ARCANE: Gather Darkness (1999)
Updated: May 20, 2020
“Gather Darkness is a must in any collection of EM Berlin School genre”
1 Dystopian Fictions 16:09
2 Gather Darkness 15:48
3 Flight from Time One 14:59
4 Requiem 12:14
5 Time Will Run Back 9:31
(DDL 68:44) (V.F.)
(Vintage Berlin School)
According to legend, Arcane was born on a cold winter evening in 1970 in Dusseldorf. Experimental film director Gerhard Shreck and author of science fiction, Max Richter compose film music in a cold, damp basement. They work with analog equipment, and the majority of this equipment is built by Shreck. A third member joined the duo in 1973, Hans-Ulrich Buchloh disciple of the Stockhausen philosophy. Together they have enough material to make a first album, Alterstill, which will be re-released for the first time in 2001 and a second in 2006. This first opus of electronic improvisation receives praises from the press, but is ignored by the general public. The trio gained popularity with the release of their second album, Teach Yourself to Crash Cars in 1976. A European tour followed. Arcane plays in small clubs. Fans are enthusiastic about this new trio which plays highly atmospheric music with rhythmic structures à la Tangerine Dream, but with a more somber tone. The name is circulating. Arcane is on everyone's lips. The reputation of the trio goes beyond European borders. While the group sits at the top in 1977 and is recognized internationally, a tragedy shakes its dark world. Max Richter is found dead in a Budapest hotel room. The coroner's verdict is staggering, Richter killed himself by self-immolation. In shock, the many fans as well as several media doubt this possibility. After all Richter was a strange man who had his own ideas and who fiddled with funny people. Other versions are circulating, further fueling the legend. Richter was allegedly assassinated because of his political orientations and allegiances, or other obscure reasons. Unable to continue further, Shreck and Buchloh give up their musical careers. Some 20 years later and in order to honor the memory of Max Richter, Arcane comes back to life. Produced with a deep sense of respect for their lost compatriot, Gather Darkness resumes in the same direction that made the delight of the first followers of this cult band. Lines of sequences which roll on themselves building long repetitive and hypnotic tirades, chthonian atmospheres pushed by an invasive mellotron, spectral harmonies and synth solos running in the air in symbiosis with the rhythms. The new Arcane borrows the same analog decor of the 70's. A cross between rhythms supported by percussions and bass sequences. Musical spheres that adopt the cadences of ambiences tortured by mellotrons with fluty flavor abd scents of trumpets. In short, some good Berlin School à la Tangerine Dream. And when your ears have crossed the musical excrescence of Encore on Time Will Run Back, you will understand that Arcane has entered, and with good reason, into legend through the front door. Obviously, we are in 2006 and the Arcane myth has been revised, reworked and corrected many times. According to evidence gathered here and there, Arcane is only one individual; Paul Lawler. A story to follow…
I'm going to be honest; I didn't really know by where to begin this review about Arcane's very first album. I rediscovered its music with the brilliant A Tale of Unease, released in 2012. This album has literally given me the taste to dive back into the discography of this artist who literally has more than one string to his bow. I once written a short review back some 6 years ago on the French Webzine Guts of Darkness. So, I didn't want to write again this long preamble about the invented story of Arcane. And I did! Out of stock since years, GATHER DARKNESS gets a sound lift via Paul Lawler's Bandcamp page. An excellent initiative and by ricochet an excellent opportunity to put the hands and the ears on a wonderful album which transcends the periods of Tangerine Dream, from 1973 till 1982. A big bell resounds far off. Its reverberation drags a series of ringings, as well as a set of completely lost chords, which rustle in vaporous breezes to the chants as much sibylline as divine. It's with a soft fluty Mellotron and passive chthonian voices that Dystopian Fictions reveals its ambiences. The singings of the artificial flutes float on deaf pulsations, spreading seraphic airs of which the ethereal harmonies are mingling in a delicate dark choir. We are in the soils of the Dream and of their analog years. A good line of sequences spreads its keys which skip loosely, a little as Bambi on an ice-cold puddle, in the chants of wandering monks and those more seraphic of the fluty breaths. The rhythm develops slowly, like a soft poetic rodeo, with a series of sequences where the keys dance and skip with their shadows. Riffs resounds here and there. Wha-wha can also be heard, as these lost chords and their echoes which ring in the shadows of the muffled pulsations. Percussions invite themselves in this passive ambient ritornello which quietly gets out of its morphic state to force a movement of a head banging which follows a quiet rhythm but constantly inviting. Paul Lawler gathers all these elements, and even more, to coordinate a structure of rhythm which gallops on the plains of the vintage EM, with a stunning meshing of percussions and sequences, where the riffs of synth takes a harmonious depth and where the seraphic philharmonic singings bicker with very Dream solos. Among all the copycats of Tangerine Dream, Arcane is, and by far, the most credible. So much by his famous faked story, which is of a myth as big as that of the Dream, that by the way Paul Lawler works his compositions. Alone at the front seat, he succeeds in the impressive challenge of structuring the rhythmic approaches, ambiences and harmonies of the German trio with either Peter Baumann or Johannes Schmoelling.
If artists such as Redshift, [´ramp], Air Sculpture or Arc took and exploited very precise structures of Tangerine Dream's music to drive them admirably well, Arcane overflies with as much ease the periods of Ricochet to Logos. The title-track offers an introduction deliciously ambiospherical where a magic flute charms some threatening reverberations. One would imagine being at the time of Sorcerer. The rhythm extricates itself from these a little bit desert moods and waddles little by little in order to eventually paint a structure stronger than that of Dystopian Fictions. A sinister wave lets smooth a threatening veil over the first seconds of Flight from Time One. One would guess the Mephistophelian moods of Stratosfear. The flute is magnificent, and the percussions stamped of gas a la Mojave Plan, clink randomly in a beautiful intro as well ambiosonic that ambiospheric and where the notes of an electric piano roam like lost souls. It is very film and we feel this unique imprint that Paul Lawler will leave in the course of his future realizations. A pulsation resounds heavily around the 5th minute, introducing the linear and quiet rhythm of Flight from Time One which takes the shape of a moderated race in a sonic forest illuminated with its thousand torments and flooded with the charms of a synth filled of spectral singings and of enchanted flute breezes. The chthonian ambiences of Requiem inhale at full nose the spirit of its naming. We can hear a strange prayer to ooze between two dimensions. The intro evolves between two poles: the past as the future, the darkness as the civilization. A mass for hell with spherical elements! A superb sequence is waving such as tap-dancing which flutter in clouds of cotton-wool. The movement is evanescent and cavorts in vibes as astral as psychedelic before finding refuge in papal singings. A sequence and its threatening reverberations resound in this peace of mind. Its pulsations shake a nest of sequences which begins pounding in any senses, guiding this a little inconsistent rhythm through some fluty fields and the squabbles of organic sequences which do a sound brothel in a finale on the whole relatively peaceful. To speak about Time Will Run Back without making narrow links with Encore and of its angelic trumpets is to show misunderstanding or make proof of bad faith. Nope, Lawler does not just try to copy a style, but rather to unite two bridges with rhythmic sequences, or electronic percussions, more modern which join two legendary combinations of the Dream; periods Encore to Logos. The rhythm? The ambiences? Melodies? Well measured and especially ordered on a structure which allies a fiery rhythm to more ethereal moods where the Mellotron flute lines are breathing of a more virginal innocence. I tell you; go get this one!
Sylvain Lupari (July 5th 2006) *****
Available at Paul Lawler Bandcamp