Unending Ascending by Gong

Release date: November 3, 2023
Label: Kscope

Gong’s latest album, described as a “pan-galactic suite”, comes off the back of a period of relative stability for the ensemble. Never in the prog-jazz-rock-fusion-funk band’s glittering history have they maintained the same line up for so many albums, or so many years. Since founder member Daevid Allen’s change of cosmic address back in 2014, the band have now released three stunning albums, cementing the current line-up as more than worthy torchbearers of an impressive legacy.

This latest album, Unending Ascending, opens with a stunning double punch. Lead single ‘Tiny Galaxies’ is first up, a piece of sugar-coated medicine designed to introduce the record’s suitably spacey themes, albeit with a view to the microcosm as well as the macrocosm: as above, so below. At points during the track, the harmonic language bears the unmistakable hallmark of singer an guitarist Kavus Torabi. If that unique tonal approach ever sounded super-imposed onto the Gong universe, here, it fits like hand in glove. Torabi’s way with a tune is now as intrinsically linked to Gong as pot head pixies, Zero the Hero, and other 70s’ tropes.

If ‘Tiny Galaxies’ is an easy pill to swallow, second track (and second single) ‘My Guitar Is A Spaceship’, is somewhat harder. But herein lies the “classic” modern Gong sound. An uneven meter is just one aspect of this; it’s not so much the 9/8 time signature as the way the bar is unevenly split that gives the tune it’s loping feel. It contains a killer riff. It’s also devastatingly heavy. Like many modern bands that wear the “prog” label with pride, Gong nowadays sound like their forefathers on steroids. To this listener’s ears, that’s a good thing.

 

‘Ship Of Ishtar’, ‘O, Arcturus’, and ‘Lunar Invocation’, all demonstrate this ensemble’s capability to mix things up, benefitting from tuning down the intensity to further stretch the dynamic quality of the album. Ian East’s sax and flute playing runs throughout the record and is itself full of catchy motifs, angular stabs, and oriental-sounding scales. If Torabi is the first frontman to lead Gong and no simply be cast in Allen’s shadow, East is arguably the first wind player the ensemble has had who completely stepped out from simply being compared to Didier Malherbe’s playing. Gong without East is now hard to imagine.

The album contains two further belters: ‘All Clocks Reset’ most closely resembles Torabi’s “other” going concern, Knifeworld, and also bears the DNA of Cardiacs. ‘Choose Your Goddess’ is perhaps the heaviest, and simultaneously most spacey, track on the LP. It’s comparable to 70s Gong in quality, but possesses its own unique recipe of sonic flurries, lyrical mysticism, and stop start turn-on-a-dime tightness. The best magickians don’t merely recreate the rituals of old. They reference historic developments, sure, but they add their own distinctive personality to the brew. Unending Ascending is not short on personality.

This is not a record for the “straights”. Full appreciation of the whole suite requires either an existing immersion in, or a willingness to enter into, an alternative realm where guitars glissando, deities are exalted, and the imagination rules supreme. In the modern age, albums are often examples of pristine studio trickery, or templates for forthcoming live performances. This Gong album works as both a great home listening experience, and whets the appetite for their forthcoming tour, as all these tracks are destined to sound fantastic in the live arena.

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