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White Willow: Storm Season

The fourth release from Norway's White Willow sees the band veer a bit from the warm pastoral nature of previous albums Ignis Fatuus, Ex Tenebris, and Sacrament, to a darker, heavier direction. Layers of crunchy guitar riffs, analog keyboards (Hammond organ, mini-moog, Mellotron, Fender Rhodes, Wurlitzer, piano) flute, cello, and the stunning female vocals of Sylvia Erichsen permeate the CD's seven songs, adding a new element to the White Willow cannon. While this new direction will no doubt win the band many new fans, it might alientate some of the older fans who clamor for the more acoustic and folk based sounds of the first three albums. One thing that has not changed though is the stark and brooding nature of the bands songwriting. One quick look at the haunting cover painting should be enough of a hint to realize that White Willow's penchant for creating dark lyrical imagery is still intact, imagery that is a staple of the bands style and sound.

It becomes quickly apparent that perhaps the introduction of a few new members has given the band a real kick in the butt. The opening song "Chemical Sunset", is a raging number littered with Mellotron, synths, and crashing guitar riffs, showing a band that has renwed power and vitality. The same can be said for "Sally Left", a moody and atmospheric prog-rocker that is highlighted by ominous Mellotron, haunting vocals, and a searing slide guitar solo that will instantly remind you of the work of Pink Floyd's David Gilmour. "Endless Science" harkens back to the bands folk leanings, with Erichsen's wispy and quirky vocals soaring over lush acoustic guitars & cello. The real surpise comes in the form of "Soulburn", a churning, boiling maelstrom of dark prog-rock that slowly builds in intensity and covers a wide range of moods and textures. Opening with heavy, doomy guitar riffs and Hammond, the song ebbs and flows through some mellower sections that sees male and female vocals go from spoken whisper to more aggressive passages. Instruments like the piano and cello do battle with electric guitars, Hammond, and Mellotron here, as the song just builds and builds in great dramatic fashion. Erichsen turns in another strong performance on "Insomnia", a real melodic number that features some intricate rhythms from drummer Aage Moltke Schou and bassist Marthe Berger Walthinsen, as well as waves of haunting Mellotron & Hammond. The guitar work of Jacob Holm-Lupo and Johannes Sæbøe is very impressive throughout Storm Season, as they mesh heavy, plodding riffs with intricate lead passages and deft acoustic elements to great effect. This is especially evident on the bombastic closing piece "Nightside of Eden", a tumultuous rocker firmly in the Anekdoten, Landberk, or Opeth tradition, complete with thunderous guitar riffs, powerful vocals, and layers of keyboards. Check out the amazing Hammond organ solo from Lars Fredrik Frøislie, which then gives way to a melodic scorcher from Sæbøe, who then turns it back to Frøislie for a brief break on the mini-moog. Things then get pastoral with some Genesis -like acoustic interludes before the heavy riffs come crashing back into the mix backed by chilling Mellotron.

With Storm Season, White Willow has without a doubt created their most powerful statement, and perhaps the defining moment of their still young career. While the band has taken steps to evolve their music to a heavier and more symphonic direction, many of the familiar characteristics still remain, helping to make Storm Season a classic dark progressive rock album, and one that will surely be on many "Best of 2004" lists.

Track Listing:

  1. Chemical Sunset (7:58)
  2. Sally Left (6:33)
  3. Endless Science (3:36)
  4. Soulburn (9:21)
  5. Insomnia (5:49)
  6. Storm Season (4:21)
  7. Nightside of Eden (9:44)

Added: April 21st 2007
Reviewer: Pete Pardo
Score:
Related Link: White Willow Website
Hits: 5113
Language: english

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» SoT Staff Roundtable Reviews:

White Willow: Storm Season
Posted by Murat Batmaz, SoT Staff Writer on 2007-04-21 16:35:09
My Score:

Compared to the first three White Willow albums, Storm Season is a relatively heavier and darker album. While it still retains the aesthetics that defined their earlier work, it also incorporates a wider use of heavier guitar rhythms, metallic drums, and an array of cellos, flutes, and tambourines alongside regular prog rock instruments. Lars Fredrik Froislie puts in White Willow's most diverse keyboard work, utilising myriad synth sounds with piano, Mellotron, Hammond, subtle electronic textures, and many others. Aside from vocalist Sylvia Erichsen, there are also guest appearances to supply the songs extra depth and dimension.

The folky flute intro of "Chemical Sunset" is perhpas the only noticeable characteristic on the CD that could be linked with the band's more acoustic folky past. Brimming with Erichsen's sweet vocals and a blend of strings, the song boasts both sublime moody passages and elaborate unison solos. The ending sees a pronounced drum attack around which an eerie synth lead and guitar crescendo are built. From here on, the album, being a concept piece, retreats to a more sombre territory, introducing the story of Sally, the main character, in the brooding "Sally Left". Though all White Willow songs carry a distinct darkness to them, this one is imbued with utter despair. It mixes subtle sound effects into a textured, Mellotron-based song that also contains a vital cello motif in its framework. Holm-Lupo's acoustic guitar recalls Landberk while the ghostly voice of Teresa Aslanian lends credence to the dark lyrics. The Floydian guitar solo at the end is spine-chilling due to its weird harmonic structure and it complements the flow perfectly.

"Soulburn" and "Nightside of Eden" are among the heaviest songs they've penned, therefore alienating some of their older fans. The metallic edge in the guitar work, classically themed melodies, and somewhat jarring structure certainly drive the band from their older work known for its simplicity and bare beauty. "Soulburn" is especially a strong experiment, balancing male vocals with Erichsen's croon, thicker bass parts, and tension-filled guitar sounds. At certain points, the song takes on an almost avante-garde vibe, with its cluttered rhythmic angle and angular guitar work, but Holm-Lupo does throw in his trademark Floyd solo, which is arguably his most moving on this album. The quality of the composition is enhanced through further flute and string arrangements, so the piece never really loses focus.

Sylvia Erichsen's vocals on the predominantly acoustic ballad "Endless Science" and Bjork-like "Insomnia" are darker and more mood-intensive than ever. When she goes for the high register a capella type of vocals in the latter, it's like an excerpt from Bjork's Homogenic masterpiece. The use of sparse piano notes, frighteningly dark organ, and glockenspiel (awesome!) is awe-inspiring. The vocal climax at around the 3:18 mark is impossibly beautiful and haunting -- perhaps Erichsen's best yet. This song is simply amazing, emphasizing her vocals heavily without diverting from the instrumental aspects of their music. It moves through spacey arrangements to guitar-heavy passages that always culminate in timeless melodies.

The male vocal parts also bring in a welcome change to their songs, and I think they should somehow hook up with Ulver's Garm on a future release. Considering his work on The Gathering's Souvenirs with Anneke was otherworldly, I cannot fathom what it would sound like if he were to appear on a folky, somewhat Ulverian nordic piece providing contrast with his deep, unique vocal stylings. Sadly, this is the last album with Syliva Erichsen on vocals, but frankly, all White Willow discs are worth checking out -- they are essential in different ways.


» Reader Comments:

White Willow: Storm Season
Posted by Angelika Tanha on 2006-10-17 18:01:32
My Score:

Storm season is one of the best albums I have ever heard. I came to listen to it by chance and I am so overwhelmed with this. They are great and I hope they will have more albums to listen to. Great music! Great texts, great band!




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