Review: The Northern Lighthouse Board ‘A Plague Of Shadows’

The Northern Lighthouse Board, based in Cornwall, describe their music as ‘soundscapes for Victorian séances and nocturnal forest gatherings. Abandoned lighthouses, possessed goats, occulted moons and haunted doll houses’. Apparently inspired by local spots and old ghost stories, Victorian occultism, and the relationship between the natural and spiritual world, A Plague Of Shadows is thirty-odd minutes of ethereal electronics calling to mind Coil at their most minimalist with moments of Tangerine Dream and Bohren & Der Club of Gore.

The Northern Lighthouse Board ‘A Plague Of Shadows’

It’s common to see criticism for what can lazily be labelled as soundtrack music based on the creation of a score for something that doesn’t exist, but if you ever find yourself alone in the wee small hours and you like a soundtrack to your solitude, then you may appreciate the value of this kind of atmospheric and expansive music that lets you create your own imagined story and visuals.

Track titles like St Nectan’s Glen, The Sirens Of Trevone, and Warleggan Rectory conjure the rustic and folk horror aspects of Cornwall (Warleggan is an apparently haunted village), while tracks like The Fox Sisters – named after the founders of Spiritualism – and MacGregor Mathers – one of the founders of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn – suggests the occult.

Despite the setting laid out by the rubric and track titles, the apparent inspirations for A Plague Of Shadows don’t direct the instrumentation, samples, or production to the degree that the result is obvious and hokey or one dimensional. Even with the context in mind before listening, I found that the music evoked an unexpected and eclectic range of images, memories, and experiences – worlds away from what was suggested.

First track St Nectan’s Glen introduces the album with distant rumbling before sparse notes of wavering synth evoke heavy dew and morning mist, or some great fracture of the soul. Warleggan Rectory features what sounds like a Fender Rhodes, reminding me of Bohren & Der Club of Gore’s Dolores – tense, unnerving, and sorrowful. The title track could be a stripped-down outtake from Tangerine Dream’s scores for Sorcerer or The Keep: a single track of synth that manages to captivate the imagination. Atmospheric, emotive, unusual, and engaging. When the lights are low and the night is quiet, these are sounds to capture and illuminate your thoughts. The soundtrack to your own reflections and reckonings: reliving the past, weighing the future, and trying to make some sense of the present.

When the lights are low and the night is quiet, these are sounds to capture and illuminate your thoughts…

Reverb Worship is a label focused on releasing avant-garde and unusual sounds in limited edition lovingly handmade formats, and that may suggest that this album is an unpalatable niche within an impenetrable one, but it’s neither too abrasive nor minimal to be either. A Plague Of Shadows is full of simple leads and minimally arranged melodies; the tracks are presented as a series of audio vignettes in succession. From the short interlude of atmospheric bells that is Devil Pins, to the disorientating malfunctioning music box sounds and languid slide guitar of The Fox Sisters, to the wheezing accordion and distant voices by the campfire in Diemen’s Land, the tracks don’t flow so much as repeatedly emerge and dissipate, like a collage of scenes.

These mini pieces are stripped down and freeform, lean, and precise – but never random. This shouldn’t be filed at the bottom of the pile as an exercise in novelty experimentalism. Instead, it’s adjacent to a lot of styles of synth and ambient music but different from any of them. If you enjoy the more ambient, or synth-heavy side of krautrock, dungeon synth, or even synthwave, there’s much here for you to explore, despite the brevity. While often minimal to the point of being solo pieces, the tracks are subtly composed. Minute but detailed exercises in release and expanse, like the sound of Æther personified.

A Plague Of Shadows reminds me of how Tangerine Dream could score a film with electronics that felt ancient, timeless, and otherworldly. The Northern Lighthouse Board have the same skill of creating sounds that exist in their own undefinable space, but they manage to do this with impressively minimal compositions. Brief but vivid sonic imagery that manifests and fades within the same piece.

Some may find that there’s not a lot going on here, with short pieces that disperse almost as soon as they’ve emerged, and it’s true that things don’t really hang around, but the brevity adds to the atmosphere for me. It’s like you’re looking through an album of fading photographs, the associated memories dying alongside. The music is telling not just one story, but a snapshot collection of time and place narratives, portraying locations and experiences, communities and myths, lives lived and gone – and now briefly returned.

If you need some time out, you’re up too late or too early, tired and subdued, alone and feeling introspective, or you just fancy something ambient and interesting, then you could do worse than immerse yourself in this tightly arranged world of measured synthscapes rich with subtle detail.

Label: Reverb Worship
Band Links: Official | Facebook | Bandcamp | Twitter | Instagram

Scribed by: Josuph Price