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Crossover Prog • Norway

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The Opium Cartel biography
This Norwegian band were formed in 2006.It is a project lead by songwriter/guitarist Jacob Holm-Lupo of White Willow fame. Holm -Lupo has collaborated with a host of progressive artists to release the 2009 album Night Blooms, working alongside Mattias Olsson ( Anglagard), Rachel Haden ( Todd Rundgren) & Tim Bowness ( No-Man)

The musicbasically follows in the Scandinavian Progressive tradition with full use of analog keyboards such as Rhodes and Mellotron as well as with ethereal atmospheres interspersed with greatly inspired symphonic moments.

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THE OPIUM CARTEL top albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

3.31 | 21 ratings
Night Blooms
3.58 | 31 ratings
3.17 | 6 ratings

THE OPIUM CARTEL Live Albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

THE OPIUM CARTEL Videos (DVD, Blu-ray, VHS etc)

THE OPIUM CARTEL Boxset & Compilations (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

THE OPIUM CARTEL Official Singles, EPs, Fan Club & Promo (CD, EP/LP, MC, Digital Media Download)

3.00 | 1 ratings
Abandoned Tracks
2.50 | 2 ratings
What's It Gonna Be?
3.00 | 2 ratings
2.50 | 2 ratings
In the Streets
3.50 | 2 ratings
A Maelstrom of Stars


Showing last 10 reviews only
 Ardor by OPIUM CARTEL, THE album cover Studio Album, 2013
3.58 | 31 ratings

The Opium Cartel Crossover Prog

Review by Mellotron Storm
Prog Reviewer

3 stars 3.5 stars. THE OPIUM CARTEL were a who's who of the Norwegian Prog scene back 2009 when they released their debut. This is the second and right now most current release of theirs from 2013. WHITE WILLOW's Jacob Holm-Lupo is the main man here composing all but one track that happens to be a BLUE OYSTER CULT cover. He takes care of the guitar duties but also sings on one track. Mattias Olsson(ANGLAGARD) is on drums, Lars Froisle(WOBBLER) on a variety of keyboards and Letil Einarsen(JAGA JAZZIST) on flute and woodwinds. There's five singers, six counting HENRY FOOL's Stephen Bennett who I believe adds only backing vocals. Female Norweigian singer Venke Knutson has higher pitched, fragile vocals and she's on five of the songs here. Alexander Stenerud sings on three tracks and he reminds me a lot of Steve Hogarth. Rhys Marsh who many will know sings on two songs and Tim Bowness(NO-MAN) on one track.

So we get these incredible instrumentalists who are playing fairly straight forward sounding music but there's also proggy moments littered throughout this. Also there are three songs on here that I am a huge fan of and one I can hardy tolerate. I enjoy this one overall but I just can't pull the trigger on that fourth star. I was really hoping this might be more like Sweden's THE AMAZING who play a more straight forward type of music with a Dream Pop vibe and lots of atmosphere. Great night to review this as we are in another blizzard here in central Ontario.

"Kissing Moon" has Rhys and Venke on vocals, Rhys leads but Venke sings lead on the chorus. A pretty good opener and I like when it turns experimental 4 1/2 minutes in.

"When We Dream" is where I first heard Stenerud sing and I really thought it was Hogarth. I mean check him out when he first sings on this track. Venke adds backing vocals. The chorus doesn't do much for me but it's not a bad song.

"Silence" features Tim Bowness and his unmistakable vocals. Lots of deep atmosphere to start as some guitar melodies arrive. Mellotron too as Tim starts singing before a minute. Flute 3 minutes in and then jarring percussion sounds which come and go. Love the atmosphere.

"Norther Rains" has Stenerud on vocals and this seems to be an attempt at a hit? The worse song on here. Any time I hear a phrase repeated over and over it just brings lame Pop songs to mind and here it's "Walk away" that's repeated. "Revenant" has Jacob and Venke on vocals. This just isn't my thing either to be honest.

"White Wolf" is a top three. Stenerud on vocals and I'm not big on the start of this at all but man when we get that prolonged instrumental section I'm sold big time. It's a melancholic calm as flute, drums and guitar lead. it's building. Such a great passage here until the earlier section returns with vocals. Another calm late around 5 minutes with organ and more.

"The Waiting Ground" is another top three. Sounds like vibes and synths to start as Venke adds her fragile vocals. Love when it turns fuller, especially that bass. Nice. Mellotron too. My favourite section might be when we get that fuzzed out organ bringing Canterbury to mind around 4 minutes.

"Then Came The Last Days Of May" which I'm sure every Norwegian must look forward too. This is the BLUE OYSTER CULT cover and I do like the lyrics and mellow sound as Venke adds her sweet vocals.

"Mariner, Come In" ends it and it's my final top three and the most challenging song by far. It's over 11 minutes long and check out the guest sax 8 minutes in. What a display as he lets it rip at times, especially around 9 1/2 minutes as the mellotron floods in as well.

A good album for sure but for me it's flawed. Some really good sections and songs though. Check it out!

 Ardor by OPIUM CARTEL, THE album cover Studio Album, 2013
3.58 | 31 ratings

The Opium Cartel Crossover Prog

Review by tszirmay
Special Collaborator Honorary Collaborator

4 stars Euro-pop played by some of the finest progressive players on the planet? Really? There seems to be a nice niche market there, especially with the credentials presented by this multi-national crew. Originally ignited by Jacob Holm-Lupo of White Willow fame, the cast also has enlisted the immensely talented Lars Froile of Wobbler and the semi-legendary Swedish drummer Mattias Olsson of Anglagard! Add Pixel bassist Ellen Wang and a slew of talented vocalists, you will start getting a clearer picture. The vocal contingent comprises of No-Man/Henry Fool stalwarts Tim Bowness and Stephen Bennett, solo artist Rhys Marsh, plus Norwegian pop stars Venke Knutsen and Alex Stenerud . On their website , they simply identify themselves like this " Influences on The Opium Cartel's music include 80's art pop such as Japan, Roxy Music, Prefab Sprout and The Blue Nile, as well as 70's folk-rock like Sandy Denny and Nick Drake. Reviewers have variously referred to the music as dream- pop, folk-tronica and art-pop''. I would also add tinges of the Beatles, Tears for Fears, The Box, Naked Eyes, OMD and even some prog-folk tendencies. The menu has 8 shorter tracks between 3.21 and 6.17, as well as a lengthy moody final epic that clocks in over 10 minutes.

"Kissing the Moon" immediately shows off the quality of the musicians involved, a breezy and proggish tune that sounds like an outtake from Naked Eyes (a masterful 80s synth-pop group) ,with a Thompson Twins-like duo of male(Marsh and female vocals. The melody is penetrating and the playing is superb, rippling synths gurgling in the background as Mattias lays down a solid beat. Excellent opener that touches all kinds of fine buttons.

But it's with "When We Dream" that the roof is blown, a tremendous piece that showcases the incredible voice of Alex Stenerud , sounding uncannily like OMD's Andy McCluskey, supported by icy keyboards that wink at Depeche Mode. The chorus is simply spellbinding, shoving goose bumps to the forefront, propelling both power and emotion.

Tim Bowness' unmistakable hush colors the sorrowful gleam of 'Silence Instead", a trembling ballad loaded with typical No-Man melancholy, as far away from pop drivel as you could possible consider. Simple arrangement done superbly, acoustic guitar, keyboard effects and flute, occasionally troubled by a solemn beat and odd percussives. Brilliant!

"Northern Rains" could be a Norse folk song, reworked into a synth-pop classic, again offering very familiar shades, the complex vocal work utterly stunning as if Derek Shulman would be leading Tears for Fears! Infectious chorus of 'walk away, walk away, walk away' gets the job done, convincingly.

My goodness, "Revenant" could have been the bastard child of a Roxy Music father and a Kate Bush mom. It's the shortest piece her but strikes an otherwise very uncommercial pose. Acoustic guitar and triangle dress up the vocal duet, wispy and dreamy at the same time, Knutsen's child-like delivery being particularly mesmerizing.

The 6 minute "White Wolf" is eerily reminiscent of classic Prefab Sprout, another crafty 80s group that had made its mark during the lean prog tears but suddenly veers into a long and heavy instrumental vibe with a masterful flute solo and pulsating rhythm work from both the bass and Olsson. The vocals are incredibly tight and the playing is well above platitude. This piece actually is closer to White Willow, a brooding and glacial barrage of dense sound. The final outro is a swirling tornado of choir work that would make Giant fans blush with envy!

"The Waiting Ground" takes a little side trip to Liverpudlian fields, lush with plasticene porters and marmalade skies. It verges on plagiarism but guess what, the Beatles are such a huge influence that you could put half the musicians on the planet in a copyright penitentiary! Yeah, it's very close to Lucy and her diamonds on LSD but cleverly done, a kaleidoscope of flirting synths and raspy hushes. Perhaps one of the highlight tracks here and a tune that you need to hear, featuring a short Froislie organ rant.

So you want incontrovertible proof? Jacob Holm-Lupo is a colossal and well-documented Blue Oyster Club fan, so to keep the prog tradition of boldly going where no one dares to go flowing, one of my personal favorite all-time ballads is presented here with significant genius. "Then Came the Last Days of May" is a prog classic, a rock classic and a 70s classic, sadly not as well-known as the lamer monster mega-hit " Don"t Fear the Reaper" ! True fans know better! This is a fantastic homage, thoroughly different yet familiar, with the ethereal voice of Venke replacing Eric Bloom's New York sarcasm-laden swagger. Jacob's axe solo is so reverential of Don Roeser's that he simply takes it into another, more humble direction. Quality and class!

The grand finale is the prog show stopper, an 11 minute epic stroke of genius that has 'classic, stamped all over its grooves, an entirely luminous vocal, helped along by a minimalist arrangement featuring electric piano, a clockwork orange beat and whopping symphonics. But that's not all, kiddies! Just to harass the newbies, the arrangement contains deft piano work, looping bass synthesis, cannonading Oberheims and a delirious sax blowout that will shiver your timbers! Old school Roxy Music comes to mind again, but "Mariner, Come In" has a sense of staying power that is impossible to describe, a monumental piece of music vibrating with imagery, while retaining a sense of weirdness that is most appealing. Bravo!

Let's get one thing straight! This is not your classic Gentle Giant/Yes/King Crimson formula of complex classically influenced prog. But as our genre struggles to seduce new fans, this is a perfect stepping stone to get their tippy toes wet in the progressive swimming pool. Plus, and more importantly, it might ignite some female passions and perhaps get you in a snugly mode with the little lady.

4 Poppy seed leagues

 Night Blooms by OPIUM CARTEL, THE album cover Studio Album, 2009
3.31 | 21 ratings

Night Blooms
The Opium Cartel Crossover Prog

Review by justaguy

3 stars Soft and sometimes a little too sweet, this mellow extension of White Willow sounds very 70-s, thanks to the dominating flute, acoustic guitar and cello. There's also some electricity in this blend, but also very vintage: mellotron, moog and optigan.

The project is conceived by Jacob Holm-Lupo, guitarist and leader of the Norwegian prog-rock formation White Willow. Here he decided to go to a softer side of prog. He invited for this project a lot of WW personnel from different incarnations, and even reworked some White Willow tunes. Other collaborations on the record are Rhys Marsh from Anekdoten and Rachel Haden, who played bass for Todd Rundgren, but only sings here.

One should have patience with this album, it is a grower. When I listened to it the first time, I only noticed a reasonable but redundant cover of "By the river" from Brian Eno's extraordinary album "Before and After Science" from 1977. Alas, comparing to Brian Eno's genial, crystal clear production and arrangements, which even now sounds very up-to-date, this version lacks the weirdness and deepness. But well, after a few more listens I learned to appreciate the pastoral sound of "Night Blooms" and found some more interesting places on the record. For instance, the strong opener "Heavenman", with it's beautiful melody, the second "Better days ahead" and then a little (well, very little) heavier songs "Honeybee" and "Beach house".

Alas, there's just not enough to make me have that longing feeling to listen to this music. A few numbers I will never accept I think: "Three sleepers", "Flicker girl" and "The last rose of summer", all sung by Rachel Haden. There's too much nectar in them, it leaves a little to sweet aftertaste.

In other words, opposite to the suggestion in the project's name, it is not really addicting, but I still hope to find one day another record of the band which will not be that sweet, because the promise, the potential are present here.

 Night Blooms by OPIUM CARTEL, THE album cover Studio Album, 2009
3.31 | 21 ratings

Night Blooms
The Opium Cartel Crossover Prog

Review by toroddfuglesteg

3 stars Opium Cartel is one of Jacob Holm-Lupo's projects. It is also a multinational project with Jacob from White Willow, Mattias Olsson from Anglagard, Rachel Haden from Todd Rundgren) & Tim Bowness from No-Man + some other musicians (mainly White Willow). A super group, bands like this was called back in the 1970s. This album was also pieced together with studio recordings from the members and I doubt if the band has ever been in the same room together. The joys of the internet !

This is by no means criticism or have any negative associations. It is great that so diverse musicians can meet up in cyberspace and make an album like this. An album that by no means sounds like 2010 and the internet age. Opium Cartel takes us back to the 1970s and add a lot of 2010 to the process too. Rachel Haden's vocals is superb. The same goes for the rest of the musicians here.

The music have much of the same DNA as Jacob served up on White Willow's new album Terminal Twilight. All fans of this band should purchase Night Blooms. There is a major, but some would say, a minor difference though. Where White Willow goes big on the sound, The Opium Cartel uses a much smaller sound. Minimalism is the key here. There is also a lot of electronica involved here. That and a lot of folk music. Acoustic guitars with Rachel's voice on the top. For example on the best track here; The Last Rose of Summer. In short; less is more is the motto on this album.

Besides of The Last Rose of Summer, the other tracks are a bit anonymous to me. And that even after the obligatory ten listening sessions. Hence, I would not label this as a great album. But the sound is great and the band is onto something here. It pleases me to hear that album # 2 is in the works. But this album does not quite make it.

3.5 stars

Thanks to chris s for the artist addition.

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