In 18th-century poet William Blake’s invented mythology, the character Urizen embodies conventional reason and law, often depicted as a bearded old man carrying nets or architects’ tools. Blake was fascinated by the tension between enlightenment and humanity’s baser instincts — free love, for example — and through Urizen, the poet seems to present societal dictums as a trap or snare preventing humans from reaching their truest plane of existence.
“Urizen” is also a track from Eugene post-rock band Paleons’ latest release, Hyperborean, now out digitally and on CD at House of Records in Eugene. Recorded here at Sprout City Studios, Hyperborean will be released June 25 on vinyl.
Entirely instrumental, the record draws from doom metal, sludge, space rock and psychedelic music, itself an examination of life’s duality — dark and light, reason and emotion, freedom and restraint, with religious and spiritual imagery throughout, such as pansophism, the idea of omniscience or universal knowledge.
Explaining why he writes strictly instrumentals, Paleons bandleader and lead guitarist Mark Leahey says: “It’s easier for me to not have to think in terms of a message and verse/chorus songwriting style. It frees up my compositions to be as recursive, linear, long or short as I want.”
Leahey jokes, “I am a terrible singer and an even worse lyricist.” In addition, he also draws inspiration from sci-fi works like Frank Herbert’s Dune as a well as apocalyptic tales of human survival. “It mostly comes from an interest in esoteric mysticism and the occult.”
Throughout Hyperborean, Leahey’s searing, riff-oriented guitar work loops hypnotically and sometimes soars over a rhythm section and song structures rooted in the post-rock style popularized by bands like Explosions in the Sky or even Eugene’s own This Patch of Sky.
But Leahey says his band is more than just post-rock, citing other influences such as kraut rock and even garage rock and punk. The 12-minute epic “The Circle and Eternity” features some of Hyperborean’s most hot-blooded playing, telling a story in sound complete with a beginning, middle and end.
And elsewhere, such as on tracks like “Sun at The Eastern Gate,” Paleons seem to use free-flowing, almost New Age-inspired violin played expressively by Meg Graham, representing beauty against Leahey’s darker, more mathematical guitar. She is acting as Los, the character Blake conjured representing imagination and pleasure, opposing yet partnered with Urizen’s reasoning intellect.
For centuries, humanity’s greatest writers and thinkers have wrestled with the idea of duality, whether free will leads toward the dark or the light. So it would be unreasonable to expect Paleons to reach conclusions about these questions in one album.
But in asking those questions, Paleons have produced one of Eugene’s most complete and satisfying rock recordings in recent memory.
Paleons play with Ditch & The Delta 9 pm Wednesday, May 17, at Old Nick’s; $5, 21-plus. They celebrate the release of Hyperborean on vinyl LP with Portland’s Cambrian Explosion and LA’s Barrows 8 pm Sunday, June 25, at Old Nick’s; $5, 21-Plus.