CD Review – Richard Wileman – Arcana

Richard Wileman is probably best known in the prog-rock world as the mainman of Karda Estra, a predominantly instrumental project that edges towards the gothic, surreal, and the cosmic. In recent years he has released a handful of solo albums, of which this album, Arcana, is the third. Unlike his work with Karda Estra, his solo work thus far is more in a singer-songwriter mode, here exploring the world of the Tarot (or should that be the “other world” of the Tarot?).

The cover for the album has a quite baleful air from a rather eerie looking gentleman who might have fallen from the pages of a lurid Victorian melodrama, but possibly alludes to the more sinister devil, a feeling not helped by the inclusion of a small pentagram. Rather ominous, you might think, but the music within is actually quite hippyish, although it is laced with a similar gothic tone as his work with Karda Estra and has a sinister spectral atmosphere as befits the topic of the album.

The music is in many ways entrancing, drawing you in to Wileman’s musical visions. Employing psychedelia and chamber prog, the overall sound is that of macabre cosmic folk. Wileman has an undoubted talent to create aural pictures and on several of the tracks it is almost as if you are viewing a long lost creepy 1960’s teen movie. Although the pictures are of bright summer days, they’re insinuating the foreboding and sinister.

The instrumentation used emphasises this. There are acoustic guitars jangling away, along with bouzouki, Appalachian dulcimer and keyboards. The bass guitars are as much for emphasis as they are for rhythm. The sound of wine glasses can’t be anything but strange. Amy Fry, who has herself contributed to Karda Estra, provides some stylish clarinet, saxophones, and vocals, while Wiseman’s daughter Sienna adds some telling contrast with her vocal on Crafted From Wood, which is itself a cover of the song by Spirits Burning, a band that featured several Hawkwinders along with Daevid Allen from Gong.

Overall, then, this is an engaging but somewhat unsettling listen. It might not be the horror that tumbles out of the Scandinavian death metal realm, but it certainly has the Hammer Horrors about it. It is the combinations of musical forms and weird lyrics that gives the album its strength. It is certainly not an album to have as background music, you really have to listen to appreciate. Think of synonyms for spooky and you won’t go far wrong in describing this release.

Isn’t it odd what comes out of Swindon?

1. Seed Sown, Mind Blown (4:06)
2. The Star (2:39)
3. The Fool (5:43)
4. After London (2:53)
5. Night of the Living Doll (3:57)
6. The Hanged Man (4:10)
7. You Are My Song (3:04)
8. Pilot (4:27)
9. Wheel of Fortune (2:07)
10. The Sun and the Moon (3:56)
11. The Devil (4:21)
12. How I Ended It All (3:55)
13. Crafted From Wood (3:38)

Richard Wileman – Guitars, Vocals, Bass, Keyboards, Percussion, Bouzouki, Appalachian Dulcimer, Wine Glasses
Amy Fry – Clarinet, Alto & Baritone Saxophones, Vocals
Sienna Wileman – Vocals (on ‘Crafted From Wood’) Date of Release: 21st September 2020
Record Label: Believers Roast

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