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White Willow — Ex Tenebris
(Laser's Edge LE1029, 1998, CD)

Ex Tenebris Cover art

After their Progfest 1996 performance, Jacob Holm-Lupo, the creative force behind White Willow, decided it was out of control, and dissolved the band. Ignis Fatuus was more of a project than a band; it was recorded by a myriad of musicians over several years, but was, for all that an excellent debut. Yet the band was split on where to go. So when the news of a new White Willow album got around I was certainly up for it. What began as Jacob's solo album slowly evolved back into White Willow. All that remains of the former band is keyboardist Jan Tariq Rahman, and a guest appearance by flautist Audun Kjus on two tracks. Ex Tenebris is easily as good as Ignis Fatuus, perhaps a bit better. It builds on the first by stripping away the unneeded, leaving only the pure form, delving further into the gothic side of folk. Jan Tariq Rahman is the main player here; his Mellotron and synths. set the tone, but it's his piano playing that really scores. The new singer, Sylvia Crichsen, is incredible, her voice is a delight (what the girl on the swing in the Maxfield Parrish painting would sing like). Jacob sings and is the guitarist, never forcing himself on us. The times he does come to the front are very welcome. The music seems so simple, less complex than the previous album but far richer in mood. This is a really good album; the addition of Sylvia Crichsen is a main factor in this. Listen to her sing "Helen and Simon Magus," and the lengthy "…A Dance of Shadows" is pure joy. I think this is a better release than the first — it's more honest, more accessible, and is already going into my best of '98 list.

by Dane Carlson, Published 1998-07-01

Although it didn't leave me with a very strong initial impression, White Willow's latest, Ex Tenebris, is the kind of album which takes some time to warm up to. Not because it's too complex, but because it's so simple. Leader and main writer Jacob Holm-Lupo has put together a collection of songs which take some elements of Scandinavian folk melodies, hymns, and a dash of Crimson and blend them together in a very minimalistic fashion. The overall mood is very serene and romantic (melodically speaking), and the themes are alarmingly simple in design. Mattias Olsson, formerly of Änglagård, is the drummer in this incarnation of White Willow, but you wouldn't necessarily know it from the music. Mattias lays way back, following the lead of Jacob's vision for the band. The overall sound and texture of the band is very familiar with an early 70s instrumentation that is all-too-common these days, but it works well here because of its honesty. In fact, the whole album is pretty surprising when you get to know it, just for the fact that they were able to make this kind of music work. Certainly, nobody else is doing anything quite like this. The vocals are in English and generally the female voices work better than the male voices, largely due to the gentle flow of the music and the timbre of the voice itself. Granted, you have to be in the right mood to enjoy this album, but I applaud White Willow for their ingenuity in making an album like this succeed. Lesser bands would have ended up with a big pile of cheese. Instead, this is a rare treat.

by Dan Casey, Published 1998-07-01

My first exposure to White Willow was as an opening act for day one at Progfest 95 in Los Angeles. They seemed to be a band with a weak female vocalist and an acoustic-folk style probably unsuited for the mainstream progressive crowd. But their performance was one of few to push me to purchase the group's first disc which hinted at promising possibilities with further discovery. Ex Tenebris is the group's second disc after three years and there have been some positive changes in that time frame. The group continues to refine their arrangement style of mixing acoustic guitars and keyboards together with a sparse vocal delivery. They've added a more open and integral approach to use of synthesizer leads and foundation organ parts. Vocalist Sylvia Crichsen is more confident this time out, in particular on track 3, "Helen and Simon Magus," where she is accompanied primarily by somber piano and organ. The best track on the disc is the album's opener, "Leaving the House of Thanatos," which parallels some of the retro-Euro prog but with more pleasing voices! Mellotron use is prominent again but less heavy handed than contemporaries, Änglagård or Anekdoten. Guitarist, vocalist, and writer Jacob Holm-Lupo has built an album which has a sensitive traditional sounding medium merged with elements of traditional prog. Not an easy task to undertake, but one that leaves me more satisfied each pass through the disc. Congrats to a band who has eluded the typical sophomore slump and made an album which may be the sleeper hit with many in the prog crowd this year.

by Jeff Melton, Published 1998-07-01

Filed under: New releases, Issue 15, 1998 releases

Related artist(s): White Willow, Jacob Holm-Lupo / Telepath

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