White Willow could have easily been formed around at the beginning of 1971. However, they were formed in 1993 in their hometown in Norway and their debut album, Ignis Fatuus in 1995. Originally released on The Laser’s Edge label and reissued by Termo Records, it has this beautifully digipak format featuring this leave-like background and it’s a 2-CD set along with an amazing liner notes done by Sid Smith and an interview with Jacob Holm-Puto about the making of the their first album.
Norway at that time period in the ‘90s was a Black Metal scene and there wasn’t a Prog movement. But when White Willow went into the studio, they knew it was time to give the Prog genre a huge revival and a wake-up call. They combined the sounds of early Genesis, Mellow Candle, Comus, King Crimson, Sandy Denny, and the late great Nick Drake. And man, can they really take it up a notch thanks to the gentle gothic acid folk turned symphonic rock opener, Snowfall featuring harmonizing vocals of Sara Trondal and Eldrid Johansen doing this duet that you can feel the goose bumps on the introduction.
Then, it’s the homage to Tudor Lodge and Trees’ The Garden of Jane Delawney-era on Lord of Night and the uplifting Now In These Fairylands features some classical boundaries. With a combination of; string quartets, harpsichord, lukewarm fingerpicking acoustic guitar structures, and a moog to fill in the void and not to mention a fuzzy organ solo as an homage to Mike Ratledge and Dave Stewart of the Soft Machine and Egg done by Jan Tariq Rahman to get that Canterbury feel as well.
Elsewhere, the Celtic Opera comes in handy with the Renaissance atmosphere on Song while Piletreet goes back into the acid folk movement featuring bass, acoustic guitar, mellotron flutes and female vocalization that resembles Annie Haslam that is a calming advantage along with the layered structures of Ingenting and Till He Arrives that has some jazzy elements flown in there. Meanwhile, everything becomes a haunting soundtrack.
The 11-minute epic, Cryptomenysis, starts off with a doomy organ sound in the styles of Black Widow meets Arzachel and featuring spooky vocalization done by Sara as the band follows her voice to see which direction she goes into. It becomes a laid-back groove featuring the violin before getting back into the heavy rocking mode as if Black Sabbath, Van Der Graaf Generator and Darryl Way teamed up to create a nightmarish terror that is unexpected.
Signs is back into calm after the storm while Lines On An Autumnal Evening is a somber yet stirring classical folk featuring recorder, flutes, strings, and guitar that makes it feel as if they had recorded this piece inside a tiny little cottage having cups of tea and creating magic in their sound. The Withering of the Boughs, which sounds like an episode of Dark Shadows, at first it has this moody atmosphere before they pay tribute to the Italian Prog sounds of Premiata Forneria Marconi’s debut album with a bang at the very end.
The closer, John Dee’s Lament, is one of most mind-boggling yet beautiful epics that is an experience you will never forget. Beginning with a piano phrase and featuring melodic vocals before it segues into a harder and edgier hypnotic hard folk rock attitude featuring a thumping bass line, staggering guitar chords, violin beauty, and the drums coming in setting the tension. It reminded me of Curved Air and King Crimson’s Red-era, with an attitude.
The bonus tracks on the second disc feature demos (Grankvad, Snowfall, Till He Arrives), two outtakes of unreleased material (I In The Eye and Det Omvendte Bæger), a cover of King Crimson's Moonchild, and a rare live performance in Los Angeles at the Variety Arts Theatre at the time they were promoting the album and you could feel that you are in the audience in awe, tears, and blown away from a band that is soon going to receive word of mouth and attention in the Prog and Independent circuit.
Hats off to Ken Golden who started The Laser’s Edge since 1987, helping the band to get recognition in the Prog community and get the word out. I have listened to the reissue of Ignis Fatuus about seven times already and I’m completely hooked of what White Willow had brought into the table with the grocery bags of their music inspiration. An amazing re-release done by the people at Termo Records and if you love the Acid Folk and Obscure side of Progressive Rock, then White Willow is here to serve you.
And if you want proof, just ask Mikael Akerfeldt of Opeth and Lee Dorrian of Cathedral/Napalm Death.