Through a Sylvan Doorway, double album by Spiral Dance

A blossom in their discography’s garland, this is the first double-CD by Australia’s top mythic folk-rock band, Spiral Dance with woodland reverie, herbal magic, rune stones, forest guardianship and wild energy of a faery ring. Herne beckons with his staff among eucalyptus trees. Around foreground borders, ivy mingles with red blossom of native flowering gum, hinting at integration of British-Australian vegetation. (Title-track lyrics name Eucalypt Red Gum Elm and Oak, highlighting universality of forests.) Herne is universal, too. According to Borges, among the Dakota Sioux a horned hunting god Haokah played the wind as sticks to beat a thunder drum. Over this woodland an owl presides: sentry above a tree’s door inscribed with runic spirals, a gateway half-seen; not the only sylvan door? The clearing seems an entrance vanishing into green mist. Green is said to be the favourite colour of Faery, though this might depend on the season or elemental. Louise Hewett’s illustration is woven into photographic vistas (by designer Kim Brown) of lush greenery and standing stones.

In symmetry, two digipak discs flank the booklet’s pocket like twin moons of a triple goddess. 8 tracks per disc. Illustrator Louise Hewett’s songwriting appears #6 of each. Paul Gooding’s The Wyvern Rider’s Tune Set closes on the musical theme on which it begins. Throughout the album there’s a balance of original/traditional material, including poetry by Richard Jones and William Morris. There’s a cover by UK druid Damh the Bard, who joins Adrienne’s version of his song Spirit of Albion. Harmonies of the band’s male singers come to the fore here.

Defying jig-friendly expectations, the album opens with a quiet song, instrumentally sparse, featuring Nick Carter’s plucking, reminiscent of All About Eve. In the second song Fae Dance, the full band swings in with Rick Kearsley on drums, Paul Gooding on accordion, David Bentley on bass, Ingrid Hapke on violin, and Nick Carter swapping acoustic for electric guitar. This is the first Spiral Dance album of which Nick is engineer (RixWorld and Red Dog Audio). Well hewn.

Lyrically the album is eloquent: “And he with all his peacock stance and his feet of clay”; “There’s faces in the leaves, their green beards hanging down / Old Woodwise has laid his cloak upon the ground”; “When frost lay on bare branches / Beneath moonlight’s silver gleaming”; “On the breath of velvet wings”; “Hidden in the darkling leaves / The winds of night will take you / Into a twilight dream”; “Oh honey comb maiden brown apple tree mother”; “It flies on wings of fury”. These words ring, visually and musically. An archetype – be it the Nordic Odin, Greek Pan, English Robin Goodfellow or Celtic Arianrhod – leap forth, reveling in collective imagination. One risk with lyrical abundance is that syllables vie for space; keeping up, we shift from canter to gallop. Lucid melodies ease the ride. Adrienne, S.D.’s founder and leading lyricist, spent many years in English villages, studying their heritage. She’s had long contact with storytelling, dance and songs, immersing herself in folklore. An historian / former S.D. member Bronwyn Lloyd introduced us. Adrienne and Bronny have squired Morris Dancing Sides, respectively Hot for Joe and Hedgemonkey, for over two decades. This underpins many rhythms and themes of Spiral Dance. Their voices testify to kinship with ballads. Adrienne’s ability to tell a story through song is evident in Of Gods and Other Men, which she performs a cappella with the oft repeated line “I shall tell you tales”. Some songs, such as Feet of Clay, were unleashed on stage in several states prior to release. Fluent interplay of instruments, rehearsed through touring, is an S.D. hallmark. Revamped Rise Up has appeared in many shows and in an earlier form on the band’s retrospective 2010 CD From the Mist. A summoning call? Continuity meets new growth. Familiar trees soar among saplings, providing shade and shelter amid splashes of sunshine, sprouting leaves and buds. Camaraderie bubbles like a woodland stream.