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White Willow - Ex Tenebris  CD (album) cover

EX TENEBRIS

White Willow

 

Symphonic Prog

3.23 | 71 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

sleeper
Prog Reviewer
3 stars Ex-Tenebris is the second album from Norwegian band White Willow, and thankfully this release sidesteps the all to easy path of re-hashing the what was done on the debut album. Ex-Tenebris quite quickly shows its differences to its predecessor, Ignis Fatuus, before the end of the opening song, Leaving The House Of Thanatos.

Whereas the debut had a very lush sound built up from the guitars, bass, mellotron, drums, string and wind instruments all playing together, this follow up has a much more striped down, almost minimalist in places, sound to it. There is quite often long passages were there is only one or two instruments playing at a time, sometimes with the vocals as well. Though the album continues the nicely relaxing feel that marked out Ignis Fatuus so well to me, Ex-tenebrous does it in a completely different manner.

Part of the reason for the change is that the line up of musicians here is almost completely different with Jacob C. Holm-Lupo and Jan Tarig Rahman as the only two musicians to still be involved in White Willow since Ignis Fatuus (at least on this recording), though flutist Audun Kjus still has a couple of token parts on a couple of tracks here. Indeed the line-up seems much more stable on this album, it doesn't have legions of people playing on it giving it more of a feel that it's a band (the drummer seems to have a name this time as well, Anglagard's Mattias Olsson!). I also find that the production work on this album is much sharper here, each instrument is much more clearly defined in the sound of the band something that, though not a problem or a draw back, might have needed a little work on Ignis Fatuus.

Despite the initial perception that we could be in for something quite special, there are parts that really let this album down. With the exception of A Strange Procession. all the short songs give the feeling that they are recordings of church choir Christmas carols to me, though without any religious pretext in the lyrics. These short songs also seem to be trying to do the same as the long ones but without actually going anywhere. I guess they are a sort of minimalist equivalent to noodling and I find them quite annoying.

The longer songs here (Leaving The House Of Thanatos, Helen And Simon Magus and .A Dance Of Shadows) are all really nice songs similar in style to Cryptomenysis and John Dee's Lament, though containing the unique feel of the album. They all seem to build up to varying degrees of intensity and you cant help but get lost in the sheer beauty of the music.

I feel that the level of musicianship has improved here as well, growing much more focused than on the previous album helping with the atmosphere. You wont find any high speed performances or bombastic soloing/riffing, instead its in the subtlety that really puts the focus on certain parts that grabs you. Vocally this band has stepped up as well. Jan Tarig Rahman's voice sounds much smother on this album and I find that to be a big improvement from him, but I doubt I could listen to a whole album of him singing. Thankfully it's the new vocalist, Sylvia Erichsen, that takes the credit for most of the vocals from Soteriology onwards. She has a really nice, smooth voice that really helps the relaxing atmosphere of the album but she never sounds like she is pushing her abilities, though its hard to say whether that would actually be an improvement as Erichsens voice fits in really well. The drumming on this album is really hard to notice as their isn't much of it here, but what there is works well with the mood of the music, there's just not enough of it, though, to say moor. Special mention should go to Teresa Aslanian who reads a poem at the end of Helen And Simon Magus, her rich voice and the fact that its spoken word gives this song a unique send off.

I previously mentioned that A Strange Procession. was the only short song on here that I liked, the reasons for this are two fold. First is that it is such a unique track here, it has a really dark and oppressive feel to it that it immediately stands out on this album, but doesn't wreck the overall feel. The second is that it feeds in well to the albums epic, and closer, .A Dance Of Shadows almost making it one great 19 minute epic, though not quite as they are still separate tracks.

I'll give this album 3 stars as, though it contains some truly brilliant songs, most of the shorter tracks don't do anything for me. I also find that I couldn't listen to this album too much due to the striped down nature of the sound. True, it does help to enhance the relaxed nature of this album but there are times when I would want more to be going on, which means that I prefer Ignis Fatuus. Not a bad album by any stretch of the imagination but could have been better.

sleeper | 3/5 |

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