White Willow - Sacrament

Year of Release: 2000
Label: Laser's Edge
Catalog Number: LE 1034
Format: CD
Total Time: 48:05:00

If there's a "Nordic style" of modern progressive rock, it is that which is defined by the likes of Anekdoten, Landberk, and the late, lamented Anglagard. Norway's White Willow needs to also be included in that list, though their music is (overall) not quite as dark and brooding as the others (at least not here). Current "favourites" The Flower Kings are bucking that trend, relying heavily on the classic UK sound - e.g. Genesis, Yes, et al.

White Willow, on their third release, Sacrament, have created another stunning album. The production alone on this is great, allowing for the full spectrum of sound to be heard. There are moments when vocalist Sylvia Erichsen explodes beautifully from the music, when it's at its most powerful?the dynamics here between understated and expansive are engaging. In fact, there is a warning on the disk about this very fact; because "Anamnesis" starts out deceptively quite, gentle, but explodes five and half-minutes in - I can see one easily blowing out their speakers by playing this too loud, or perhaps more importantly, their ears! But, you'll want to listen to it loud, because it is very dynamic ? in fact, headphones are definitely recommended, though you'll be denying those around you a wonderful listen.

Speaking of wonderful, that's a word that also describes Erichsen's voice, which sometimes sounds a bit like Annie Haslem, sometimes like Tracy Hitchings, and sometimes, believe it or not, like Pat Benatar (briefly). Now, I've said elsewhere that I'm not overly fond of Hitchings' voice, mainly with Landmarq, but here it is of those aspects I do like. The other voice I'm reminded of is a vocalist called Charlene (?) who had one "hit" with "Never Been To Me"* - but there is much more substance to the music that backs Erichsen that it is a voice comparison only. And, I should add, at times, such as during "Gnostalgia," she sounds a bit like Natalie Merchant.

But, it isn't all Erichsen, especially as White Willow is guitarist/keyboardist Jacob Holm-Lupo's baby essentially. The rest of the band -- the ensemble, actually, as that seems the more accurate term -- are Brynjar Dambo on keyboards and glockenspiel; Aage Moltke Schou on drums, percussion and glockenspiel; Johannes S?b?e on bass guitar, and Ketil Vestrum Einarsen on flutes, recorders, melodica and additional keyboards. The playing is quite tight, quite warm?Schou's cymbals are often up in the mix, Einarsen's flute and recorder tones are crisp, sometimes light, sometimes heavy, but always beautiful. The balance on this disk is terrific. Despite some of the darker tones, this seems much brighter than Ex Tenebris does, which has been my favourite of their two previous releases (their debut was Ignus Fatuus). There is a guitar part during "Paper Moon" that is simply glittering; the notes are so crisp they reflect glints of light.

"The Crucible" is at times one part Jethro Tull (something about those flutes) and one part King Crimson (somewhat angular) ? I also thought of Italian prog, being classically influenced as it is? the name that came to mind immediately was Ezra Winston. All instrumental, it is a shifting environment of sound, leaving the Tull and Crimson behind for a?well, I don't know quite how to describe it. At one point dark, bass-percussion like sounds (glockenspiel?) bubble like hot lava, while keyboards parp and weave. Funky, in way. And yet, where it ends up isn't indicated by its beginnings as a very pastoral, Celtic-tinged, chamber-rock like piece.

This is followed by the Simon and Garfunkle-like "The Last Rose Of Summer," with Holm-Lupo on vocals as well. Erichsen's and Holm-Lupo's voices blend together quite well. "The Reach" is a very jazz-like track during it's middle section, and I'm not sure if it's Erichsen singing below her normal range in husky tones or Holm-Lupo, but there is a warm, smokiness to the voice, that gives this track a different character.

Oh, I just like everything about this disk; every track is a highlight and has its highlights. Sacrament is definitely one of the many albums that will make 2000 a memorable and important year in progressive music. I wasn't going to think about my top picks for 2000 yet, but darn it if this hasn't forced me to ? if not the best release so far, it sure ranks high among them.

[*Yes, there was a time when I listened to Top 40 radio and heard this song enough times that I can remember it's name ? oh, okay, I bought the single at the time... ]

Anamnesis (9:11) / Paper Moon (6:44) / The Crucible (7:31) / The Last Rose Of Summer (3:23) / Gnostalgia (10:17) / The Reach (10:59)

Sylvia Erichsen - vocals
Jacob Holm-Lupo - electric, acoustic, and classical guitars, vocals, additional keyboards and bass guitar
Brynjar Dambo - keyboards and glockenspiel
Aage Moltke Schou - drums, percussion and glockenspiel
Johannes S?b?e - bass guitar
Ketil Vestrum Einarsen - flutes, recorders, melodica and additional keyboards

Simen E Haugberg - oboe (1, 3, 5)
?ystein Vesaas - ambient vocals (1)

Ignus Fatuus (1995)
Ex Tenebris (1998)
Sacrament (2000)
Storm Season (2004)
Signal To Noise (2006)

Genre: Progressive Rock

Origin NO

Added: July 1st 2000
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Artist website: www.whitewillow.info
Hits: 2056
Language: english


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