(All Album Reviews by ffroyd)
White Willow is back and they have another winner on their hands! Their last album Storm Season was a dark and heavy masterpiece and this one shows the band traveling in a slightly different direction but it’s still unmistakably White Willow. There have been a few changes in the band but they’re still playing some of the greatest gothic prog on the planet.
The most notable difference is new lead singer Trude Eidtang. It’s not really that much of a change because she sounds exactly like their last singer. I would have never known it was a different vocalist if I didn’t read it in the bio page on the band’s web site. Her vocals may be faintly sweeter than Sylvia Erichsen’s but honestly it’s almost impossible to tell them apart. I guess it shouldn’t be a problem for Trude to perform the band’s older stuff when they play out.
Lars Fredrik Frøislie returns with his huge array of keyboards. I swear, the list of equipment he uses on this album is longer than what he had for the Wobbler debut. I’m more and more impressed with this guy each album he plays on. His playing isn’t always in the forefront of the action but he’s always there creating a beautiful atmosphere for the music.
Guitarist Jacob Holm-Lupo remains the main songwriter for the band and his playing is as great as ever. One of my favorite tracks on the album is “Splinters” which contains lots of great guitar themes and an immense Hackett-style solo near the end. I hadn’t noticed this on first listen but the album contains several instrumentals, the first “Ghost” contains lots more brilliant lead guitar work.
The rest of the band holds things down very well. The rhythm section of Marthe Berger Walthinsen on basses and Aage Moltke Schou is very tight and solid. About the only disappointment on the disc is that there is very little flute work from Ketil Einarsen. I had quite a hard time find any flute on the album at all and it was such a prominent instrument on the other albums.
Former keyboardist Brynjar Dambo (who played on the album Sacrament) makes a guest appearance on the track “Chrome Dawn”. This is one of my favorite cuts on the album and Dambo’s Moog Voyager solo simply soars above the proceedings. Really nice stuff, if I do say so myself.
Signal To Noise was produced and engineered by veteran producer Tommy Hansen, who’s famous for his involvement with bands such as Helloween, TNT and Circus Maximus. When I had first heard about this I was expecting an even heavier album than Storm Season but this is not the case. In fact I think this is a much lighter album with an almost new wave feel at times. I found that parts of it sound like some of the later Siouxsie and the Banshees albums. Check out the track “Dusk City”, a free download from the bands official web site or The Laser’s Edge, for a taste of what I’m talking about.
The band has gone through lots of changes over the years. They’ve almost abandoned the folk-influenced style of their early albums but they’ve managed to retain their own signature sound. I’m sure Signal To Noise will be on many favorite lists for the year. I know it will be on mine.
(All Album Reviews by Windhawk)
(originally written for www.prog4you.com)
White Willow hails from Norway, and Signal To Noise is their fifth release in 11 years. And for me, this release became a strange one to review.
When I review albums, I usually spin through the CDs a couple of times first, usually as background music while at work. And after giving this one a few spins, I could hardly wait for the time to come to sit down, listen closely and write a review. Dark and melancholic music, good female vocalist, and moments of pure beauty that made me stop working to listen. And being Norwegian, I looked forward to be able to write a killer review for a Norwegian band as well.
Musically; I really don't know where to place White Willow. As mentioned, their songs have a lot of darkness in them, lots of melancholic moods as well as a brooding darkness that is used to good effect in parts of most songs on this release. And of course the beauty of Trude Eidtang's vocals, creating a good contrast to the darker musical backdrop.
When it comes to musical style, we're on the border between rock and hard rock here, with lots of elements from goth rock as well as parts of songs that deeply reminds me of the musical territory groups like REM explores. And White Willow effectively use keyboards to create textures in the soundscape as well as to let it be the central instrument in parts of songs, creating and dissolving moods and atmospheres with great skill.
What I found wanting on this release were the killer songs. The songs that on closer listening grabbed your mind and held it until the song finished. Lots of good songs on display here, but none of the killer tracks. And a bit too many that really didn't fascinate me.
The album starts off well though. The first three tracks are good, "Night Surf" with it's hypnotizing and haunting keyboard playing and catchy melodies, the contrasts in soundscape and generally dark and brooding atmospheres of "Splinters", and the eerie and haunting sounds of instrumental track "Ghosts".
"Joyride" is an upbeat good mood rocker that sounds generic and anonymous, for me creating a void instead of a nice contrast in mood on this album. "The Lingering" has lots of good parts, good atmospheres, but lingers on for much too long, ultimately becoming boring. "The Dark Road" is a ballad, and as with "Joyride" it sounds too generic and anonymous in my ears. Instrumental track "Chrome Dawn" lacks drive in my opinion, and the parts that are explored here just aren't interesting enough.
"Dusk City" is the highlight of the album as I see it. The verse part of the song again is a bit anonymous, but the chorus...I could have put the chorus part on this song on repeat, listening to it over and over again. Just pure genius - lots of drive, lots of emotion, the beautiful voice of Trude Eidtang and a mighty and rich soundscape. "Ararat" is a short instrumental ending the album on a more quiet note; were the guitar and synth creates an interesting atmosphere for 90 seconds or so that tune lasts.
So, alas, my killer review of a Norwegian band will have to happen in the future. This is a good, but somewhat uneven release. In my opinion.
Reviewer: Olav Björnsen