By the time he recorded Duel, between November 1988 and January ’89, England’s psych-pop guru Paul Roland had already established an eclectic back catalogue that had appeared on some of the most revered independent labels. On Armageddon Records he’d released his 1980 debut LP Werewolf of London, on Armageddon’s successor, Aftermath, came his mini-album Burnt Orchirds, for Bam Caruso he’d recorded Danse Macabre, whilst in France New Rose issued the innovative baroque sounds of Cabinet of Curiosities. His stock-in-trade, the gaslight gothic Victoriana that infused his lyrics with their sharp sense of character, was yielding ever more confident and articulate melodramas and each of his songs could genuinely claim to contain their own internal short stories. Duel, reissued now for a tastefully retouched and well-earned 20th Anniversary Edition, went one step further, imagining its own internal world – partly influenced, as Paul notes in his liner commentary, by the Gormenghast trilogy of surrealist author Mervyn Peake.
In taking a cue from Peake, Paul Roland had created a conglomeration of both medieval and fantastical setting, but with a rich seam of black comedy helping to bring its grotesque inhabitants to life. That’s Paul doing what he does best, serving up totally macabre individuals, sometimes borrowed from existing texts or historical documents, but always deliciously monstrous. Here we have the real life Dr. Cream, who Roland describes as “none of Dr. Jekyll, but all of Mr. Hyde.” There are the familiar personages of ‘Spring Heeled Jack’ and ‘Nosferatu’ (a Goth club turntable hit on its original release) mixing with a fellow of the Royal Society whose house is an unsettling ‘Menagerie’. And in his suite of three movements with the overarching title ‘The King Must Die’, we have a gloriously evocative tale of royal decline and fall.
With an additional nine bonus tracks culled from Paul’s many European radio sessions, including a version of his classic ‘Blades of Battenburg’ and alternative cuts of Duel tracks, and the first three hundred copies arriving with a free softcover copy of his novella The Magician of Grimm, this is a sterling celebration of one of Paul Roland’s finest albums.
Other gems from Paul’s back catalogue reissued by Syborg Music include Danse Macabre / Burnt Orchids and A Cabinet of Curiosities / Happy Families; Syborg have also proudly released his acclaimed new albums Re-animator and Nevermore. Paul Roland is available for interview, whilst tracks from Duel, his reissues and new releases can be supplied for radio play.
The court, the keep and corridors are ankle deep in dust
And cobwebs hang like tapestries in the armouries of rust
(The King is Dead by Paul Roland)