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White Willow - Storm Season CD (album) cover


White Willow


Symphonic Prog

3.96 | 182 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
5 stars After a four year break since their third album Sacrament White Willow returned with Storm Season, and the cover alludes to what is a very dark and brooding concept album that deals with such sunny subjects like fatal car accidents, suicide and heroin addiction. So, a cheery album all round then.

Up to now, White Willow albums have tended to have two things in common between each one, that the line-up changes a lot between each album and that they play soft, atmospheric, melancholic yet powerful and emotional music whilst still having each album sound unique. The first change on this album is that only one member of the band from the previous album Sacrament has left the band, keyboard player Brynjar Dambo, to be replaced by Wobbler keyboardist Lars Fredrik Frøislie. Also bass player Johannes Saebøe has moved over to play a second guitar with Marthe Berger Walthinsen joining as bassist. The second major change is that the sound of the band is vastly morphed into a much harder Symphonic sound, shedding all vestiges of folk in the process. As you can imagine, this is yet another unique record from White Willow.

After listening to this album, the move towards a much heavier sound, almost metal, is down mostly to Johannes Saebøe heavily distorted guitar playing combined with a really deep bass sound from Walthinsen's 5 string bass. However, Holm-Lupo's guitar sound and the playing of flutist Ketil Vestrum Einarsen is similar, though not quite so tranquil, as that of the previous albums. The overall effect is something I have never heard before. This album is dominated by heavy guitar riffs, deep, powerful bass lines, smooth, tempering flute parts, keyboards that move from atmospheric pastoral waves to soaring solos using all manner of classic synths and sharp, expressive guitar playing over the top of the riffs.

In terms of musicianship, I think the band has really been boosted by the arrival of Walthinsen and Frøislie. In previous albums the bass did little more than support the songs, it was a strong backbone, but not something that would take prominence (with the exception of The Reach) and be essential to the song, at least in a way that was clear for all to hear. Here, the bass is probably the most prominent instrument (though thankfully without distorting the balance of the albums sound) through the album, tacking an active role in helping to create dark, melancholic moods in the songs. Walthinsen is not the extremely fast type of bass player, like a Myung, Lee or Squire, but she doesn't lack for technical skill and this is what makes her so good at the role she has given the bass. Insomnia is probably the best example of her playing on this album, where she alone manages to creep me out with the scariest bass line I have ever heard.

Frøislie's contribution to the album is not quite as overt, but just as important I feel. In terms of creating atmospheres, I don't think he has an advantage over either of his predecessors, Jan Tariq Rahman and Brynjar Dambo, but were he does excel his in the more technical passages and the solos. I wouldn't call him a virtuoso, not in the way Rudess and Wakeman are, but he's a step up in my opinion. His style of playing, though, is very much unique, even compared to his own work in Wobbler.

As I mentioned before, its Johannes Saebøes guitar playing that makes this album much heavier than its predecessors and I find that it adds a powerful element to the music that perfectly fit's the concept and what the music is trying to achieve, namely a dark, brooding and melancholic atmosphere. Holm-Lupo plays a much cleaner guitar over the top of Saebøes, or the acoustic guitar that on Endless Science, in a much sharper and forthright manner than before, something dictated by his decision on the direction of this album. Its good to know that he is capable of adapting, or maybe just pushing, his style to match what this album set out to do.

As with the other instruments, the flute and drums are being pushed in terms of the "power" that they are being played with. The surprising thing is that no instrument seems to dominate the other, giving this album the balance that it requires to really work. Special mention should go to the singer, Sylvia Erichsen in what would turn out to be the last White Willow album she would perform on. She really pushes her vocal abilities to the limit on this album, without ever overstepping them, giving her best performance, from a deep to high range , quite to loud and everything in-between.

As for the songs themselves, this is possibly the only album were I really enjoy all the songs. On the previous albums, short songs were definite weaknesses to the albums, but that's been changed here. Of the two short songs, Endless Science is a great work dominated by Holm-Lupo's acoustic guitar and guest musician Sigrun Engs cello, creating a shifting mood that matches the vocals perfectly. The other short, title track Storm Season, is largely keyboard effects with the bass and flute joining it. On its own this song would be little more than an interesting oddity that wouldn't grab the attention like the rest of the album. However, in the context of an album, this song acts brilliantly as a disturbing interlude, and as a prelude to, between the scary Insomnia and the epic closer Nightside Of Eden. The rest of the songs on here are all among some of the greatest that the band has recorded, each emotionally powerful songs that work just as well in their own right as in the context of the album.

I give Storm Season 5 stars as it works perfectly as an album and I cant find any faults in this respect. White Willows best album and a must for all fans of Symphonic prog in my opinion. Highlights would be the opener Chemical Sunset and the "epics" Soulburn and Nightside Of Eden. Enjoy.

sleeper | 5/5 |


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