White Willow has, since the release of their now-legendary debut album "Ignis Fatuus" in 1995, had the highest international profile of any Norwegian prog band. The band has played all the major prog festivals, topped annual year's best polls with most of their releases, and sold more albums than any other Norwegian band in the genre. As a part of the much-touted "Third Wave" of progressive rock, alongside the Swedish bands Änglagård and Anekdoten, the band helped spearhead a rebirth of sorts of European art-rock.
White Willow has been praised both by the prog press and by Billboard, Popmatters and All About Jazz, as well as by fellow artists ranging from Cathedral's Lee Dorrian, Delerium Records' Richard Allen and No-Man's Tim Bowness to metallers Enslaved and The Soil Bleeds Black. They have also been an influence on younger bands, such as Germany's Frequency Drift, whose name stems from a White Willow lyric. After the band's 5th album for US label The Laser's Edge, 2006's "Signal to Noise", which was awarded 8/10 by Classic Rock, the band went on a hiatus that turned out to be quite lengthy.
Now they return with "Terminal Twilight", the band's sixth album. It is both a departure and a continuation in terms of White Willow's discography. The renewed emphasis on acoustic guitars and pastoral sections, the somewhat gothic, mysterious atmosphere, are all hallmarks of a sort of a "classic" White Willow sound. On the other hand, there is an added element of experimentation and playfulness, and a more daring approach to harmonics, that takes the band several leaps forward.
And for the first time White Willow has chosen to abandon the high cost/hi gloss environment of the professional studio in favour of their own attic. The album has been recorded with minimal, often primitive equipment and has been mixed with very little in the way of processing and editing. The result is a raw, real and almost live-sounding album, warts-and-all - well, relative to the band's meticulously polished last three albums, anyway.
Musically the album has the advantage of having the strongest line-up the band has ever seen. Änglagård/Pineforest Crunch drummer Mattias Olsson returns for the first time since 1998's "Ex Tenebris" and delivers some of his best drumming to date. Newcomer Ellen Andrea Wang, known from Norway's avant-rock ensemble SynKoke, anchors the album with driving, sometimes angular bass lines. And Sylvia Skjellestad (nee Erichsen) returns after a one-album hiatus with a voice that really has become THE voice of White Willow. Musical ideologists Jacob Holm-Lupo and Lars Fredrik Frøislie (Wobbler) provide their trademark sounds, the latter in the shape of avalanches of analogue keys - there is hardly a 70's keyboard that is not seeing some action on the album, and the former with aching leads and wistful acoustic fingerpicking. Ketil Einarsen, another Willow old-timer and known for his tenures with Jaga Jazzist and Motorpsycho, is ever the flute virtuoso.
In addition the band has brought in some musical friends to complete the talent pool. No-Man's Tim Bowness has provided both melody, lyrics and his beautiful voice to the poignant acoustic piece "Kansas Regrets", co-written with Holm-Lupo. Swedish post-rock/prog comets Gösta Berlings Saga have lent out keyboardist David Lundberg to great effect on "Snowswept" and "Kansas Regrets", while American avant-rock guitarist Michael S. Judge (The Nerve Institute) plays some tasty guitar leads on "Hawks Circle the Mountain".
The songs, as they often do in White Willow, straddle the lines between 'tron-drenched retro prog, gothic folk, art pop and excursions into more harmonically adventurous territories - maybe with slightly more emphasis on the latter than on previous albums.
Lyrically, the album caused songwriter Holm-Lupo some worries. "I wrote most of the songs a couple of years ago. Thematically it's almost like a sequel to our 2004 album "Storm Season", as they both share some rather apocalyptic scenery. The world ends in a lot of different ways on "Terminal Twilight". While I was mixing the album, Norway was hit by the greatest tragedy in post-war times, the terrorist bombing and shooting of July 22nd. Suddenly my lyrics seemed a little too close to home, and I actually had some misgivings about releasing the album at all. In retrospect I have come to realize that there might be - at least for myself - something a bit cathartic and therapeutic in the music. I also feel like the songs offer the occasional ray of light and hope, even if optimism isn't really White Willow's forte. But sometimes sad songs can comfort more than the happy ones."