(17 September 2011) White Willow's sixth studio album Terminal Twilight (Termo Records (Norway) TERMO CD0009, 2011) is their first in four years. The album's nine tracks run one hour and include several extended masterpieces. White Willow's prior album Signal to Noise (review) received international acclaim, also a certain destiny for this new release. While Terminal Twilight was being completed, the band's principle song writer and guitar player, Jacob Holm-Lupo assembled a stunning side project with other White Willow artists called Opium Cartel. Their 2009 album Night Blooms (review) and Lizard Sleeps EP drew significant attention from progressive audiences and White Willow affectionados.
White Willow chose to abandon the high cost/hi gloss environment of the professional studio on favor of their own music this time. The album was recorded with minimal, often primative equipment and has been mixed with very little in the way of processing and editing. The result is raw, real and almost live-sounding, relative to the band's meticulously polished last three albums, anyway.
Sylvia Erichsen returns on Terminal Twilight as the band's lead female vocalist. The lineup also includes: Lars Fredrik Frøislie (keyboards); Ketil Einarsen (flutes); Jacob Holm-Lupo (guitars). Mattias Olsson, who played on Ex Tenebris, returns on drums. Mattias is perhaps best known as the drummer for legendary Swedish proggers Änglagård, and he is also a well known producer. Bassist Ellen Andrea Wang completes the new rhythm section. She played with members of White Willow on The Opium Cartel's debut album, and is also a member of Norway's acclaimed avant-jazz-rockers SynKoke.
Guests complete the talent pool on Terminal Twilight. No-Man's Tim Bowness provides melody, lyrics and vocals to the acoustic "Kansas Regrets," co-written with Jacob Holm-Lupo. Swedish prog-rock Gösta Berlings Saga lent out keyboardest David Lundberg on "Snowswept" and "Kansas Regrets," while American avant-rock guitarist Michael S. Judge (The Nerve Institute) plays guitar on "Hawks Circle the Mountain."
Terminal Twilight embraces all of White Willow's sounds and builds upon them. Soaring flute and warm keyboard passages complement vast guitar excursions and the band's solid rhythm section. Themes developed in one part of the album recur in others. Sylvia's sweet vocals glide atop the arrangements and are joined in some of the songs by Jacob's. And while some of the material is on the more accessible side, tempo and style changes as well as angular arrangements remind listeners that this is indeed a progressive album.
White Willow delivers their unique sound with sweeping keyboards, soaring flutes and notable rhythms. The instrumental arrangements clearly contribute to the band's individuality. Terminal Twilight opens with "Hawks Circle," a track whose angular arrangement bridges to White Willow's earlier work. Sylvia's vocals are immediately recognizable and immediately reminiscent of the band's Sacrament album. However Jacob's electric guitar parts are more aligned with White Willow's Signal to Noise album. The song's memorable theme will return later in the recording.
"Snowswept" is the first album standout. A progressive rock ballad-style tune fronted by Sylvia's delicate lead vocal, the accessible melody is balanced by a very crisp rhythm part. Harmony vocal layers add great texture to the song's crescendo. The album's selection of light acoustic guitar backed numbers includes "Kansas Regrets," initially sung just by guest Tim Bowness (of No-Man) and later joined by Sylvia's light harmony layer. The flute led instrumental section of the song is just breathtaking.
"Red Leaves" picks up where "Snowswept" completed. A piano-based melody provides the foundation for Sylvia's sensitively delivered stunning lead and additional vocal layers. A splendorous guitar solo opens a powerful instrumental break that continues with a vast keyboard passage. The song concludes combining the full range of White Willow's instrumental power with layers of Sylvia's stunning vocals.
"Floor 67" is another album standout combining thematic accessibility with progressive rock interludes. Sylvia's crystalline vocals lead the central melody, backed by the band's robust keyboard, guitar and rhythm section when singing. Instrumental breaks are enthusiastically played and powerful with amazing guitar, flute and bass excursions but fortunately are never overdone. The variations between light acoustic arrangement and powerful rock that recur within the ten minute track are outstanding. The well-arranged and rhythmic White Willow instrumental "Natasha" highlights the band's virtuosity and provides an excellent bridge to the album's next three tracks.
"Searise" is the album's thirteen minute epic opened with Sylvia's vocalise and acoustic guitar before the lyrical part begins. Transitions between lyrical and variations of angular, warmer and lighter progressive instrumental passages are very smoothly executed. "Searise" will be a tremendous performed on stage live.
The instrumental "A Rumor of Twilight" provides the primarily acoustic guitar and vocalise (or is it keyboard) interlude to the album's concluding track. Terminal Twilight concludes with an unusually styled track entitled "The Howling Wind." Listen to the crisp percussion underneath flute, keyboard and guitar arrangements as well as the massive tempo shifts. A brief passage of Jacob's Beatlesque vocals enter the song more than mid-way through that add contrast within this primarily instrumental track.
Terminal Twilight is an album of amazing diversity, oustanding musicianship and stunning vocal work.
White Willow have delivered an oustanding sixth album, one that is certain to continue earning them significant worldwide acclaim.