As music continues to move further and further toward the outer limits of extremity, and bands struggle to one-up the musical and lyrical brutality Cannibal Corpse spawned, there's a neat little twist in the strain of evolution. Good old fashioned occult rock and roll is making a comeback. Largely carried on the shoulders of the massively popular (for the style) Ghost, bands are starting to rediscover that leaving more to the imagination can be the best course of action. The vintage sounds of yore, with the spooky sensibilities of the Victorian era, can create a musical canvas far more engaging and disturbing than eight string guitars and blast beats. The fact that there's an increased need for compositional skill, and a deft touch, is appreciated.
That sensibility is what Purson trades in, the impending sense of doom that is always more terrifying than the big reveal. If Ghost is sometimes described as “Scooby Doo metal”, Purson is the embodiment of the Addams Family. Everything about the record is strange, out of time, a bit macabre, and yet something that encompasses all the values we hold dear. While eschewing all modern standards for a rock record, there's something about “The Circle And The Blue Door” that is imminently endearing.
Those vintage Hammond organs and Wurlitzers are one piece of the puzzle, an always welcome distraction from the usual synthesized keyboard sounds. The other piece is frontwoman Rosie Cunningham's voice, the kind of haunting siren song that would lure the victim in this horror movie into the certain death he must face. What she lacks in sheer lung power she makes up for with pure je ne sais quoi, a feeling I get from listening to her that is impossible to put into words. Though unquantifiable, there's something in her voice that far exceeds her technical skill as a singer.
The record is slow-building, with “Wake Up Sleepy Head” using its two folky minutes to set the mood for the rest of the album to follow. “Spiderwood Farm” is where you get a sense of what Purson can be, a tangle of twisting guitar lines, blaring organs, and a deceptively catchy vocal performance that couldn't be further from pop. Over the course of its five minutes, there are enough zigs and zags to remind you that this isn't a straight-forward release, and a sense of 70's prog hangs in the air.
Followed by the arresting dark pop “Sailor's Wife's Lament”, it's clear Purson is a band that is ready to take chances with their music. More a chanteuse's ballad than a song you'd find on a rock album, it gives the feeling of being what the Beatles may have written if they had gone on a bad acid trip. It's dark without being bleak, alluring without being cloying.
For the most part, Purson is an old-school rock band, and a formidable one at that. Their knack for taking those old sounds and riffs and turning them into songs that are not merely homages to the past is impressive. “Leaning On A Bear” would have fit in on a Uriah Heep or Camel album back in the day, but it doesn't simply rehash the music those bands made, it re-imagines the past in a new form. In their best moments, Purson are a band that connects the dots and shows us what dark rock and roll would have become had heavy metal not infected it.
“Tempest And The Tide” is a folk ballad, but imbued with such sorrow that it evokes more despair from the listener than any blood-soaked cut of modern times possibly could. Cunningham's voice is perfectly suited to these sorts of songs, where her softer tone can make the poison go down that much smoother.
“The Circle And The Blue Door” is as promising a debut as I've heard in a long time. There are a few places to improve, and the songwriting could be tightened up a touch, but there's little not to love about what Purson has done with this album. They've managed to make dark music that doesn't feel dark, a unique take on the vintage aesthetic that has been all the rage. Plenty of bands are playing this sort of retro music, but none do it the way Purson does it. Ghost may be grabbing all the headlines, but in the here and now, Purson's music is far more interesting. One is a gimmick, while Purson is reality.