"The Circle and the Blue Door"

(Rise Above/Metal Blade)

01. Wake Up Sleepy Head
02. The Contract
03. Spiderwood Farm
04. Sailor's Wife's Lament
05. Leaning on a Bear
06. Tempest and the Tide
07. Mavericks and Mystics
08. Well-Spoiled Machine
09. Sapphire Ward
10. Rocking Horse
11. Tragic Catastrophe

RATING: 8/10

From all the media hype and comprehensive promotional campaign leading up to the release of 2013's "The Circle and the Blue Door", you would think that PURSON was being groomed and positioned to become occult rock's first breakout pop stars.

Not least because the British group's focal point is singer and guitarist Rosie Cunningham, whose past exploits include brief membership in a rather calculated teenage goth-rock girl-band named IPSO FACTO; after which she allegedly experienced her occult/psych epiphany under the influence of PURSON's future, and now conveniently past guitarist, one Ed Turner.

Far be it from us to instigate conspiracy theories or add kindling to the symbolic solstice blaze already accompanying this album's release; having laid down the essential backstory, we will now let our ears do the job expected of them, without the prejudice other senses can be guilty of, and the first surprise in store is just how eclectic "The Circle and the Blue Door" can be.

Though bound throughout by late '60s influences, including such occult rock staples like freaky psychedelia, proto-metal and obscure but, tellingly, not satanic themes, frequently hypnotic offerings such as "The Contract" and "Leaning on a Bear" reveal PURSON's surplus passion for the era's acid folk and progressive vibes - even a willingness to tango with THE DOORS' haunted cocktail lounge on the intriguing "Well-Spoiled Machine".

On a separate tack entirely, presumptive sea shanties such as "Sailor's Wife's Lament" (with its lapping water sound effects and waltzing accordion) and "Tempest and Tide" (richly orchestrated and topped with shrieking seagulls) evoke mental images of an ocean-bound gypsy caravan - coincidentally endorsed by the band's conspicuous period wardrobe on the LP cover.

As for the abundant human skulls displayed in the same photo, the only real fulfillment of the heavier sounds they promise comes through a brace of riff driven tracks sprinkled throughout - and these, by and large weave their distorted guitars with thrumming Hammond organ for that authentic style originally popular during hard rock's transition between the late '60s and early '70s.

As such "Spiderwood Farm" recalls DEEP PURPLE Mk. I; "Mavericks and Mystics" IRON BUTTERFLY, ATOMIC ROOSTER or even BLOODROCK; and "Rocking Horse", at last, BLACK SABBATH, though its dips into deliberate doom, heavy as a warship, are just as often countered with acoustic adornments, light as a feather, to produce daunting dynamic disparities that unleash a psychedelic vortex anyone retro-rocker would gladly be sucked into.

In sum, if PURSON is cunningly manipulating the occult rock craze recently elevated to quasi-mainstream awareness by the likes of GHOST and THE DEVIL'S BLOOD to its own advantage, they sure have a weird, daring and relatively unique way to go about it.

The end results on "The Circle and the Blue Door" may not appeal to fans of the style's core sonic attributes, never mind readers of this site, but you have to give PURSON the benefit of doubt for answering suspicious observers with a highly stylized and idiosyncratic vision all their their own.


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