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Space Mirrors – “In Darkness They Whisper” (Transubstans Records 2012, TRANS097)
Russian musician Alisa Coral is back with the fourth Space Mirrors album, the follow-up to 2008’s Majestic-12: A Hidden Presence. From both Space Mirrors and her Psi Corps albums we know that Alisa likes themes and In Darkness They Whisper serves up heaping doses of Space Rock and Metal influenced by the stories of H.P. Lovecraft.
Shadow Over Innsmouth kicks things off hard and heavy with driving metal guitar and eerie gothic keyboards. Later in the song there’s a really cool guitar solo that sounds like something from an early King Crimson album. Martyr Lucifer returns from the last album on vocals, along with Hortus Animae band-mate Massimo Arke on guitar. Martyr’s vocals on the last album ran the gamut from growling to screaming to “clean” (which means no growling or screaming), though on In Darkness They Whisper the vocals are all clean. I was a little ambivalent about this at first. I’m no fan of the growling metal vocal style, but on Majestic-12, the stylistic variety resulted in high vocal drama and you could make out the lyrics (the inability to understand lyrics is my pet peeve with the growly style). But after several listens I tuned myself into the vocals and decided that the combination of spoken word and singing works well on this album.
The first part of Silver Key is an easy going rocker. But then the guitar morphs into something more anguished, surrounded by space synths, before returning to the main theme. Geometry Of Witchcraft is a mixture of metal, space rock and 70s rock. I got a kick out of the playful synths which are like little aliens dancing around and contrast with the intensity of the music. About halfway through the band crank up the metal and Martyr gets just a wee bit growly and the whole thing builds up to a frenzy until a bubbling run of space synths lead to a space rocking metallic finale.
The title track begins with a dark gothic theme and atmospherics, quickly launching into a metal rocker with crunchy head-banging guitar chords but also classic 70s styled hard rock solos. I liked the fist-pumping “IN DARKNESS!!” background vocal chants. There’s a really cool and strange mid-song space-prog section with Cyndee Lee Rule’s ripping viper violin, fluttering synths and spectre-like efx’d vocals. Even after they return to the main theme Cyndee is still cranking out some beautiful violin solos.
Rue d’Auseil is Missing is an instrumental featuring Sparky Simmons from Acid FM on guitar and Cyndee on viola and comes off like a duel between the two. I really like the opening on Cats Of Ulthar with synths that are flittering and soundscape producing plus Cyndee’s jamming violin. Then there’s a threatening cat meow and we’re in the song, which starts as mellow space rock then launches into a space and metal rocker. It’s like Hawkwind with metal elements but also a prog rock sense of thematic development. LOTS going on with this really outstanding song!
And then there’s the 22 minute 8-act suite, The Dreamquest of Unknown Kadath. It begins with Nik Turner jamming on sax along with bashing metal guitars, a wild combination if there ever was one! Alan Davey plays bass on these tracks and his presence is definitely felt. Alan has long comfortably straddled both the space rock and heavy rock/metal realms. Fabio “Amon 418″ Bartolini, another member of the band Hortus Anima (and another band I don’t know called Hate Profile) plays guitar on the entire suite. I like the brief mellow section with Nik on flute which then leads back to the sax plus metal guitar jamming. And of course we transition through multiple thematic shifts. We’ve got heavy symphonic prog, goth and anthemic metal. There’s a cool segment where Martyr reads a narrative backed by ghostly soundscapes and haunting keyboard melodies. Then the metal guitar starts to lightly chug along and we’ve got Nik jaaaaaaming away on sax. I really love the combination.
In Darkness They Whisper is an ambitious set of music and though contributions from around the world are common in the internet age I still marvel at how Alisa has organized all these musicians to create something so tight and consistently coherent. Throughout the review I’ve made references to space rock and metal, but I wouldn’t call Space Mirrors Space-Metal. It’s like bringing elements of the two worlds together but not necessarily blending them. It’s hard to describe and that’s a good thing because Alias is doing something that to my ears is different.
Wanting to know more about the album I conducted the following email interview with Alisa Coral:
Aural Innovations (AI): The last Space Mirrors album – Majestic-12: A Hidden Presence – came out in 2008. How long did it take to record In Darkness They Whisper? You are organizing so many musicians from so many countries.
Alisa Coral (AC): I started my recordings for the album in 2010 and by the spring of 2011 I had all songs sent out to other musicians to record their music parts. We have many people on this record as you noticed so of course it took some time for everyone to record. For example Alan Davey and Nik Turner recorded during the summer. While doing some preview mixes I decided one song needed synth solos and I asked my friend Bjorn Jeppesen from Nattefrost to play them. In January 2012 we had all music put together and vocals were recorded. And also in March it was the latest part added – an additional sax solo by Nik. Then it was finally mixed and mastered.
AI: The lyrics are inspired by the stories of HP Lovecraft. Tell me more about that and what inspired you to focus on Lovecraft.
AC: Lovecraft is one of my favourite authors. His stories are not simple horror stories but are cosmic horror. He writes about the oldest and strongest kind of fear, fear of the unknown. His language is great and a pleasure to read, his descriptions are very colourful and full of sounds. But also he brings up very interesting metaphysical and philosophical ideas. Many consider him just a dreamer but it’s not entirely true. Some things are relevant actually. For example, in the lyrics of our song Silver Key I tried to show how the main character is lost in the prosiness of day-by-day life, how modern people lose the ability to sense the fear of the unknown, they don’t care about the stars anymore. Imagination and stargazing is totally replaced by “Dancing with the Stars.” I guess you understand what I mean. By the way, Lovecraft has a great essay written about Horror literature where he describes his attitude to many things really well. It can be read here: http://www.hplovecraft.com/writings/texts/essays/shil.asp
AI: You’ve described the album as being the first one in the “Cosmic Horror” series. What can you tell me about your plans for this series?
AC: First I planned to record two albums in the series then our singer Martyr inspired me to turn it into a trilogy. So there will be three albums based on H.P. Lovecraft stories.
AI: Michael Blackman was THE Space Mirrors guitarist on the previous albums. He’s gone and now you’ve got several guitarists, so that’s a big change.
AC: Michael was a part of Space Mirrors from the very beginning. But in 2010 he decided to leave Space Mirrors to concentrate on some other things. I don’t want to go into the details but he couldn’t guarantee his commitment to the band. So I started a search for other guitarists. First one who recorded for the album was John Pack of Spaceseed and he also brought to the album the wonderful keyboard player Allen Welty Green. It was a very welcome addition. Meanwhile I also contacted an old friend of Martyr – Massimo Arke. We agreed that he would play on several songs. You should understand that people with whom I work are busy musicians so I had to adjust my plans according to their schedules. So when Massimo couldn’t find time for more songs I switched to another guitarist from Italy – Fabio “Amon 418″ Bartolini and he contributed excellent guitars to the 22 minute epic The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath. Both Massimo and Fabio played in Italian extreme prog metal band Hortus Animae where our singer Martyr Lucifer is also from. And while recording In Darkness I met another great guitarist in Sparky Simmons from stoner rock band Acid FM. I had one track left for guitar recording, it was an instrumental Rue D’Auseil is Missing. I asked Sparky to add his powerful guitar to this track. He makes a really cool duel there with Cyndee Lee Rule who plays the viola. It follows the concept of the story which inspired this track. After that Sparky immediately became a permanent member of Space Mirrors. So now the core of Space Mirrors are: myself, Martyr Lucifer, Sparky Simmons and Fabio Bartolini. Cyndee Lee Rule is a permanent guest member as well as Nik Turner (they both played on the Majestic-12 album as well) and I hope Alan Davey. They all delivered great playing on the new album. Nik Turner is just amazing with sax and flutes and Alan… well, Alan is my favourite bass player, one of the best in the world, so you can imagine how happy I was to get him to play on The Dream Quest epic.
AI: The last two albums were on the more purely metal based Sleaszy Rider records and now you’re on Transubstans, which specializes in both 70s styled rock bands and space rock.
AC: Sleaszy Rider looked really good when we signed to them in 2005. EMI distribution and such… and our friends Hortus Animae were also there. But all changed for worse in 2009 when Majestic-12 was released, most of the promotion and distribution went in Greece. But still I’m very grateful to Sleaszy Rider for all the opportunities. The contract was for two albums and I knew I would be looking for a new record label home with a worldwide distribution. When I found out that Transubstans Records started to sign non-Scandinavian bands I decided that I would contact them. I know music of this label very well, I’ve heard many good things about them and they were the obvious first choice. I’m glad they have found my music interesting enough to release too. Thanks to Johnny, Tobias, Jocke and all the crew of Transubstans Records.
AI: One of the things I find unique about Space Mirrors is the way you bring together Space Rock and Metal elements. There are several bands that do that but you are different in that it’s not Space-Metal… but rather a difficult to describe meeting between the two… like Space Rock PLUS Metal rather than a blend.
AC: Haha, I don’t know what to say. That’s probably just the way I write music. What I compose is the music I would like to hear but can’t find anywhere else… So I just compose it myself. I grew up listening to both Space Rock and Metal and it somehow comes together in my head. Maybe I should mention that I’m also a big fan of Steve Harris songwriting? He is one of the best at writing the epic songs. His Rime of The Ancient Mariner is incredible and a huge inspiration… So I don’t know, maybe this all together makes my music to sound this way?
AI: Martyr Lucifer’s vocals are different on this album. All what you describe as “clean”. Very little of the growling or screaming. Was that intentional?
AC: Yes, we both decided the new album needs mostly clean type of vocals. He just recently released his solo album Martyr Lucifer – Farewell to Graveland where he also almost doesn’t use any growls. So this is the direction where he is heading. If I need a growl somewhere he does it but we both feel comfortable at the more clean voice direction. His vocals were recorded in an excellent professional Italian studio by Simone Mularoni (sound producer very well known in Italy). Me and Martyr, we worked together a lot on the final mixing production concentrating especially on vocal sound until we both were happy with that. Martyr is now an essential part of the band; he helps me a lot with his advices and opinion.
AI: Since the last Space Mirrors album in 2008 you’ve released two Psi Corp albums. How would you describe the difference between Space Mirrors and Psi Corp?
AC: Space Mirrors is more about songwriting and Psi Corps is about instrumental experiments. Psi Corps was a very interesting experience but I doubt I will return to this project sometime in the near future. I’m too busy with Space Mirrors and actually have no mood for the purely instrumental music now.
AI: Any other news or upcoming projects you’d like to tell us about?
AC: We are recording a sequel to In Darkness They Whisper right now. I can reveal that we already did the basic tracks for 5 news songs. And two more are lined up to record. The titles of the album and songs and guest members will be named later. So stay tuned! Also I recently recorded synthesizers on several songs of a new Spaceseed album which should be out sometime later this year.
Review and interview by Jerry Kranitz