Sometimes progressive rock can be described as an ultimate journey through a fantasy world wherin everything's possible. Very often this world has no boundaries and deals with kings, queens and many fantasy figures as if they were real. I was thinking about this while listening to the latest record of the Norwegian prog band White Willow. Their new album Terminal Twilight has everything to distract you from the real world with all its problems, taking you to a place where things are harmonious and beautiful. Then you realize again that life is much more than just a daytime job!
On Terminal Twilight White Willow blend elements of orchestral pop, progressive rock of the seventies, jazz-rock and even electronic s in almost one hour of pure musical enjoyment. To date the band already released five albums, but this one's by far the best! In 1995 their debut Ignis Fatuus appeared featuring symphonic folk rock in the vein of early King Crimson and Genesis. Ex Tenebris (1998) contains mainly minimal prog post-rock, while Sacrament (2000) can be labeled as a full-blown symphonic rock-pop record. Until now Storm Season (2004) is their best selling record, mixing darker and heavier guitar elements. The fifth studio album Signal To Noise (2006) contains true progressive rock, but on Terminal Twilight everything seems to fall in place.
On this release White Willow's influences range from Iona, Björk, Yes, Genesis, 10CC, The Beach Boys and Steely Dan to King Crimson, Magma, Weather Report and even Nick Drake and Joni Mitchell. They give prominence to female vocals, flute, Mellotrons and analog synthesizers, which is typical for their sound. However, this combination works very well as I discovered again on Terminal Twilight. Despite the fact that the band changed their line-up frequently, they always succeeded in writing and recording strong material. They agreed that in spite of all these instabilities, a White Willow-album must always contain fixed elements like chiming guitar chords, Mellotrons and lyrics about sad people. This is certainly the case on their latest effort, although the Mellotron doesn't have such a prominent role as on many other retro records. It's used less frequently, but it's still present; most of the time you can hear the flute and choir sections.
After an absence of five years White Willow returned with their most adventurous album to date. Thanks to - what they call themselves - a killer line-up including Mattias Olsson (drums, Änglagård), Jacob Holm-Lupo (guitar, The Opium Cartel), Lars Fredrik Frøislie (keyboards, Wobbler), Ketil Einarsen (woodwinds, Jaga Jazzist, Motorpsycho), Sylvia Skjellestad (vocals) and newcomer Ellen Andrea Wang (bass guitar). Especially Sylvia Skjellestad sounds pretty amazing on Terminal Twilight. Her voice sometimes reminded me of Björk and at other times of Kate Bush. She really lifts the music to a higher level.
One could say that White Willow blends the best of the band's eclectic musical history on Terminal Twilight: the symphonic rock of Sacrament, the dark prog of Storm Season, the pastoral folk of the early albums and now adding a slightly experimental and playful twist to the mixing process. It's not easy to mention any favourites because all compositions are of an outstanding musical level. However, I guess my favourite piece is Red Leaves. On this track the band manage to perform an unbelievable strong musical climax. Just breathtaking!
White Willow also got support from a couple of guest musicians: Tim Bownes (No-Man), whose lead vocals on Kansas Regrets are awesome, David Lundberg (Gösta Berlings Saga), who plays the keyboards on Kansas Regrets and Snowswept and Michael S. Judge (The Nerve Institute), who plays a great guitar solo on Hawk's Circle The Mountain.
Together with the band they achieved something special.
So far this album certainly belongs to one of the best albums of 2011. Therefore I can only give this superb album the highest possible rating. Five stars are well-deserved if you can keep a listener focused for almost an hour. It made me dream away every time I listened to Terminal Twilight ; I couldn't finish listening until the last notes faded away in my sound system. Nowadays, only few albums possess that quality...
***** Henri Strik (edited by Peter Willemsen)
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