“I wanted a host to open the proceedings, rather like in an Amicus portmanteau horror film,” notes Richard Wileman of his tribute to Peter Cushing, the scene-setting ‘The Whitstable Host’, which opens the latest Karda Estra album with gothic disquiet and sets-up the mood for much of the remainder of the work. Karda Estra is Richard and collaborators, which this time includes my old mates Don Falcone and Bridget Wishart adding their instrumental talents to these symphonic movements (both appear on ‘The Eye of Silence’, Don contributing organs and synth arpeggios and Bridget playing her EWI wind synthesiser).
Though Richard takes the title of this release from the classic American pulp magazine, home of those wonderful yarns from H.P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard, the influences he’s taken in composing his progressive-goth soundtracks are wide-ranging. Howard’s Solomon Kane (‘Skulls in the Stars’) rubs shoulders with the Dadaist painter and sculptor Max Ernst (‘The Eye of Silence’, Ernst’s 1937 painting which also seems to be reflected in or partly shapes the cover artwork here). ‘The Atom Age Sense of Impermanence’ borrows a line from Kim Newman’s novel Dracula Cha Cha Cha (which, funnily enough, sits glaring at me, unread, from a bookcase here at Spacerock Towers and is, therefore, ripe for rescuing to the top of the ‘must read’ pile). Writers and painters are the driving force almost everywhere Wileman looks: Victorian ghost story author Sheridan Le Fanu, English artist Edward Burra, surrealist painter Andre Masson. I like that acknowledging of the reference points from which he’s painted his aural visualisations, it’s an inspiring thing in and of itself that leads the listener into looking up those points of interest, into digging a little deeper into the ways in which past creators have informed modern works.
Putting those inspirations aside though, Weird Tales could also be a film library soundtrack collection, both of those Milton Subotsky Amicus Productions movies and their Hammer counterparts, and indeed of those neglected 50s and 60s SF films, The Time Travellers and its ilk. This is particularly apparent as the atmosphere changes over the course of the tracks to take itself from the understated but funereal sounds of its early part to the more sci-fi sequences that round out the album, ‘Island Universes’ and ‘There is No Finished World’.
Kadra Estra capture an ethereal essence in their music, Wileman composing and producing work that has an elegant sense of space and distance between the musicians whilst calling on a range of instrumentation each of which complements the overall sound: violin, cor anglais, oboe, clarinet, tenor, alto and soprano sax, tuba. Weird Tales is richly rewarding in managing to be multi-layered whilst at the same time being unfussy and low key; a quiet soundtrack to think and muse to, really.
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