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

White Willow – Sacrament (Expanded Edition)

25 09 2014

White Willow "Sacrament"White Willow’s third album, Sacrament from 2000 has been remastered and re-released in an expanded edition on Termo Records.

The band’s most recent album, 2011’s Terminal Twilight, is one of my favourite albums of the past few years, so I’ve found it interesting to explore some of White Willow’s earlier material. Opening with Anamnesis, all the elements that make up the band’s armoury are here – the flutes, classic 70s keyboards / synths, multi-layered acoustic and electric guitar and the vocals of Sylvia Erichsen, along with a powerful deep bassline underpinning the song. Some lovely subtle percussion drives the middle section of the opening track, before it gives way to a more raw, organic performance, with a real live feel.

Paper Moon has hints of Signify era Porcupine Tree with the emotive, reverb-drenched keyboard sounds. Jacob Holm-Lupo is an excellent producer, and always brings a warm, colourful mix to his recordings, especially with the vocals. If you haven’t already done so, check out his other major project, The Opium Cartel.

“You came, and left too soon”

The Crucible opens with a Hackett-esque (Spectral Mornings era) guitar intro, and keeps a pastoral feel throughout the early section of the only instrumental song on the album, which builds to a powerful, somewhat Floydian multi-guitar ending.

The Last Rose of Summer features Jacob joining Sylvia on vocals, in a moving track, which stands out due to it being one the most straightforward, simple arrangements on the album.

Gnostalgia is another album highlight. A slowly building arrangement, and my favourite vocal performance on the album, it’s simply a beautiful piece of progressive music.

“As echoes in a quiet land, where spirits may grow strong”

The closing track of the album proper is the disturbing The Reach. Setting the scene with it’s “Ring a Ring o’ Roses” opening (the original rhyme is often explained as being about the Great Plague from 1885, history fans), the track twists and turns though time signatures, and is a stark contrast to some of the gentler moments in the album’s preceding tracks. But there is beauty in decay and darkness, you just have to scratch a little deeper under the surface to find it.

“Fragrant night, give me shelter”

The album ends with a couple of demo recordings plus an audience recording from the era, but I prefer to hear the album in it’s entirety without the bonus tracks, though I’m sure long-standing fans will appreciate the extras.

Sacrament is an excellent album, that in this 2014 remastered form, doesn’t sound like a 14 year old album. Maybe it’s time is now?

Buy White Willow’s Sacrament (Expanded Edition) at Amazon UK

Buy White Willow’s Terminal Twilight at Amazon UK

Visit the White Willow website.

Gazpacho – March of Ghosts

9 04 2012

March of Ghosts is Norwegian progressive band Gazpacho‘s 7th studio album, and the second for the excellent Kscope (home of Anathema, no-man, Steven Wilson, Porcupine Tree & The Pineapple Thief) record label.

The album opens with the instrumental Monument, which seques into Hell Freezes Over I – with its naggingly addictive guitar line and jittery percussion intro setting the scene for the album.

March of Ghosts is a mixture of progressive elements with an over-riding pop sensibility. Whereas a lot of modern progressive music uses keyboards, particularly the mellotron, to decorate recordings, Gazpacho use violin and real strings which add a sense of warmth to their compositions.

Black Lily is one of the most immediate tracks, with a killer chorus, whilst still underpinned with the recurring guitar motif from earlier in the album.

Gold Star adds a celtic feel to the music, that continues through several songs, with some lovely percussive bells, and brass instruments (and possibly accordians somewhere in the mix), so it’s clear the band are keen to steer clear of obvious and cliched instrumentation.

Mary Celeste is one of my favourite tracks on the album, reminding me a little of Peter Gabriels OVO soundtrack at times.

“When they found us on the water
They didn’t see our faces
I hear the voices in the warmth
But we can’t get outside”

The inclusion of uilleann pipes works surprisingly well towards the end of Mary Celeste. After suffering uilleann pipes in THAT Celine Dion Titanic song, that’s a sentence I never thought I would write.

Listen to Gazpacho – March of Ghosts (Album Montage)

What Did I Do? is built around a simple, uncluttered arrangement, coated with rich warm vocal harmonies from Jan Henrik Ohme on the chorus. Oh dear, I’m starting to sound like I’m reviewing the other Gazpacho, the spanish soup!

The Dumb has a wonderful middle section, with dreamy descending piano over a gorgeous fretless bass-line.

“Stories left untold…”

The albums longest track closes the album, as Hell Freezes Over IV brings back the main guitar riff that under-pins the album, and March of Ghosts ends on it’s heaviest arrangement.

The bands Thomas Andersen describes the theme of the album – ‘The idea was to have the lead character spend a night where all these ghosts (dead and alive) would march past him to tell their stories.’ 

The lyrical themes are not too obvious, and leave plenty of room for personal interpretation, which is always a good sign for music that can be re-visited and re-discovered.

Watch the video for Black Lilly

Buy March of Ghosts from Amazon

Buy the previous Gazpacho album Missa Atropos from Amazon

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