Karda Estra supremo Richard Wileman has reissued his 2006 album, The Age of Science and Enlightenment, as a revised and expanded remaster, featuring an additional 15-minutes of music from the original sessions. Reportedly one of his favourite Karda Estra albums, Richard has reimagined it with a new running order and several new or appended tracks.
Like all good instrumental music, it paints pictures in your mind. They may be different to the ones Richard sees, but that doesn’t matter in the slightest. This is powerful music that benefits from full immersion, and by doing so the listener will reap rich rewards. Just let your imagination wander through the expansive worlds that Richard creates.
The instrumentation is mainly acoustic – guitars, piano, flute, violin, oboe. There are no words but the vocals speak volumes, multi-tracked to augment the music’s mystical side.
In a change to the original running order, the set now opens with the three-part The Return of John Deth, which suggests a tale of sinister deeds and unexpected outcomes. The Steve Hackett-like opening to The Red Room is warm and bright, but there is already a distinct sense of dread – and this cloud does not appear to have a silver lining. The lightness of touch is typical of Richard’s work, a comfortable warmth that holds an odd vibe, keeping you on your toes – nothing is quite as it seems. Strings and woodwind work with each other, but also against in a gentle tug of war as forces work to gain an upper hand. Black clouds loom and this lilting opener is quite beautiful; each time the darkness recovers ground, it is pushed back by light, which ultimately seems to prevail.
But malice and ill-deeds infiltrate the scene, with the suggestion of a discovered corpse. Bones in the Moonlight is more macabre, hyperactive guitar bounding around strings and piano, with a distinct impact from the woodwinds; a storm is brewing with sustain and delicate percussion giving depth. Bones are stripped bare and bleached by the ebb and flow of long years of weathering, gradually calming as the process of decay resolves – but there is Magick in the air as the whole process completes within the course of one night…
…and something stirs. Is John Deth indeed returning, cell by cell, sinew by sinew? Nocturne Macabre suggests an elegant reformation of the man. But is he a force for good or evil? Only time will tell. The suite marks a fascinating and detailed introduction to the album, underlining Wileman’s skill as a composer and arranger. There’s a timeless quality – and quality is most definitely the right word.
Second Star could be a throwback to the mid-part of the opening suite; an ethereal presence, the music of the spheres in all its majesty, portrayed by dancing violin, flute and oboe. There are a thousand documentaries that would benefit from having this as a soundtrack. Quintessential Karda Estra, it opens out to a finale as all encompassing as the celestial body it represents. In contrast, the brief Heads is sparse and bleak, the aftermath of chance when things don’t go as they might, plaintive piano taking the weight.
The stately progress of knowledge through reason and scientific examination pushes back mysticism and superstition in the title track – but does that always benefit? There’s that aching pang of doubt, the suspicion that, when ordering the world, you don’t quite grasp all of the forces that are at work…
Am I Dreaming You? Are You Dreaming Me? suggests one such force, the psychic edge that lies just out of reach of ‘rational’ minds but is central to making the human experience what it is at its heart. This one smacks of sci-fi, odd synthetic sounds surrounding the delicacy of piano and percussion, dark matter at the heart of the machine, growing in power as it rhythmically develops, the wordless voices adding to the sense of danger.
A new introduction weaves an unsettling aura around Talos, guitar initially at its heart, supplanted by keyboard drones, while Talos itself is dark and cold. Named for a giant bronze automaton from Greek mythology, protecting Crete from invaders, it is secure in a web of intrigue and invisible forces, like those that protect an orb in the vastness of space, or the beating heart of an infinitely small organism, a giant in its own universe, seeking to learn and grow but incapable of ever discovering the truth of its own surroundings. We move to Carmilla; A lost love? A distant world? An imagined stranger? Whatever the inspiration, there is remarkable depth in the characterisation.
The Alpha and the Omega, which previously appeared on a Cyclops Records sampler, is an outlier brought back into the fold. Its name suggests everything in one song, the whole of human history and the sum of its knowledge. For a small ensemble, the arrangements produce grand visions. Aeons stretch before you, worlds form and dissipate. It all means something, but we’ll never know what, as a tolling bell counts us down to the ultimate nothingness of eternity, appropriately leading to the culmination of the album with Talos Aeterna, the giant seemingly remaining unchanged through the ages. You catch a glimpse of it through the haze, constantly circling to keep danger at bay – a tantalising sight, but you daren’t stray too close. A dreamlike end to a dream of an album.
If you enjoy mystical instrumental music that gets your mind clicking, don’t hesitate, jump right in. Richard Wileman is a master at this kind of thing, his music working on both the astral plane and within the hearts of the mortal world. I can understand why this album is one of his favourites; it envelops you and carries you along on it’s dark and Gothic journey through the unexpected. Beautifully inventive, Richard weaves spells through his array of instrumentation, all cunningly arranged and played with verve and finesse.
More evidence – should any be needed – of what a gifted and insightful composer Richard Wileman is, and for me it’s one of his best works, beautifully re-rendered here and polished anew. Recordings like this shouldn’t just gather dust within an extensive back catalogue, and this reissue shines a more than worthy light onto its magical landscape.
01. The Red Room (The Return of John Deth, Pt.1) (5:38)
02. Bones in the Moonlight (The Return of John Deth, Pt.2) (8:12)
03. Nocturne Macabre (The Return of John Deth, Pt.3) (2:05)
04. Second Star (7:33)
05. Heads (1:44)
06. The Age of Science and Enlightenment (4:53)
07. Am I Dreaming You? Are You Dreaming Me? (6:03)
08. Introduction and Talos (6:44)
09. Carmilla (4:31)
10. The Alpha and the Omega (7:10)
11. Talos Aeterna (4:26)
Total Time – 58:54
Richard Wileman – Classical, Electric & Bass Guitars, Keyboards, Percussion
Ileesha Bailey – Vocals
Helen Dearnley – Violin
Caron Hansford – Oboe, Cor Anglais
Zoë Josey – Flute, Alto & Soprano Saxophones
Record Label: Independent
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 2nd March 2023