Now three studio albums in since Daevid Allen sailed off this mortal coil, what’s striking about this latest release from Gong is how self-possessed they sound. Headed by the irrepressible Kavus Torabi, they’re not just running with the baton Allen handed onto them. Instead, they’ve forged their own unique identity while remaining true to the original spirit of Gong, making music that’s both playful and exploratory, enraptured by the possibilities of the invisible worlds around us.
Thematically, Unending Ascending picks up where 2019’s The Universe Also Collapses left off, inspired by the realm of “subatomic dreams” and the hidden mysteries that reside there. Of course, this could also be read as an analogue for the psychedelic experience itself, where the holy sacrament of LSD reveals reality to be a mere fabrication of our everyday perceptions. And Torabi has talked before about his desire for Gong to create modern yet authentic psychedelia – not only a disorientation of the senses, but a reorientation too.
That’s not to say that Unending Ascending is just an amorphous stream of swirly pothead trance rock – far from it. In fact, this album feels more focused than its predecessor, while pushing even further out into the cosmos. With its John McGeoch-esque chorused guitar, the gothic tinged psych pop of Tiny Galaxies eases the listener in nicely, and even when it crunches up a gear, it exudes a deliciously mellow vibe.
My Guitar Is A Spaceship is as fun as its title, borne aloft on a great switchback riff before saxophonist Ian East steps forward and takes off on an ecstatic trajectory of his own. It’s one of those songs where something new and delightful keeps blossoming throughout.
After blast-off comes Ship Of Ishtar, and Fabio Golfetti’s beautiful floating glissando. Ishtar was the Babylonian goddess of love and sexuality and the Queen of Heaven, and this is a hymn to shagging on a galactic scale, like a slow-motion orgasm. The ghosts of Torabi’s other bands – specifically Knifeworld and Cardiacs – come through on All Clocks Reset, spiky Fripp-style riffing meets precise, pointillist horns dancing in formation, while Choose Your Goddess gets fiercer still, pumping avant-metal barely kept under restraint, little volleys of drums and sax threatening to break it free.
But tranquillity is restored by the album’s conclusion, with Asleep Do We Lay acting as a final comedown, its lazy chords and cooing angels offering sonic balm for the returning astral traveller.
After 54 years, Unending Ascending shows that Gong’s mission to explore music’s outer reaches is far from over.
Unending Ascending is on sale now via Kscope.