The Laughter of Witches

Self-titled LP (GUSSTAFF RECORDS GRAM2112) from Tholos Gateway arrived with Black Metal-ish lettering on cover and a detail cropped from a painting of Circe the sorceress by John William Waterhouse (English academy painter who threw in his lot with the Pre-Raphaelites). Musical contents turn out to be not so much Black Metal, more in the way of goth-tinged atmospheric instrumental music, no songs nor lyrics (with one exception), but implications of black shroudery and skullduggery in titles such as ‘Divine Spiritual Laughter’ and ‘Cyclopean Curse’.

This is mostly the work of Colin Marston out of New York, who for over 20 years has been an exceptionally prolific musician and producer of other bands, mostly in the “progressive metal” sector. Though he is credited with bass, guitar and keyboards, his main credit is for “electronic drums”, and a case could be made for perceiving Tholos Gateway as primarily a percussionist’s album, especially with the timpani and gong contributions from Vasco Trilla. If that’s broadly on target, there are elements here that may appeal to listeners who enjoy MZ.412, although the latter is far more extreme…besides Marston’s lengthy excursions into percussion and drone, we have two able Spanish players, Àlex Reviriego from Phicus and Inhumankind, who plays acoustic double bass and when audible lends a vaguely free-improv tinge to the otherwise occluded and blackened instrumentals. Afore-mentioned Trilla is from Barcelona where he’s renowned as a free drummer and has rattled his sticks within many genres (jazz, improvisation, ambient). We also got guest appearance from Jarboe who adds her wordless wails to ‘Spell of Circe’, and who better to personify the character of that heartless witch from Greek myth. Seems this entire “project” came about through Reviriego working with the NY producer on the first Inhumankind album (Self-Extinction, 2018) where the young bassist was evidently a bit awestruck to be working with one of his heroes. The partnership continued when Àlex worked with Trilla as Bi Cong, and Colin Marston was brought in again to mix the record.

Tholos Gateway is emerging as a fairly unusual entry in the field, and the band do work well at sustaining a mood or atmosphere for these episodes, and at times do indeed succeed in weaving the “strange and ominous tapestry” they’re hoping for, through the accretion of recorded layers and odd combinations of musical instruments in the studio. It may not offer much by way of real “menace” or malign blasts, but rather produces its spell-binding effects by sheer persistence, and everything slithers along the floor of the sunless cave in a reliably reptilian manner. Also available as a vinyl pressing in black or clear vinyl from Don’t Sit on My Vinyl (as SIT 392). From 17th August 2021.