Spiders thrive in the lush and steamy environs of the Sydney Basin, from the nasty and brutish trapdoor dwelling types to the indefatigable species inhabiting Gail Priest’s backyard, the nation’s most populous city is literally crawling with arachnids. Austrian Poet Rainer Maria Rilke and spiders are the conceptual bedrock upon which Presentiments from the Spider Garden is based, but the music contained within has a strong affinity with Norway’s Rune Grammofon label – inhabiting a sound-world not too far removed from Deathprod, Alog and Phonophani.
Presentiments from the Spider Garden flows together hypnotically, the fourteen pieces segue subtly yet powerfully into each other. There’s a hanging tension in the heavily processed vocals and swelling guitars of ‘Tangled Paths’, leading into ‘A Surface Dwelling Race’, where harmonic arpeggios tick and build to stunning effect. There’s a hint of Lisa Gerrard in ‘Vocal Mould’ – all wordless utterances. Slowly these build into a chanting, trilling, thrumming mass only to be overtaken by what sounds suspiciously like a blocked drain, gurgling like Maja Ratkje.
The somewhat byzantine title of track seven, ‘The Araneological Calender of M. Quatremet Isgonval’ reminds me of the delicate yet resilient engineering of a spider’s web, suddenly as a larger creature blunders through, it disappears, only for the listener to get tangled up in the vocal snippets and whip bird cries of ‘Tongue Whiplashing’. Halfway through this piece, lopsided, wheezing accordions played by an asthmatic Gamelan orchestra familiar with Atom Heart’s “Replicant Rumba Rockers” breaks in.
As the album reaches a climax and draws to its conclusion, the pieces lengthen out and become more ambient-based and esoteric. ‘Spider Dreams’ has a howling pitch bent drone reminiscent of NWW’s Soliloquy for Lilith, whilst ‘Spider Dances’ could almost be material from a late 90s Coil album. ‘In the Faded Forest’s starts off with a literal auditory interpretation before an inexorably building treated vocal refrain soars into the canopy, only to be drummed into line by the most martial of percussion.
Gail Priest has developed an aesthetic all of her own over the course of two full-length albums, numerous compilation appearances and EPs. She’s also kept busy with writings and curatorial work on Experimental Music and other fields, plus cultural endeavours, including the 2010 Sydney Biennale, The Now Now and a recent European jaunt. Presentiments from the Spider Garden is an engaging, enigmatic and hypnotic work by an artist demonstrating a degree of maturity that comes about only through years of hard graft (in the Spider Garden).