White Willow's 5th album Signal To Noise sees a new and modern sound permeating the style of this little prog rock band from Norway. One quick look at the cover of the CD booklet should be a telling sign that something is up, and once you start spinning the disc it's obvious that the formerly folky & dark symphonic prog sound that the band perfected has morphed into a style that while still progressive rock, is certainly more upbeat and commercial sounding, with a slight gothic touch. Much of this is the result of bringing on a new singer, that being Trude Eidtang, who has a lovely voice at times reminiscent of Anneke van Giersbergen, Tori Amos, and Kate Bush. Leader Jacob Holm-Lupo wanted to revamp the band's sound, so in addition to bringing Eidtang on board he also wrote songs that would still interest their prog fans but also appeal to a wider audience. As such you get some pieces, like "The Lingering", with a wonderful King Crimson vibe featuring layers of Mellotron and vintage synths, and the upbeat arrangements and catchy hooks of "Joyride". Two styles, both work extremely well.
The keyboard work from Lars Fredrik Froislie is outstanding throughout Signal To Noise, laying down plenty of tones and textures with his vintage collection of instruments, including Mellotron M400S (listen to the lovely waves on "Dark Road" that accompany Trude's gorgeous vocal lines), Hammond C3, Mini-Moog, ARP Pro-soloist, Fender Rhodes, Hohner Clavinet, as well as some modern boards. The crisp yet warm production by the famed Tommy Hansen, who has worked with such artists as Helloween, Pagan's Mind, TNT, Circus Maximus, among many others, really brings Froislie's keyboard work to the forefront here. Listen to his wild synth solo and layers of Mellotron on the haunting "Chrome Dawn", as well as a stabbing guitar solo from Holm-Lupo. Great rumbling bass lines courtesy of Marthe Berger Walthinsen permeate the catchy "Dusk City", a sort of poppy, funky, prog piece with powerful vocals from Eidtang, and "Night Surf" is a modern yet trippy piece that is not unlike the music of The Gathering, complete with Mellotron, quirky vocals, flute, and jazzy rhythms. Holm-Lupo really gets a workout with some fiery guitar solos on "Splinters", a meeting of dark atmospheric prog, crunchy hard rock, and pop, almost like The Gathering meets King Crimson meets Lacuna Coil. At nearly nine minutes long, this one allows the band to really stretch out and explore different tempos. "Ghosts" is a wonderful mix of dark prog, an instrumental that will instantly remind of Anglagard, Wobbler, and Anekdoten, but also of early Genesis and King Crimson. Featuring searing guitar, Hammond, Moog, Mellotron, and flute, this song is a real winner.
Honestly, there's not a weak song here, and the band has put together so much variety for the listener on Signal To Noise that it makes repeated spins such a pleasure. While the lack of the folk influence is missed, and I would have liked to hear more flute from Ketil Einarsen, I think overall this album is going to appeal to a wider audience, which is good news for the band. White Willow also upped the vintage keyboard quotient a notch here, which should make lovers of 70's prog sounds happy. Ultimately, this is a positive step forward for White Willow, and a very solid and enjoyable album.
1. Night Surf
6. Dark Road
7. Chrome Dawn
8. Dusk City