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1. Anamnesis (Holm-Lupo) 2. Paper Moon (Holm-Lupo) 3. The Crusible /instrumental/ (Holm-Lupo, Einarsen, Dambo, Saeboe) 4. The Last Rose of Summer (Holm-Lupo) 5. Gnostalgia (Holm-Lupo, Einarsen, Erichsen) 6. The Reach (Holm-Lupo, Schou, Saeboe)
Arranged by White Willow. Produced by Holm-Lupo. Recorded at "Lydkjokkenet" studio, Oslo, by Oystein Vesaas. Note: Please listen with extreme caution.
Line-up: Jacob Holm-Lupo - guitars & vocals; Ketil Vestrum Einarsen - wind-instruments; Johannes Saeboe - bass; Aage Moltke Schou - drums & percussion; Brynjar Dambo - keyboards; Sylvia Erichsen - lead vocals (+ Simen E.Haugberg - oboe on tracks 1,3,5)
The only White Willow album I'd heard earlier was their debut, "Ignuus Fatus". Mainly atmospheric, with traditional Scandinavian Gothic feel, it was not all that good a work, just simply a good original album at most. I've heard a few more Norwegian Progressive bands (IMO, there is the lack of the bands of 'our' genre in Norway in general, especially in comparison with their neighbouring country Sweden), but until now none of them impressed me. So, I couldn't even assume White Willow was able to become at least one of the best contemporary Scandinavians bands, but here is their newest album in front of me (thanks to Ken Golden of "The Laser's Edge" who sent me it) - after already dozens of listenings to "Sacrament" I still don't know it in detail, and that's really good.
It's interesting, actually each song on the "Sacrament" album (with the exception of the only instrumental - I'll be back to this one a bit later) seems to be divided into two parts. In the first part I hear an already familiar (in comparison with their debut album) set of musical methods to create White Willow's firm overall sound - ethereal singing of Sylvia Erichsen, surrounded by such an atmospheric gothic musical landscape, structurally original yet not very complex. Of course, some gloomy motives that are traditional for these Northern people - Scandinavian musicians in general - were actual things on "Ignuus Fatus", too. But, even these first parts on "Sacrament" are, first of all, full of wonderful inspiration that keeps your attention already from the first minutes of listening. That's the main thing, all the tracks presented on "Sacrament" are absolutely free from any gloomy, etc elements - they're wonderfully light from the beginning to the end.
The second part of each song of "Sacrament" represents the embodiment of the dream of any experienced Prog-lover. Instrumental parts on this album are really bewitching - with their unique structures and overall sounding. Bandleader guitarist Holm-Lupo won't amaze you with virtuosity, but his (OK, simple, but not accessible!) themes-solos are developing constantly, whether he plays electric guitar or acoustic/classical. Guitar works composed by Jacob are exceptionally intricate, and such difficult to traverse musical fields'n'mountains are exactly that accompaniment to which outstanding, magical, simply virtuostic solos and interplays show Ketil - as a true Master of wind instruments - creates most of the wonderful arrangements on this album, truly progressive (and original!) from top to toe. The guest oboe player helps him in three songs very successfully, creating a wonderful polymorphous progressive sound - really unique, and not only among the Scandinavian bands. A quiet motion of the rhythm section is in the beginning of (almost) each song, as time goes on the work of bassist plus drummer becomes more and more speedy, virtuostic and complex.
Many instrumental parts on "Sacrament" are really bombastic, but remember, all these arrangements are building the seemingly unpretentious yet very, very diverse themes and solos of the guitarist. Yes, at the same time Holm-Lupo is the Key Figure in creating/composing such unique basic themes for the new White Willow album, any one of his supporting (?) team, with his own thinking, is raising ideas from the Chief to the power of Progressive Incredibility. But, as for me personally, already in the years of my early Youth I knew, the figure of (a good) arranger means sometimes much more than the main composer itself.
The instrumental called The Crusible (maybe, together with the last album's song, The Rich) is the most special, specific, excellent (etc, etc) thing here - such a masterpiece within a masterpiece. If the last song on "Sacrament", IMHO, is a hallmark of the new, absolutely progressive, direction of the band, as all the songs are made in that manner - with lots of truly outstanding progressive arrangements, The Crusible, however, brings also a unique medieval flavour, (yes again) especially in the first more quiet part of the piece, whereas its second part, already traditional for this work, is full of a true progressive playing with avalanches of unexpected arrangements, changes of tempo, time signatures, etc.
God forbid me to humble (a gigantic!) contribution of Jacob Holm-Lupo in work on the "Sacrament" album, but, IMHO, this is the first album by the band where its other participants show the mastery of ability to get basic Ideas into Shape. Listeners will also notice how excellent and diverse Sylvia's singing becomes on this album. No gothic moods, no melancholy (on the whole I have nothing against them, but...), but a lot of new, mainly light, colours and intonations you will hear in her singing on "Sacrament". Thus, in the face of "White Willow" we currently have the most light, the most original ensemble to come out from Scandinavian countries, as their music doesn't contain any 'frippiano-crimsomic' elements at all. And now I dare to say that in spite of the fact that I still love Anglagard, my favourite Scandinavian band from 1995 to 1998 (note: within the Classic Symphonic Rock genre, as within the Prog-Metal genre I still love all the conceptual (ie most progressive) works by Danians King Diamond / Mercyful Fate), and also many other Swedish bands like Anekdoten, Sinkadus, The Flower Kings, Landberk, etc, etc (sorry, there are still no Finnish bands among my Scandinavian favourites, though, as I guess, it is just because I've listened to not many Finnish Prog-performers), and in spite of all their originality, on the whole each of these bands (their leaders? OK!) still seem mesmerized by an ubiquitous (?! - I just heard and read too many times that "Fripp's in contact with Aliens", etc) Crimsonic spirit - one way or another. Just for example - The Flower Kings, who compose and perform quite an original music - at least without any Crimsonic influences - unlike all the other aforementioned Swedish bands, yet anyway, that spirit of many, many faces (in absolute compliance with Crimsonic reality for many, many years) did find the way (to influence!) even there, - transforming Roine's vocal data into Wetton's ones. Well, since King Crimson is the 'Number 1' band among the majority of serious Scandinavian musicans, my sincere congratulations on a free (read: purely original) flying of White Willow, and even on the name of the band itself - until now almost all Rock-music of Norway I have listened to contained (still contains, I guess) an idea of 'black', if not in the band's title, then - necessarily - in their music, though that idea has had a place on Norway's scene quite often. So, White Willow is currently in my Scandinavian Top Three - together with the forementioned Dane King Diamond and Swedes Isildurs Bane. White Willow is already a mature and very original, truly progressive band. I do wish them to carry on their search for new forms of Music and to be afraid of any kind of stagnation, though it is obvious now - some stagnations has to do exactly with Scandinavian (oh, and Japanese) contemporary progressive Rock scenes at least not very often.
VM. August 21, 2000
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