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Smell of Incense - Through the Gates of Deeper Slumber CD (album) cover

THROUGH THE GATES OF DEEPER SLUMBER

Smell of Incense

 

Prog Folk

4.18 | 19 ratings

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ClemofNazareth
Special Collaborator
Prog Folk Researcher
4 stars This is an album that I count among my favorite discoveries of the past year or so, and a band that is rather mysterious and intriguing in their relative obscurity. Smell of Incense deliver highly melodic, sometimes psychedelic, and always fun music that should appeal to just about anyone who prefers to see a glass half full, as opposed to the alternative.

Smell of Incense are a Norwegian music collective with sketchy roots back to somewhere around the mid-eighties; with a handful of their members going back even further to the seventies in the form of a minor new-wave act known as the New Incredible Headcleaners, and even earlier as an even lesser- known punk act called the Impotents. It seems a fair number of Smell’s current lineup date all the way back to the Impotents, and most of them have been together since at least 1986. Despite the long history, the band have only released a total of only three proper full-length albums in that time, and apparently have appeared live only on very rare occasions over the past ten years or so. So I guess you would call this a part-time studio band.

This is their second album, issued like their latest on the German September Gurls label, and both are rather hard to find. The band’s main inspirations have clear roots in both psychedelia and fantasy literature as evidenced right away in the lengthy opening song, “A Floral Treasury”. This is a twenty- five minute psych and trance epic of five parts, with the three middle stanzas each based on one of three literary meadow fairies invented by the reclusive pre-Raphaelite British artist the late Cicely Mary Barker.

After a brief instrumental introductory overture by keyboardist Mickey Moog featuring primarily Mellotron and some wispy Moog, the band launches into the first and longest section, an ode to Barker’s Winter Aconite Fairy. Amid choral Mellotron, spacey synth keyboards and a lumbering drum tempo the band’s lead singer Bumble B croons the words to Barker’s poetic tribute to the fairy who can’t seem to wait for spring to arrive: “Here I am, how wide the earth! How great the sky! O wintry world, see me awake!”

For the middle section the band shifts to a rhythmic trance groove complete with spacey keyboards, wailing electric guitar, programmed drum tracks and indic percussion including tablas and djembe. This is the ode to the Nightshade Fairy, a spring imp who reigns over the budding nature gems of the blossoming summer. The band has moved forward musically from the latter sixties to a more modern sound here, showing their versatility and irreverent approach to progressive arrangements. The choral Mellotron returns to bring things to an end, but not before a final tribute is paid to Barker’s fantasy world, this one a treatment on her regal Queen of the Meadow Fairy. Bumble B’s vocals accompany those of the Mellotron, and finally the whole thing winds to a close amid the bleats of a Wurlitzer and taped carnival sounds.

I can’t say as I’ve heard anything quite like this before, and even though it borders heavily on naïve and sometimes trite, this is feel-good music that demands to be heard over and over again. A truly wonderful composition that I can’t seem to play enough, especially under headphones during a sunny afternoon at the park (where I recently enjoyed this album front to back several times over).

Next up the band digs deep in their bookshelf for a section from The Entropy Tango by the prolific alternative fiction writer Michael Moorcock (aka James Colvin) with “Columbine Confused”, a decidedly retro sixties psych rambling tune with fuzz guitars, Bumble B’s West coast hippy-sounding vocals, and a tempo that is almost danceable, especially if you happen to be inspired by some sort of herbal stimulant. A real throwback tune that also seems to be intended for pleasant summer afternoons spent idly.

The weakest track (though still excellent) comes next with “A Word in Season”, another literary excerpt, in this case from Lord Dunsany’s mythical Elfland. Musically this sounds a little more like the jaunty British folk works of bands like Beggars Opera or some of the stuff Principal Edward’s Magic Theatre did in the late sixties and early seventies. The repetitive vocal rounds are a tad bit grating at times, and the synthesized bird sounds are unnecessary, but Bumble B’s vocals and the plaintive harpsichord more than make up for these minor distractions.

Finally the band closes with another multi-phased work, this one based on the writings of tragic figure the late Robert Ervin Howard. Howard was best known for his contributions to the Weird Tales fantasy horror magazine of the 1930s as well as for creating the figure who would later become Conan the Barbarian, before he committed suicide in 1936. Here the band’s plan seems to be to combine all the sounds they have used to this point in a single work. The plethora of keyboards in these four sections include Mellotron, a Fender Rhodes, loads of Hammond organ and even a little more of the harpsichord. Bumble B shares vocals duties with Bjørn Fløydstad as the two of them relate the tale of the mythical sea creature known as Kraken, who is somehow connected with the lost land of Atlantis. The lyrics are disjointed at best, and dark like most of Howard’s writings, but the wide range of instruments (including a couple saxophones in the latter part of the song) make for an engaging musical experience.

I can’t say for sure where these guys belong as far as their overall musical style, but on this album they manage to wander effortlessly between middle-eastern, British folk, psychedelic trance and flower- power hippy sounds. The whole thing is a blast to listen to, and one can’t help but come away feeling better about life in general. Easily a four star affair that belongs in the collections of all fans of folk, psych and early pop music. Highly recommended unless you just want to be a sourpuss.

peace

ClemofNazareth | 4/5 |

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