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White Willow - Terminal Twilight CD (album) cover


White Willow


Symphonic Prog

3.89 | 285 ratings

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5 stars For those of you that frequent the forums here, you may remember a thread about bands that "Can do no Wrong" and for me only one name came to mind, White Willow. Then, a couple of months ago when Jacob Holm-Lupo announced the forthcoming release of this album, Terminal Twilight, he also posted a 10 minute Youtube sample which got me very excited and also prompted me to re-visit the bands discography and refresh my mind on just how good they are. What I'm trying to get at here is that a new White Willow album comes with very high expectations on my part, to the point that they are one of only two bands that I place such heavy demands on the quality of the music they release. So I'm part elated and part relieved to say that White Willow have very much matched those expectations.

Anyone familiar with White Willow will know that each of their previous five albums is unique in its sound, but they each shared in a common atmosphere, that of dark melancholia but with absolute beauty, and that has held true on Terminal Twilight as well. In terms of its overall sound its probably best described as a loose blend of Sacrament and Storm Season in that it has the classic 70's symphonic sound of the former but can be very heavy like the latter. That heaviness, though, should not be confused with Metal under any circumstance. Storm Season may have been characterised by heavy guitar riffs but Terminal Twilight creates its heaviness through a blend of Lars Fredrick Frĝislie's expansive keyboard sounds, Jacob Holm-Lupo's guitars and Ellen Andrea Wang's growling 5-string bass. Its a massive wall of sound with a great deal of depth and detail used to stunning effect, particularly on the dark opening track, Hawks Circle the Mountain.

And that leads me on to a great point in this albums favour, its use of dynamic range. Holm-Lupo and Frĝislie have clearly spent a lot of time and effort on the production here so that you get caught up in the close, intimate feeling, quiet sections before being blown away by the full band as they storm in through the speakers. Yet it all feels so natural, the quiet sections are never too quiet and the loud parts are never too loud, striking a comfortable balance whilst still having a clearly determined difference in volume level. And that spreads over into all aspects of the albums production, all instruments are clearly audible and only the keyboards seem to dominate the mix, but then this is definitely a more keyboard oriented album than the last couple of White Willow albums have been.

Now, I doubt I'm the only one to have noticed but much of the modern Symphonic Prog produced seems to be very much "retro prog" in that it clearly harks back to the classics of the 70's without changing things too much, and that's not always a bad thing as Swedish legends Anglagard have proved (and who's drummer, Mattias Olsson, offers a superb turn on percussion here) as have sister band Wobbler (for me most notably on the medieval tinged Afterglow), but there's definitely too many soundalikes out there. Thankfully, White Willow have never been one of those, from their heavily folk influenced early albums to the Neo Prog of Signal to Noise that have always had an identity all their own, displaying their influences without getting trapped by them. On top of that they've been changing their sound constantly, and they've changed it again for Terminal Twilight. Ironically, this album is the one, of their six, that is most likely to be considered a throw-back to the 70's, largely from the way that the sound is dominated by Frĝislies unashamed armada of vintage keyboards and the way that the guitars only really come to the fore for solos and acoustic passages in a manner reminiscent of many classic prog bands. It has to be said, though, that there is no mistaking Frĝislies playing on this album. The style of play and sound use that he has developed, and almost exclusively uses in White Willow (and to a lesser extent in his Black Metal band In Lingua Mortua whilst almost never in Wobbler), is unique to him and he displays this talent excellently.

Of the songs themselves, its easiest to consider them as the longs and the shorts. Of the long tracks, the opener Hawks Circle the Mountain is by far the darkest track on the album, whilst the main epic, Searise, is one of the most menacing tracks the band has ever produced, helped along by a vocal melody very similar to that of Sally Left from Storm Season. The other three cover much more varied territory emphasising the beauty of White Willows music at least as much as the rock side of things and their ability to weave compositions of many twists and turns. The shorter tracks consist of a slow, atmospheric closer A Rumour of Twilight, reminiscent of Signal to Noises closer Ararat, and another slow building atmospheric song Kansas Regrets, which features the vocal talents of No-Mans Tim Bowness. The other short track, Snowswept, is probably best described as a love song and has a more commercial bent to it than the rest of the album. Holm-Lupo has tried this before on previous albums with only limited success (Joyride is definitely my least favourite White Willow track) but this time the track works really well with strong melodies and good development and most importantly, completely fits in with the feel of the album.

One constant of White Willow that I didn't mention previously is that there has been a revolving door policy for just about every instrument in the band. This time round we see the return of two former band members, most notably vocalist Sylvia Skjellestad (nee Erichsen). Her vocal delivery is as strong here as it was last time out on Storm Season and will no doubt please many of the bands long time fans. As previously mentioned, Anglagards Mattias Olson has returned to the band for the first time since 98's Ex Tenebris and performs some brilliant work on the kit, expertly holding the rhythm section whilst supplying some excellent fills. The only all new member to join is bassist Ellen Andrea Wang of little known Norwegian band SynKoke, replacing Martha Berger Walthinsen. She fills the shoes left behind expertly, offering powerful and creative bass lines that work well with Frĝislies keyboards and Olssons drums.

Hawks Circle the Mountain, Floor 67 and Searise will undoubtedly stay with me for a long time whilst instrumental Natasha of the Burning Woods and Red Leaves will grip my attention every time I hear them. Its safe to say that there are no bad songs on this album and there are several extremely good ones, but if I have one complaint its the track list. I cant help feel that A Rumour of Twilight would have served better as a lead in to main epic Searise, which in itself would have been a brilliant closer, in the same way that the atmospheric A Strange Procession.... leads in to the epic ? A Dance of Shadows on the Ex Tenebris album. I should also note that, while I enjoy the vocals of Sylvia Skjellestad, I miss the vocals of Signal to Noises lead vocalist Trude Eidtang. Though its the only album she appears on she stands out as one of the best female singers in prog with her assertive and emotional delivery. Maybe we can get two lead singers on future albums.....

2011 has been a year of consistently strong releases so far but White Willows Terminal Twilight jumps straight to the head of the class, joining Fen's Epoch and UnExpects Fables of the Sleepless Empire as the stand out albums of the year, overshadowing more well known acts like Dream Theater, King Crimson ProjeKcts, Yes and even alter egos Wobbler. Anyone that wants to hear powerful and unique Symphonic Prog that doesn't automatically sound like any one of the 70's greats should give this a very close look, and the same goes for those that likes their music melancholic and dark, but with a touch of beauty to it.

sleeper | 5/5 |


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