Scandinavian countries have always been very bizarre musically talking. They not only give us the best glam-rock band in history (Hanoi Rocks), but also dozens of musical styles have the stamp “made in Scandinavia”, from scandinavian rock (Gluecifer, Hellacopters, Turbonegro) to black metal, AOR and, of course, progressive rock.
As happens with Italian, Japanese or American progressive rock, all with their own elements, there is also a Scandinavian prog rock beyond The Flower Kings or Pär Lindh Project (great bands but far from those elements). Scandinavian progressive rock is characterized by its melancholy, its folk influences and its darkness. Much closer to Van der Graaf Generator than Yes.
In a time when everybody praises bands like Paatos and other post-rock (or art-pop) bands as if they´ve invented the wheel, we have to vindicate bands like Sinkadus, Anglagard, Anekdoten or..White Willow. Unknown bands with great discographies.
White Willow has released three albums that every progfan must have: “Ignis Fatuus” (95), the impressive “Ex Tenebris” (98), and “Sacrament” (00).
The band is still led by guitarist and keyboardist Jacob Holm-Lupo, who is accompanied by Sylvia Erichsen´s wonderful voice, guitar player Johannes Sæbøe, keyboardist Lars Fredrik Frøislie, bassist Marthe Berger Walthinsen, and drummer Aage Schou. As guest musicians Ketil Vestrum Einarsen (flutes, tambourine), Sigrun Eng (cello), Finn Coren (vocals), and Teresa Aslanian (ghost voice).
The band tries to move further away from his folk roots and gives the music a new approach. They are not as dark as they used to be but they become more mysterious (I hope you can understand what I´m saying), with new elements taken from heavenly voices (bands like The Gathering or The 3rd and the Mortal) and the sound of bands like Anathema. In the same way the artwork shows White Willow as if they were a very dark band. That can be good or band for them, because there are lots of mediocre bands labeled as dark-prog.
Anyway the traditional melodies of “Chemical Sunset” (7:58), with beautiful flutes and cellos and eventual energy, take us back to the best White Willow. The last minutes are amazing, with nice flutes and folk melodies over lots of distorted. In “Sally Left” (6:33) White Willow plays with electronic arrangements a la The Gathering, and a great Holm-Lupo playing Floydian guitar solos. “Endless Silence” (3:36) is a short and melancholic track with a nice vocal work, good string arrangements, and Holm-Lupo playing electric and acoustic guitars. “Insomnia” (5:49) has great vintage keyboards and “Storm Season” (4:21), a very moving track with soft electronic rhythms.
But “Soulburn” (9:21) and “Nightside of Eden” (9:44) are the tracks where the band tries to discover new musical paths, mixing very heavy guitars and sweet vocal melodies (Finn Coren´s voice in “Soulburn” reminds me of Roine Stolt), and metallic and hypnotic instrumental developments depending on the mood. A blend of The Gathering (“Mandylion” or “Nighttime Birds” era) and Porcupine Tree, with lots of genialities like the Hammond solo in “Nightside...” or the ethnic ending of “Soulburn”.
I think White Willow is now in a crossroad. Their image and the music of the longest tracks, as well as the arrangements, indicate that they want to be another “band-with-girl-that-plays-blend-of-metal-classic-progressive”. If they keep the folkie and melancholic roots, the changes are okay, but it´d be a pity if White Willow follows the path of bands like The Gathering, because White Willow doesn´t have to prove anything and they´re better than The Gathering.
Progheads and new generations of post-rock (or art-pop) and modern metal fans will enjoy a lot with this album. Old White Willow´s fans (myself) will have a good time listening to this CD but I´m afraid we´ll have to wait until the next release, so we´ll know the new musical direction.