White Willow – Storm Season (Expanded Edition)

2 01 2015

storm-seasonWhite Willow‘s best-selling album is available again, in a remastered / expanded format from Termo Records.

The 2014 expanded edition of Storm Season includes extras in the form of Headlights (previously only available on the Japanese edition of the album) and excellent demo versions of Nightside of Eden and Sally Left.

The 2014 remaster of the album really does improve the sonic quality. The drum / synth interplay on the outro of Chemical Sunset sounds amazing. So even if you already have the original version of the album, its worth picking up this definitive version.

If you are new to Storm Season, or indeed the music of White Willow, have a listen to the selected Spotify streams in this review and then head over to Amazon if you like what you hear.

Album opener Chemical Sunset sets the scene, with its mix of prog and folk-rock and a slight touch of metal. Storm Season is an album of light and shade, power and calm, and Chemical Sunset is a well-chosen opening track.

Sally Left would not sound out-of-place if played alongside any of the current prog releases. The demo version on the 2014 re-issue offers a more electronic take on the track.

Endless Science is a rare gentle piece, driven by acoustic / classical guitar and awash with vintage analogue synths and real strings.

Soulburn is the centrepiece of the album. A gothic sounding intro gives way to crunching metal guitars. The track is a duet between Finn Coren (who sounds like Peter Murphy from Bauhaus) and principal album vocalist Sylvia Erichsen. I must admit that the metal guitar riffs do detract a little on a couple of occasions in this song, but that’s probably because I was never a fan of mid-90s metal.

Insomnia is powered by organ and a deep bass-line, along with a side-helping of prog’s favourite keyboard, the mellotron. I love the vocal treatment towards the middle of the song. White Willow’s Jacob Holm-Lupo is an excellent producer, I love the way he makes his productions sound so warm and colourful. Insomnia is my favourite track on the album – have a listen below.

The title track to Storm Season would not have sounded out of place on a mid-period Mike Oldfield album (that’s a compliment, if you were wondering!).

“Lost on a raging sea, lost on a raging sea,
I am the voice to lead you home.”

Nightside Of Eden closes the original album. The heavier guitar lines on this track hark back to the early 70s rock riffs of Black Sabbath and Rainbow, more than the 90s metal scene. A wonderful riff crops up on a couple of occasions, most noticeably in the middle section, and reminds me of Blue Oyster Cult.

Take a listen to the wonderful demo version of Nightside Of Eden – if you are a fan of Porcupine Tree circa Up The Downstair / The Sky Moves Sideways, and those album’s heady mixture of psychedelia and dance, you will surely appreciate this track, as it goes off-piste towards the middle of the song.

Apparently Storm Season is the most popular White Willow album. It’s certainly a very good album, but has not quite stood the test of time (due to the metal leanings) as much as earlier releases such as Sacrament, which was also reissued in 2014.

My favourite White Willow album (and one of my favourite progressive album’s of all time) is 2011’s Terminal Twilight. If you haven’t heard Terminal Twilight, especially the beautiful Floor 67, I suggest you rectify that mistake immediately.

A taster of the next White Willow album is due in January 2015, so visit the band’s website and sign-up to their email list if you want to hear when this will be made available.

Storm Season (Expanded Edition) – Buy Storm Season at Amazon UK

Sacrament (Expanded Edition) – Buy Sacrament at Amazon UK

Terminal Twilight – Buy Terminal Twilight at Amazon

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The Opium Cartel – Ardor

6 11 2013

"Ardor" by The Opium CartelArdor is the second album from The Opium Cartel, an outlet for the more pop orientated music of songwriter/producer Jacob Holm-Lupo from Norway’s art-rock band White Willow.

Ardor is inspired by the 80s pop of The Blue Nile, Thomas Dolby, Japan, Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush, as well as drawing on more modern electronic music by the likes of M83 and Air.

Fans of 80s music will also recognise the warm synth sounds of the Prophet 5, Fairlight, Oberheim OB8, and the PPG Wave, that are scattered throughout the album’s 9 tracks.

Album opener Kissing Moon features Venke Knutson and Rhys Marsh on vocals, and features some wonderful, frenetic percussion and the first appearance of those lovely warm synths!

When We Dream (stream the remixed single version below) has shades of Icehouse and a-ha in the vocal performance from Norwegian singer Alexander Stenerud. The most commercial track on the album, with a very anthemic chorus, and an addictive guitar riff. When We Dream bleed’s pure unadulterated nostalgia.

Silence Instead is an early album highlight, co-written by and featuring  vocals from no-man’s Tim Bowness. A slow-burning song, with some delicious guitar work, and a synth sound that reminds me of my favourite Thomas Dolby track, Screen Kiss. Tim is a regular collaborator of  Jacob’s, featuring on the debut album by The Opium Cartel as well as White Willow’s progressive masterpiece, Terminal Twilight.

“The snowdrifts are real but the mountains are fake”

If you miss a-ha (who split in 2011), you will love Northern Rains, which sounds like a long-lost 1980s ballad from Morten Harket & co, underpinned by the Peter Gabriel rhythm section from 1980.

Sorry about all the 80s references in this review, but it’s fun playing spot the influence, and it helps that the 80s homage in the music is not ironic or cheesey, but playful and pays respect to the creativity and exploration of a much maligned decade.

Watch the Ardor album trailer

Revenant features the only vocals on the album from Jacob Holm-Lupo, and is one of the albums more progressive tracks. I don’t know if it is inspired by the recent French TV series “The Returned / Les Revenants” but there are certainly some nods to the excellent Mogwai soundtrack in the instrumentation.

White Wolf was the first song written for the album, and heralds a change in the album’s direction from this point in, with each track getting steadily more progressive. The middle section is very moving, and veers off into Yes-inspired territory towards the end, with a Chris Squire-like strong, melodic bassline.

The Waiting Ground has the classic synths still present, and features a great performance from Henry Fool (and current no-man live band) keyboard player Stephen Bennett.

“If I run, where do I run to?”

Then Came the Last Days of May is Ardor‘s only non-original track, a haunting cover of a classic rock ballad from Blue Öyster Cult’s debut album from 1972. This is one for fans of Opeth’s Damnation album, and a perfect way to set-up the album finale.

Mariner, Come In is the epic that completes the album. A rare vocal outing for Henry Fool’s Stephen Bennett, this track is more in keeping with recent White Willow, and the latter section of the track is most definitely jazz-rock and proud of it! A wild saxophone solo from Harald Lassen on top of layered synths is reminiscent of parts of the recent Steven Wilson album, and after 11 minutes, the track and the album itself, slowly fades to a close.

Ardor is a very different beast to the first Opium Cartel album, and feels more consistent (even though it has a wider variety of vocalists). It should appeal to a wide audience – from the more mainstream fans of modern electronic / pop to lovers of modern progressive music. Oh, and fans of 80s music!

Buy Ardor on Amazon UK 

Buy Night Blooms  on Amazon UK

Buy White Willow’s Terminal Twilight on Amazon UK








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