacy of the Anointed will be released in CD and digital formats on July 16th, 2021, with vinyl to follow later in the summer. Connect with Spiral Grave at the links below:
- Facebook: www.facebook.com/spiralgrave
- Reverbnation: https://www.reverbnation.com/spiralgrave
- Bandcamp: https://spiralgrave.bandcamp.com/
Featured photo by Julya Brown, courtesy of the band.