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Robert Fripp - The Gates Of Paradise CD (album) cover

THE GATES OF PARADISE

Robert Fripp

 

Eclectic Prog

4.05 | 52 ratings

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ThulŽatan
Prog Reviewer
5 stars The ever-evolving Soundscapes series reached new heights with this long-awaited album, 'The Gates Of Paradise'. Returning to the ideals of 'That Which Passes', various live improvised performances were edited and meshed with studio material to create a much tighter, more 'narrative' album. 'The Gates Of Paradise' depicts in sound two powerful, conflicting states: absolute terror, and enveloping peace. Respectively, in Fripp's chosen terminology: darkness (hell), and paradise. The former state sees the album visit some of the most disturbing sounds yet produced by Fripp - taking into account his entire career with King Crimson, not just Soundscapes - making this yet again a challenging listen, but somehow strangely accessible because of the strong stamps left by such intense moments.

The first and longest piece is a suite comprising parts I to X of 'The Outer Darkness', or the 'hell' side. This track is itself (for the most part) split up into a further two distinct dimensions, the 'Perimeter' and the 'Wailing', and in alternating between them manages to portray a deep, agonising struggle. As their titles imply, the 'Perimeter' Soundscapes create an impression of floating in limbo, but looming close to something immense, using familiar low rumbling sounds and adding distant breaths of complex string chords. The experience of the perimeter then develops in between bouts of wailing, progressively daring to draw nearer to this vast force, and more activity can be heard - simmering frustration, anticipated but from a reasonably safe distance. The 'Wailing' tracks themselves, however, are the moments where you take the dive, and face whatever it is that waits in the darkness. Listening attentively at night, it is difficult not to be alarmed when 'Wailing I' first breaks out; like an unspeakable creature guarding a place you fear to tread, Fripp makes his guitar scream like no person or animal you've ever heard. The cry disturbs the whole sound field... it burns in a whorl of noise, deafening and inescapable as if the wailing is that of your own mind. From here, the listener retreats, then returns, retreats, returns, each time meeting this fierce resistance but each time coming more to terms with it, learning from it, until eventually there is less distinction between the perimeter and the wailing. Out of this strained reconciliation comes the beautiful part IX, 'Black Light', a shrill adagio of impossible chords, full of longing.

After twenty minutes of such unsettling sounds, the second track (comprising parts I and II of 'The Gates Of Paradise') opens mercifully with a much lighter, airy feel, and along with mysterious twists in the melody paints a picture of total reprieve from the darkness. We are placed instead in a garden of safety, but one with a strong overtone of hesitation or vigilance, which also builds steadily on its foundations, deepening the bass and harmonies, growing into a sense of awe. The listener is allowed just long enough in this state of peace to drop their defences, only to be shaken to the core when track three begins. 'The Outer Darkness' part XI opens with a familiar, chilling shriek, and goes on to subject us to a gruelling ten-minute confrontation with the 'creatures' as we are drawn back from the Gate and tortured by the implications of trying to pass.

The fourth suite, 'The Gates Of Paradise' parts III and IV, is another - and more final - experience of the Gate; but it seems very different from the first visit. Extreme, icy stillness plays host to the distant sounds of transient bells and almost machine-like interruptions. Analogous with our true freedom within this place, is Fripp's free playing over and above the usual loops with a piano-style sound. It is like we are now free to develop, though there looms still a passing grief. In IV, this is manifested in our acceptance of all that has come before - a final Soundscape, gentle and even, with a sense of leaving the struggle far behind, resigned to whatever the future may bring.

While I view Fripp's choice of overtly Christian track titles as somewhat distasteful (particularly 'Pie Jesu'), in the end they are merely a distraction from the essentially human themes on display, and there is simply no denying how powerful and direct the music is on this album. A strong candidate for the best Soundscapes release to date, and possibly the album of Fripp's career.

ThulŽatan | 5/5 |

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