Space Mirrors - The Darker Side of Art CD review

27th March 2004
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Space Mirrors are a new name in space rock, made up of some already familar names....the first space rock
supergroup? :-)  The creative core is Alisa Coral, whose previous album ("Neutron Star", released under the
name of Mirrors) was a well-received synthesizer-only album, likened to classic period Tangerine Dream.  
This time out Alisa is joined by Arjen Anthony Lucassen of Star One fame, and Michael Blackman, whose
"Alien Dream" played at the 2003 Hawkfest.  It very much remains Alisa's project, though.

There is no mention of a concept to the album, but it could be interpreted as a spiritual journey through the
darker recesses of the soul, and without a happy ending!  There is an overwhelmingly dark feeling to this
album, which nonetheless is core space rock with a plethora of synths and distorted guitars, and relatively
few vocal passages.

The CD opens with
Portal Spell, a dark foreboding piece of ebbing and swirling synths, swooping guitars
and a heavily treated voiceover, intoning the lyrics to be found in the excellent CD booklet.  These are
spoken rather than sung and are swathed in layers of echo.  This number is made of a denser weave, but
reminds me slightly of the intro to Rush's track "The Black Hole of Cygnus X1".

At the Crossroads of Worlds - the minor keys continue, with the mix of synths and distorted guitars
giving a feeling of menace rather than melancholy.  Again, the distant spoken vocals are wrapped in layers
of reverb, before a vocal interlude ups the paranoia levels, to be followed by a third movement which brings
to mind an alternate version of Gong or Ozric Tentacles, with plenty of space rock trademarks (like synth
parts that resemble "space whisper"); but all of them are interwoven with the pervasive sense of impending
doom that permeates this work.

A Trip Through Inner Space takes the pace and volume down to provide a minimalistic synth theme,
which broadens out into a Hawkwind-like synthscape without losing the underlying sense of isolation and
intense cold.  Judging by the track title, Space Mirrors were reflecting what it would be like to shut out the
external world completely, and have succeeded with this slice of nordic agoraphobia.  This is one track
where I can hear the Tangerine Dream influence from the previous album, but Space Mirrors' vision is
darker and colder than anything the Germans ever did.

Your Soul's Been Sold sounds almost jaunty after the trip through inner space.  A bass / drum rhythm
lopes along while synaesthesia-inducing bursts of colour from the keyboards are overlaid with melodic
guitar fills which not only play in a major key but have a brighter tone than on previous tracks.  As the
theme develops, the keyboard parts become more intricate and gradually overshadow the guitar so that by
the time the track ends, on five minutes, it has moved away from the almost joyful theme to something
altogether more disturbing and unsettled...

The darkness really returns with
Pale Ghosts, where a wah'd guitar thrashes around, enmeshed in synth
atmospherics, until the rhythm kicks in - somehow managing to increase the chaos quotient of the track
rather than diminishing it.  Claustrophobic and paranoia inducing, there is an overwhelming vibe of what
Ozric Tentacles might have come up with had they been force fed on an exclusive diet of Black Metal for a
month.  The most strongly developed rhythms on this album pop up in this track from about the four
minute mark onwards, before a smooth almost ambient coda fades out the final minute or so.

It's Cold Today In Underworld opens in a way that is very reminiscent of some of Harvey Bainbridge's
best contributions to Hawkwind, but all such thoughts are banished by the onset of the heavy,crunching
guitar work.  The vocals on this number are the clearest and most accessible yet - and when they come in,
the guitar retreats into the background and this once again prompts the Hawkwind comparisons.  Meanwhile
the synths spiral in on themselves remorselessly and the muted guitar strums right on the (mixed very low)
beat somehow move this number away from the dominant menace of this album, to a more rock'n'roll
place. Though this is still no wander through the tulips!

Black Dragon is next, and here I have to declare an interest: I played the guitars on this track. However I
had not heard the final mix until getting a copy of the CD, and doing so gives me the opportunity to assess
Alisa Coral's skills with the production - this sounds a lot better than what I was hearing during the
recording!  The song itself is a five-minute piece where one theme (in the key of Fmaj7) is introduced and
mutates back and forth for the first four minutes, and a second, darker theme supplants it for the final
minute. (This bit is in Dsus2 if anyone's interested :-)  The guitars are mixed low -very low in the middle
part of the song- which is probably a good thing, with the synths developing and changing, and rhythms
emerging and subsuming throughout.  This is undoubtedly the most optimisitic sounding track on the CD.

The big showcase track, though, is
Dark Jedi, a retelling or interpretation of part of the Star Wars legend,
in a most un-Hollywood way.  The opening movement is a nightmare of 90's heavy metal guitars, swirling
echoed vocals and another piece of tight punchy drum programming, and is called
The story of Jedi
. The remaining movements are: (2.) Anakin on Tatooine; (3.) The war began; (4.) On Coruscant
with Palpatine
; (5.) Anakin's thoughts - to the dark side; (6.) Dark Reign; and (7.) Empire.

Arjen's influence is perhaps strongest on this track, as it moves away from the Space Mirrors template of
icy menace, to a more baroque brand of hyperanxiety, although some more pastoral moments are mixed in
with a bit of acoustic guitar amid
On Coruscant with Palpatine.  As always on this CD, there is real
expertise in the way that the next theme is woven seamlessly into the current one, although my favourite
movement here is the triumphal guitar-dominated
Dark Reign, especially as you know it's going to flip
through 90 degrees to something completely different for
Empire: and it does, bringing the album to a very
satisfying close...

This is not entirely my cup of tea, being darker and fiercer than the stuff I normally listen to, but for many
listeners, this is going to be a tour de force.  You can hear sound samples at the
Space Mirrors website, so
I suggest you have a listen, and if you like what you hear, buy it from CD Services or other space rock
Back and front of the CD booklet, which has been brilliantly done by Jim Lascko of Strange Trips