For Hamilton, New Zealand’s Lamp of the Universe, the line between self, spirit and cosmos seems to have dissipated. Now 14 years on from its debut release, The Cosmic Union, the project has surged back to activity after a few years’ absence, resulting in 2013’s Transcendence (review here), splits in 2014 with Krautzone (streamed here) and Trip Hill, and now, the eighth full-length, The Inner Light of Revelation, released by Clostridium Records in conjunction with Astral Projection. Multi-instrumentalist/vocalist/producer Craig Williamson, as ever, is the auteur. A principle figure in establishing heavy rock and psychedelia in New Zealand during his days in Datura, who started in 1993 and released their last album in 1999, Williamson had shifted his focus from 2010 to 2012 onto Arc of Ascent, a trio whose two albums, 2010’s Circle of the Sun (review here) and 2012’s The Higher Key (review here), remain an engaging extension of Williamson‘s songwriting into the more grounded grooves hinted at on Lamp of the Universe‘s 2009 outing, Acid Mantra (review here). One thing leads to the next and to the next. Since Arc of Ascent‘s apparent disbanding, Williamson‘s work as Lamp of the Universe has had a sort of homecoming feel, but both the material he’s contributed to the splits and the two long-players are expansive and progressive, and The Inner Light of Revelation is nothing if not forward-minded. Comprised of eight tracks totaling 51 minutes, it harnesses both the lushness of sound and intimacy of vibe that has made Lamp of the Universe a singularly entity for the last decade-plus, and finds Williamson hinting toward a balance between the full-band and solo-project impulses. Less even than Acid Mantra or Transcendence, both of which were plenty laid back, The Inner Light of Revelation feels unconcerned with direction, and that peacefulness radiates outward from the very beginnings of opener “Trance of the Pharaohs.”
Acoustic guitar and e-bow hum set the foundation for Williamson‘s vocals, echoing a subtly memorable chorus, ritualized, very much in his own style — someone less familiar with his work and the fact that he was doing it first might hear shades of latter day Al Cisneros — and later gong wash provides Eastern sensibility further explored via percussion roll and insistent strumming. Arrangement has always been a central feature of Lamp of the Universe‘s work, but Williamson‘s songwriting and the sense of mood he sets and develops over the course of an album remains the core of the outfit. As a multi-instrumentalist, he builds a song like “God of One” with Mellotron, bass, guitar, sitar, percussion, drums, tambourine, multiple layers of vocals, resulting in a gorgeous psychedelic wash all the more hypnotic for the fact that it’s one person constructing it layer by layer. Of course, 14 years on, one would expect him to have a solid foundation from which to develop his ideas, but the loose swing he brings to “God of One” only underscores how special this project is. Tonal buzz, a quicker pace, sweet melody and one of The Inner Light of Revelation‘s more infectious hooks make the track a standout — it’s also the longest on the record at 8:52, though closer “Celestial Forms” is a near second — and it’s followed by “The Guiding Light,” a shorter movement centered around acoustic guitar, vocals and percussion. A folkier stretch, there’s still room for a dreamy acoustic solo in the second half, which sets the stage well for the Mellotron and sitar vibing of “Levitation,” the drums and percussion also returning as Williamson makes solid use of a relatively straightforward rhythm to enact a steady nod through the verse and a winding chorus that answers the Mellotron line with a move into swirling fuzz guitar. Transitions are fluid, the feel equal parts beautiful and lysergic, and Williamson‘s command over his sound manages only to enhance, not detract, from the psychedelic spiritual engagement of the material.
The two halves of the album break more or less evenly, no doubt with a Clostridium vinyl release in mind, and the acoustic/wah-electric finish of “Levitation” proves a resonant end to what would be side A. Side B, then, begins with the gradual ease of “Utopian Seed”‘s fade-in, harnessing some of the drone and backing swirl ideology of Williamson‘s 2014 splits but setting it to more grounded, less extended purpose. A bassline and guitar figure emerges, but percussion-wise, “Utopian Seed” uses only quiet, far-back tom hits to keep its beat, and the difference between that and “Levitation” or “God of One” is palpable in the ultra-molten soundscape crafted. Even here, amid the experimentalist wash, Williamson works in a chorus, though the intent is more mantra than hook, and that’s precisely the level on which it works. “Ancient Path” returns to a base of acoustic guitar and tambourine, sitar and percussion arriving soon after amid tanpura drone, expanding perhaps on what “The Guiding Light” suggested, with vocals compressed and otherworldly. The sitar and vocals lead the way out, bringing “Ancient Path” to a still-quiet apex, which gives way to the immediately rhythmic “Beyond the Horizon,” the shortest and most minimal of The Inner Light of Revelation‘s tracks. Also the shortest at 3:07, it’s the easiest to imagine in a live setting, even as a Mellotron line and echoing vocals move beyond the foot-tap timekeeping and strummed central figure. As expansive as Williamson gets here, the penultimate cut is a reminder of how effective and intimate Lamp of the Universe can be, and helps strike that balance between band-sound and solo-sound. With “Celestial Forms,” the Mellotron once again takes a central presence, ambient tones circling above the acoustic guitar and sitar and percussion and vocals. The closer recalls some of “God of One” and “Levitation”‘s movements, but is far dreamier, less drummed, and as it moves through an electrified solo to the long-fading wash of an ending, even more cosmic.
Particularly after “Beyond the Horizon,” it ties The Inner Light of Revelation together smoothly, which I suppose remains one of the most pivotal aspects of Williamson‘s work in Lamp of the Universe — that no matter how far out he goes sound-wise, there’s never any doubt of a plan at work, and even when he lets go and the song seems to carry him rather than the other way around, it’s abundantly clear he and the material are headed in the same direction. In psychedelia, Lamp of the Universe remains a blissful singular entity, and a project special for both how it has developed over time and the output that has resulted from that development. The quality of songwriting and balance of The Inner Light of Revelation should not be understated, and if there’s a singular truth being searched for here, then it seems to be found precisely in that place where self, spirit and cosmos unite.