Words by Grey Malkin
Paul Roland should need no introduction, his position as a major mover in the underground psych scene from the 1980s onwards led fellow traveller Robyn Hitchcock to describe him as ‘the male Kate Bush’, with barque chamber folk albums such as Cabinet of Curiosities and eclectic psych jewels such as Duel and Masque cementing his reputation as a unique and enduring songwriter. Mick Crossley has most recently been playing with Roland on recent projects such as Grimmer Than Grim and Hexen, which has led to the joint venture Through the Spectral Gate. Somewhat more cosmiche than Paul’s usual output, with hints and hues of mid 70’s Hawkwind (think Warrior on the Edge of Time era) as well as Tangerine Dream, nonetheless there is a darkness and dreamlike quality that engages in much the same manner as Katies muse, and will no doubt also strongly appeal to his fanbase.
The album begins with the pulsating synths and pensive bass of ‘Open the Spectral Gate’, a graceful but ghostly oboe picking out an ominous motif that is reminiscent of the shadowed majesty of King Crimson’s Starless and Bible Black, evoking a similar sense of dread and wonder. ‘Come Into My Mind & The Flickering Light’ follows more familiar Paul Roland territory, with its ornate acoustic melancholy decorated by tastefully chosen washes of analogue synth and woodwind, before the second movement of the song launches (in a most Floydian manner) on a vast wave of strings, rasping synths and chiming guitar runs. At once breathtaking as well as providing a significant emotional heft, there are myriad details and moments here, contained within what amounts to nothing less than a widescreen electronic symphony. ‘Echo Forest (He Knows My Name)’ is next, again on more familiar Roland ground with its eerie and spooked gothic psych harmonies and hazy bursts of guitar. Many of Roland’s songs take inspiration from folklore, ghost stories or the strange and unusual and this is no exception; there is something utterly sinister at work here amongst the paisley patterned organ and descending drum rolls, like the Left Banke on a bad trip lost deep within the dark of the woods. An acoustic coda provides a suitably emotive and dramatic finale, with a towering crescendo of strings and pounding acoustic guitar.
‘Silver Surfer Parts 1 & 2’ sets the controls firmly for the heart of the sun, shimmering synth arpeggios washing over a restrained, tension wire performance, with piano punctuating the dark swirling clouds and Roland’s impassioned performance. The second movement goes full ‘In Search of Space’, guitar lines soaring and drifting further out into the endless void. ‘Witch’s Brew Parts 1 & 2’ returns to the occult folk that is Roland’s forte, a deeply melodic and nuanced piece of work that is a thing of dark beauty (complete with atmospheric and lysergic closing section featuring Geoffrey Richardson from Caravan on violin). ‘Mantra’, meanwhile, is a slow build, a hallucinatory desert song of exploratory bass, synth swirls and star kissed guitar runs. Sitar and shruti box opens ‘The Third Eye & Blessings’, a haunted but perversely humorous and cynical take on certain guru types, which develops into a hugely satisfying vintage keyboard odyssey. This is a major strength of the pairing of Roland and Crossley, we get not only Roland’s nuanced songwriting and melodic mastery, but the lengthened nature of these tracks allows for a cinematic reach and framing that adds further dimension and depth. ‘Never Flown So High Before’ is a case in point, searing guitar lines and vast banks of synths and choral vocals adorn Roland’s twisted pop genius, taking us into unexplored domain, into newly charted galaxies. Having previously delved into the genres of 60’s garage rock, chamber folk and psych rock, this embracing of cosmiche and space rock/prog surrounds suits Roland well. Next, ‘The Cave Song & Carlos’, with its eastern hues and midnight psych explorations touching musical territory that is normally occupied by the likes of Goat and Familia de Lobos (with a flavour of The Doors), allows Crossley to take vocal duties on a piece that builds into a mind melting voyage, while ‘Carlos’ evokes Saucerful of Secrets era Pink Floyd partaking in a subterranean ritual. The finale of ‘Crystal & Silent Star’, propelled by a wraithlike electronic pulsar beat, is both haunting and driven. Hugely atmospheric and immersive, it is a suitable conclusion to a deeply inventive, ambitious and filmic album.
One hopes that a similar collaboration may occur again from both Roland and Crossley, such is the success and dynamism that is evident here. There is no concession to commercialism or being an easy sell, you can sense that this is an album that both artists wanted to make for the sheer love of the music, the sounds evoked and the universes created. This genuine commitment shines through, a labour of love that rewards with every subsequent listen as it transports you to worlds beyond and into the dark, deep recesses of inner space. Venture through the Spectral Gate, you will not wish to leave.
Available now on CD and download from Dark Companion Records
MOOF claims no credit for any images posted on this site unless otherwise noted. If there is an image appearing on this blog that belongs to you and you do not wish for it appear on this site, please E-mail with a link to said image and it will be promptly removed.