The Continual Return — Concept

Below are notes around general concepts, influences, inspiration, and so on for what is intended to be a sort of concept album — what might be called a “darkwave postmodern futurepop rock opera ” …

See also Themes (the story)| Tracks (all the musical bits)

By “concept album” I’m referring to records that were intended to be listened to all the way through: put it on, sit down, experience the whole story. So this record should have a flow all the way through. That said, it need not be released all at once, it could be “episodic” – released as chapters — and there may be alternate versions / remixes dropped along the way …

The production is imagined to be the work of something that is not exactly a band but more a cast of characters (with alternate identities or personas) — each with a backstory, personality and purpose … like Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band was supposed to be (only Ringo as Billy Shears actually appeared on the record — it wasn’t until Yellow Submarine that they all arrived) or the character Pink (loosely based on Roger Waters) in The Wall …

… this is about telling a story (which may be ambiguous or open to interpretation at times), and creating an immersive “world” (or worlds) in which it lives …

There are philosophical themes throughout, but there’s no “moral to the story” … it’s left open-ended, open to interpretation … e.g., “is the karmic cycle good or bad? avoidable or necessary?”

“Darkwave” is a rather vague term that gets thrown around a lot, often referring in very general terms to the sort of postpunk or synthpop you might hear in a goth club.

“Futurepop” refers to a (fairly broad) genre related to synthpop and EBM, pioneered by bands like Apoptygma Berserk and VNV Nation around 20 years ago — heard mostly in the goth/industrial club scene in the US but more mainstream in Europe …

“Postmodern” as I’m using the term, here, references Postmodernism in architecture, where an eclectic mix of styles and influences would be woven together into something multifaceted yet coherent. So while this record has an electronic foundation, there are no rules or self-imposed limits here in production, arrangements, etc. – anything goes (as long as it holds together and feels coherent and continuous) … thus the arguably gratuitous and unapologetic use of orchestral arrangements and cinematic sound design and …

Psychological themes

  • On the negative/challenge side: disconnection (i.e., distance from others, society), alienation, manic-depression, schizophrenia (multiple outward-facing personalities)
  • On the positive/resolution side:, transcendence, redemption … and, in the meantime,  “continuing with style”

Narrative themes 

  • A journey, a non-linear story, movement in time (historical period) and space (geographical location)
  • A struggle with convention, the everyday accepted “normal” world (and the idea of sanity vs. insanity)
  • Memory and identity
  • Karmic return (and the escape from the cycle)
  • A search for truth … understanding where one comes from, one’s (often hidden) past …

There’s also a theme of anachronism throughout — not so much as a context (as it might be in Neo-Victorian or Steampunk genres) but more to represent the idea that many different contexts (e.g., temporal, geographical) can be “present” … in the present …


There are many relevant symbolic elements, including:

  • The series of numbers 1-12, as in a 12-year cycle (and cycles are “supposed” to repeat in popular mythology: 13 is considered unlucky for this reason)
  • Prometheus — the light bringer, a figure also associated with Lucifer. M. Ordinaire has some association with these archetypes … perhaps this is why he is both the “hero” and also the damned? He walks the line: Jupiter tends to support him, Saturn wants to discipline him … (and Mercury is stirring the pot) …
  • Mercury/Hermes/Loki — the messenger; with a bit of Orpheus? … somehow in my mind these figures are mixing up with a sort of Mad Hatter character … a trickster, a catalyst …
    • Hermes is an Olympian deity in ancient Greek religion and mythology. Hermes is considered the herald of the gods. He is also considered the protector of human heralds, travellers, thieves, merchants, and orators. Hermes plays the role of the psychopomp or “soul guide”—a conductor of souls into the afterlife.
  • Jupiter (the celebratory “life” of the cycle?) — 12 year cycle
    (the adjective “jovial” originally described those born under the planet of Jupiter — reputed to be jolly, optimistic, and buoyant in temperament)
    • Jupiter is the urge to life; also might be prompting the protagonost to stay in one iteration, and not perpetuate the cycle …
    • Jupiter tends towards 3 (3/4 6/8 time signatures)
    • In this context, Jupiter is a female character — and there are two incarnations/manifestations:
      • “Jupiter Matrix” — the “older sister” (perhaps most powerful)
      • “Jupiter Catalyst” — the “younger sister” (who makes things happen, with a bit of Mercury and Trickster archetypal elements)
  • Saturn (the end of the cycle) — 30 year cycle
    • Saturn draws limits, ends things … prompting the current iteration to end so the cycle may continue
    • Saturn may play the role of “emcee”, narrator, Ringmaster – announcing the “chapters” (defining them) … c.f., “The Minstrel in the Gallery”; Greek chorus; “Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends …” Graeme Edge’s poems on the 60s-70s Moody Blues records …
    • Saturn as observer, analyzer …
    • Saturn tends towards 4 (4/4, four on the floor)
    • In this context, Saturn is a male character, and there are three incarnations/manifestations:
      • “Meta-Saturn” — the Emcee, Ringmaster, Interlocutor …
      • “Saturn Gatekeeper” (Ostiarius) — the “older brother/father” who closes doors and opens doors and moves us along when it’s time, scolding as necessary …
      • “Saturn Chronos (chronometer)” — the “younger” who marks time and keeps the tempo …
  • The alchemical cycle (each “chapter” is related to a step in the process)

There’s also the possibility that both Jupiter and Saturn are not just participating but playing the role of narrator (or emcee) – from different (opposite) perspectives, of course …

The Alchemical Process (per Museum of Lost Wonder)

  • Calcinatio
    • Inspiration
    • Relevant track(s): Intro/Overture
  • Solutio
    • The Aquarium
    • “who am I?”
    • Confusion – altered states of consciousness
    • Relevant track(s): Oblivion
  • Coagulatio
    • Introspection
    • “What is realty?”
    • Remembering, rewinding:
      • L’histoire ouverte (CR)
  • Sublimato
    • (The Observatory)
    • Imagination
    • Relevant track(s): Victorian Passage, Light Lift … into the “Turning Point”
  • Mortificatio
    • Melancholy
    • The midpoint, the beginning of the end …
    • Relevant track(s): Purgatory into Thursday’s End
  • Separatio
    • “Distinction”
    • Relevant track(s): Thursday’s End into Silentium
  • Conjunctio
    • Relevant Track(s): Reality Drive
  • Circulatio
    • Recirculation
    • Relevant tracks: the Epilogue/Coda

So …

… what is all this actually going to sound like (and look like) … ?

This will be determined as the mixes come together … in the meantime, here are a few things that come to mind when imagining where this comes from and where it might go …

Musical themes, genres, influences

Some primary influences include synthpop, EBM, futurepop, post-punk, ‘60s psychedelic rock, industrial, noise, ambient, musique concrete, music of the Baroque and Romantic eras, early jazz and blues — and cinematic sound design and soundtracks … elements of all these genres will likely be included somewhere …

Here are some (concept/music references/influences (hardly a complete list, and in no particular order): 

  • Any Moody Blues record from 1968-1974 (and psychedelic concept records in general), especially In Search of the Lost Chord, To Our Children’s Children’s Children. Note that these records are continuous album-sides, there are no breaks between songs …
  • Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (especially the idea of the band creating alternate personas like Billy Shears, the range of stylistic influences from Within You Without You to  the epic cinematic dream sequence of A Day In the Life …)
    • George Martin, as producer and composer (e.g., the orchestral soundtrack to Yellow Submarine)
  • Other records with invented personas: Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, Mechanical Animals …
  • “Rock operas”: The Wall, Quadrophenia, Velvet Goldmine, Hedwig and the Angry Inch … I might also mention Rick Wakeman’s story-driven records (Journey to the Center of the Earth, Wives of Henry VIII, Myths and Legends of King Arthur), Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds with Justin Hayward …
  • Ennio Morricone, especially The Man with No Name series, Once Upon a Time in the West …
    • Also Angelo Badalamenti (and David Lynch)
  • The (contemporary!) concept records by (if you don’t know them, check out the track “Fear”)
  • The mix / interaction / interplay of male and female vocals on records by This Mortal Coil and Dead Can Dance (this also comes up with Pink Floyd on Dark Side of the Moon)
  • Sonic assemblage by artists like DJ Shadow …
  • … and of course a whole bunch of gothic, industrial, EBM, futurepop, neo-folk and dark electronic tracks, too many to list here … not just for the sound, but in many cases also the look … it’s safe to say that the final mixes (and remixes, and so on) of The Continual Return (as well as the overall aesthetic) would not be out of place in an LA goth club …

General references

The following are a few influences of various sorts, or maybe just references to help provide an idea of what this “world” (or “worlds”) might look like:

  • Visual artists: Max Ernst, Joseph Cornell, Nick Bantock, Dave McKean, Alphonse Mucha, John Tenniel, Liz Huston … lots more …
  • Graphic Novels, especially Sandman, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, many more …
  • Cinema: especially Film Noir, Expressionist, psychedelic and experimental genres … some that come immediately to mind are:
    • The styles of directors such as Terry Gilliam, Guierrmo del Toro, Peter Greenaway, Jeunet et Caro, Fritz Lang, Ridley Scott …
    • And plenty of popular movies and television, like: Dark City, City of Lost Children, Penny Dreadful, Sucker Punch, Le Samourai, Mirrormask, Cabaret, Angel Heart, The Good the Bad and the Ugly, La Pacte des Loups, Blade Runner, The Cook The Thief His Wife and Her Lover, Babylon Berlin, The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, Metropolis, Cloud Atlas …
  • Literature, novels, poetry: Lewis Carroll, E. A. Poe, Neil Gaiman (Neverwhere, American Gods), Steve Erickson, William Gibson, Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker, the “penny dreadful” and the early 20th century science fiction magazine …

And some generally related themes, concepts, influences, inspiration (in no particular order):

  • Alternate identities (like Ziggy, Papa Emeritus … and of course many others), multiple personalities (schizophrenia?)
  • Alternate realities (e.g., the looking-glass world, Oz)
  • Wagner’s idea of Gesamtkunstwerk (complete “multimedia” art)
  • Absinthe, whisky, and rum.
  • The carnival, the cabaret, the sideshow and back-alley theater
  • Alchemy, and the related symbol systems
  • Victorian science (and art)
  • Renaissance science (and art)
  • Surrealism, Symbolism, Art Nouveau, Dada, …
  • Secret societies and fraternal organizations
  • Technology (ancient to modern)
  • Religion (pagan to organized)
  • Gnosticism
  • Techgnosis
  • … lots more … !

If you don’t go over the top, you can’t see what’s on the other side.

Jim Steinman