When Gong founder Daevid Allen handed the keys to guitarist/vocalist Kavus Torabi shortly before his death in 2015, he left one instruction: that things should always be moving upwards, always positive.
The venerable band’s latest album, Unending Ascending – the third by the current, post-Allen incarnation of Gong – follows that edict to the letter. Like its predecessor, 2019’s The Universe Also Collapses, it’s as much of a journey as an album. But where that record was an interstellar acid trip that evoked both space and time, Unending Ascending takes a different approach.
“We see The Universe Also Collapses as the ‘space’ record, and this is our ‘lunar’ record,” Torabi tells Prog, speaking from his new home in Glastonbury. “If there’s a theme, it’s about the Moon and water. The last album was shot through with an almost scientific approach, but there’s something mythical and even magickal sounding with this one.”
The fascination of the Moon is most obvious on Lunar Invocation, featuring Ozric Tentacles vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Saskia Maxwell. She also appears on the blissful Ship Of Ishtar, inspired by work of mid-20th-century sci-fi/fantasy artist Virgil Finlay.
“He was one of my absolute favourite illustrators,” says Torabi. “He did lot of really visionary artwork for pulp book covers, one of which was [A Merritt’s 1920 novel] Ship Of Ishtar. Ishtar is also a lunar goddess, and that song almost became automatic writing in a way – what I was doing was quite abstract.”
The mythological theme continues on Choose Your Goddess, which finds Torabi listing lunar deities.“Given Gong’s association with the goddess Selene [the lunar goddess who inspired the 1973 track of the same name], I thought there was a logical connection,” he says.
Physics (and metaphysics) still play a part on Unending Ascending. Opening track and first single Tiny Galaxies is inspired by Torabi’s view that “the universe and self and the inside of ourselves is all the same thing – depending on which end you look down the telescope, you’re either seeing the entire universe or these miniature worlds and tiny galaxies.” Elsewhere, the self-explanatory My Guitar Is A Spaceship and O, Arcturus, which is “about the death of a star”, continue the celestial theme.
Unending Ascending took shape on the road, with Torabi and his bandmates – guitarist Fabio Golfetti, bassist Dave Sturt, sax and flute player Ian East and drummer Cheb Nettles – making the decision to rein in its predecessor’s sprawling approach to keep things compact – the longest song here, Choose Your Goddess, is a relatively trifling six-and-a-half minutes.
“I hate to use this word, but it really seems to have grown organically,” says Torabi. “Lunar Invocation started life as a drone section to get from one part of the set to another, then over the course of the tour I started developing the melody and the idea. We were playing five of the eight songs on the album on tour, so they were under our skins before we went into record it.”
According to Torabi, Unending Ascending and its predecessor form the first two instalments in “a loose trilogy”. Limpid final track Asleep Do We Lay – a song, he says, that’s “kind of about drowning, but also about love as well” – presages where Gong will be going next time around.
“We’ve done the ‘space’ record and the ‘lunar’ record, and the next one will be our ‘aquatic’ record,” he continues. “We see the whole thing as a pan-galactic suite. Sorry if that sounds like mystical bollocks, but this is Gong!”