White Willow

Ex Tenebris

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For this second release from the Norwegian band White Willow, the original nucleus of Jacob Holm-Lupo (guitars, organ) and Jan Tariq Rahman (keys, vocals) was augmented by bassist Frode Lia, singer Sylvia Erichsen, and (surprise!) ex-Anglagard drummer Mattias Olsson. Ex Tenebris is a beautiful and delicate flower. Progressive in its framework, this record embraces gothic, folk, and classical music. The best comparison, if one is really necessary, would be with a progressive version of Loreena McKennitt. Songs are simple (much more than on the band's first CD), catchy, moody, shadowy, calm. An atmospheric late-night record, it is dominated by Erichsen's voice (which is more ethereal than Magdalena Hagberg from the Pär Lindh Project) and stripped-down keyboard lines. Some electric guitar notes occasionally come in to help raise the decibel level and tighten the tension (on "Helen and Simon Magus" and "...A Dance of Shadows"), with great results. The most surprising part of this album is the production: Engineer Jo Wang favored ambient acoustics. It is especially disconcerting at first on "Leaving the House of Thanatos," as one gets the impression that the band has been recorded live in the studio with only a couple of overhead microphones (and it might be just that!). But, the fact is that it works perfectly, suiting the simplicity and bareness of the songs and the vibrant sensuality of the execution. In a prog world where quality is too often measured through virtuosity alone, Ex Tenebris embodies the simple and uncertain beauty of shadows. Not every prog fan's cup of tea, but those with an inclination toward gothic/medieval romanticism will fall for this record very quickly. One of the most surprising and fulfilling prog albums of 1998, it established White Willow as a serious prog act and Jacob Holm-Lupo as a respected composer, while allowing the band to reach beyond the usual prog rock crowd.

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