April 7, 2024

Ex Tenebris deliciously mixed pastoral, epic and brooding moments and the outcome will be a treat for anyone with a love of classic ‘70s prog.  

This is the second in a planned series of releases by Karisma of the back catalogue of White Willow.  Last year saw the release of the 1995 debut album, Ignis Fatuus, which in retrospect was something of a landmark album. There had been a small national-level Norwegian progressive rock scene in Norway in the ‘70s (Ruphus, for example) but by the ‘90s it was just about dead (and one could argue that it was pretty dead globally too). Ignis Fatuus was therefore very much the trigger for the rebirth of Norwegian prog that allowed other bands such as Wobbler to emerge and become internationally known. 

Ignis Fatuus was an odd mix of retro-prog and pastoral folk music, clearly influenced by the work of Änglagård and Anekdoten from neighbouring Sweden. White Willow disbanded after Ignis Fatuus, and guitarist Jacob Holm-Lupo started working on a solo project, but he soon realised it was developing into a more progressive direction than anticipated. He therefore made the decision to reform White Willow with the previous keyboard player, Jan Tariq Rahman, a new singer Sylvia Erichsen, and a new rhythm section of Frode Lia on bass and ex- of Änglagård drummer Mattias Olsson.

Leaving The House Of Thanatos is a fantastic way to get the album underway. It’s entertaining to play ‘spot the influence’ (with Genesis coming out tops) and yet White Willow already had their own very distinctive Scandinavian fingerprint on the music. There are some moments of pure inspiration – for example, the lovely chorus melody or the short spine-tingling guitar solo that enters just after the five-minute mark. There is however a sense of this not being a polished recording. It was apparently done on a budget, and this is frustrating at times. Take the closing section when the chorus returns but instead of working up to glorious climax, it fades away within thirty seconds. If the band had had the time and a Pink Floyd budget, they could have really developed this song, and it would have been hailed a prog classic by people from Oslo to Osaka.

Along with The House Of Thanatos, there are two other long tracks. Helen And Simon Magus is a theatrical piece with the spoken closing section over rippling piano being particularly atmospheric. The final crowning piece of the album is the fourteen-minute A Dance Of Shadows, which itself is preceded by an instrumental called A Strange Procession (that has an introductory role very much like The Procession to Camel’s The White Rider). The vocals in A Dance Of Shadows are sung by Erichsen who does a very passable imitation of Annie Haslan as the sung part proceeds in a Renaissance-like stately fashion.  The lengthy instrumental middle section is lacking in inspiration though and drags a little until the marvellous return of Erichson’s melody.

Two shorter tracks, The Book Of Love and Thirteen Days, look back to the pastoral style of the debut album. They pass by pleasantly but without sticking in the mind. That’s not the case for the quite beautiful Soteriology. This opens with a lengthy passage of medieval-sounding acoustic guitar, supplemented by piano and then organ. Just when you think it is an instrumental piece, Sylvia Erichsen’s angelic voice enters with a gorgeous melody, supported only by a subdued mix of piano, organ and gentle synths. The whole song proceeds in a hushed tone, creating an atmosphere that could be described as peaceful but somehow manages to be deeply sad. Soteriology is certainly the highlight of the album along with Leaving The House Of Thanatos, and the two have a subtle link lyrically: Thanatos was the Greek god of peaceful death, while Soteriology is the study of religious doctrines of salvation.

Overall, this was a darker album than Ignis Fatuus, but it is anything but Floydian angst. Ex Tenebris deliciously mixed pastoral, epic and brooding moments and the outcome remains a treat for anyone with a love of classic ‘70s prog.  The album has been remastered by Jacon Holm-Lupo himself, and is available in digital, CD and vinyl formats with the latter satisfyingly produced in transparent blue vinyl to match the cover.  A must for any White Willow fans.