Dimension 5 / Terra Collection / Terra Teleportica, Terra Profunda, Terra Esoterica

We now turn to the back “half” of Dimension 5’s Terra Collection. The previous two incenses were originally planned for review when I was expecting the Terra Collection to include four incenses, but Josh Matthews managed to get a new entry in under the wire, one which actually fits in pricewise between the two previously reviewed.

Terra Teleportica is simply unearthly. I am sort of reminded by how one would place microphones or speakers in a room for recording or listening to music and how the placement can so quickly alter perception or the sound of music. It is the “placement” of the ingredients in the Dimension 5 incenses which is often one of the most impressive things about them because while the mix of elements does describe a combination, I like how often and how easy it is to really get the separate elements of the ingredients in Josh’s incense. This has a really marvelous oud oil in the mix with agarwood, sandalwood, resins and other ingredients. Although spice is not listed I do get some feeling of that, probably through the oud, and you can definitely feel the resins at the bottom of the mix. I didn’t get it until the second or third stick, but the resins here also seem to help create something of an apricot or fruit note, although here they blend nicely into the spice. The sandalwood feels a bit more lightly placed than in some of the other Dimension 5 incenses but not to where it disappears and more towards where it connects everything together. But beyond all this is just a feeling that what is speaking the loudest is the complexity of the fantastic ingredients, the depth of the woods and the oils from the woods. When I first got into agarwood incenses and experienced some early ones I felt like I had a sort of vision of this ancient grandfather tree where the whorls and knots of the wood were so infinitely complex that you could follow them like a labyrinth. That’s the sort of experience you will find in an incense like Terra Teleportica, it is literally an aromatic feast that that will tickle one’s subconscious and memory functions. Incredibly well done, and a tribute to Josh’s own skills improving more and more as his creativity produces new treats.

If there is sandalwood in the Terra Profunda it would have to fall under “other” category and therefore shifts this a bit over from many of the Dimension 5 incenses where it is named. In fact when I lit this the first thing I thought was mm spices, and then went to look at the ingredients and found these as well as agarwood, oud and resins. Overall there seems to be a bit of a marriage between the resin content and the fruitiness of the oud oil and given that I could compare the actual oil, I noticed that it has been dialed back to be an equal player in this clever little blend. I might say there is actually a bit more woodiness from the actual agarwood, but it doesn’t overwhelm. I had some apple vibes from this, some level of cinnamon, star anise and pepper pizazz in there somewhere and an overall feeling of freshness that I appreciated a lot. It reminded me a little of when you open one of those dry packages of Quaker apple cinnamon oatmeal on a cold day. It allows the resin to perhaps sing a bit more than the other blends it is included in. I would guess there is some level of good frankincense or one of the more piquant gums to allow this. I think the skill here is allowing a higher quality of wood to sing in perhaps slightly less powerful quantities letting it sit nicely next to the other elements rather than dominate. But part of it is that this is a very fine oud in the base, one that has a great deal of complexity on its own and like many of the Dimension 5 incenses, it is maybe that fifth dimension that really gives you so much to appreciate.

The resins are also listed in Terra Esoterica but I don’t smell them quite so much, or rather they seem less of the more citrusy type resins. I’m sort of reminded at the way some Japanese frankincense sticks kind of go in an apricot direction and with the woods, the mix has some level of turpentine. This incense has an actually remarkably different profile to my nose from the rest of the collection, and everything else listed includes agarwood, oud and sandalwood. Some of the woodiness of this one actually brings some different subnotes that I’m not as used to, an almost earthier sort of scent, dry soil, clay, subnotes of peat and so forth. The incense even has something like an oakmoss note, so overall all of these elements kind of come together in an ancient, untouched deep jungle sort of way. The oud that goes into this one is a bit more dangerous than in the previous incenses in that it has some of the sort of animalistic or slightly fecal-like notes a lot of ouds can have, so it’s a bit of a tribute to Josh’s skill that that element does not show up in the incense, just the really fine aspects of the wood, of which there are a multitude. As all of the Latin names go in this collection, this one certainly deserves the appellation of esoteric as it really dives deep into some fairly cool and new territories. Of all the incenses this is one that really feels like it needs time to unfold to speak its treasures.

Overall the Terra Collection may be the finest of Josh’s work although I would guess only until the next collection. These are honestly some of the most complex, deluxe sticks of incenses you can buy and I really feel like I could burn another dozen sticks before really feeling like I’ve listened closely enough because not only are the incenses complex in their compounds but each ingredient is as well, and at times it can be bewildering just to catch everything spiraling out from the smoke. If you are interested in any of these fascinating incenses or any of the previously reviewed sticks (see the Reviews Index for previous entries or click on the Dimension 5 category), please contact Josh at dimension5incense@gmail.com.

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Mike’s Top Ten Incenses and Lines of 2021

So this is my first top 10 since ORS restarted and rather than doing a straight ten incenses, which would have been difficult in such a busy review year, I wanted this to be a mix of lines, companies and incenses that truly enchanted me in the last year and gave me the aromatic experiences I was hoping for. As such it isn’t really possible to throw in a photo with everything on this list (some of these companies and lines would fill a screen on their own), so all of the links will go to either reviews that will have specific photos or to the company categories which will be sorted for multiple reviews (with photos). If you’re interested in purchasing any of these either follow the links to the reviews/category searches or use the Reviews Index to find more specific lists from each particular outfit where you will also be able to find links to the sources. Oh and I should mention that Stephen will also be posting a top 10 soon as well! Please feel free to use the comments section here to post your own favorites for the year. Thank you to everyone I have talked to and collaborated with in 2021 and recently, new friends, people who pitched in samples from their own generosity, all who contributed incenses for reviews, everyone who took the time to provide their own reviews and comments of incenses this year, etc etc. Special thanks to new ORS staff writer and good friend Stephen as well! All of this goes to helping ORS become a better resource for the incense fan and you are all very much appreciated.

  1. Wara Monastery Incense. My number one incense of 2021 was literally a runaway. Honestly if I was to do an all-time incense list it would still be hard pressed to beat. I discovered this incense at incensetraditions.ca in 2021 and I am something like 4 sticks away from my fifth roll of this utterly mystifying and unique blend. I burn it nearly every night and it’s almost like an addiction now, I go up to the bedroom to read a bit before I settle down and nearly always light a stick. I am one of those people who are somewhat skeptical about the effects of incenses beyond smelling good, but this one is so vastly under my skin that I do indeed wonder if there’s some sort of secret Tibetan drug in the mix that screams “buuuurn me!!! BUUUUURN MEEEE” every time I sit down. I have been able to listen to it roll after roll and see each one changes slightly, I remember on my third roll wondering if it might have taken a bit of a dive only for the next one to come roaring back. What can I say about it? It’s just Wara really, I don’t even know if it has a subclass except that it has a resinous quality that is somewhat analogous to aloeswoods along with a mix of a million other things that created a wonderful tanginess and spiciness that I find endless fascinating and yes soothing as well. It is a bit of dangerous blend and it may not be to everyone’s tastes but there may be something in the impossibility of classifying it that makes me come back to it constantly.
  2. The Kourindo line. Japan Incense is still the marvelous and extraordinary #1 importer of Japanese incense into the US and one of their latest “gets” is this 11-flavor line of Kourindo’s incenses. In my opinion this line is gorgeous from top to bottom and as of a couple of days ago I finally gave myself the holiday treat of the KourindaiKyara, which may be the finest of kyara incenses along with Baieido’s Kyara Kokoh and not including the Nippon Kodos that noone can afford. I have been having this ongoing conversation with Josh Matthews on this particular line because where in other companies and lines one might immediately find out which ones you like the best, this is a very difficult line to choose from simply because they’re all fantastic. I might start with either of the two middle-high incenses, the Kodaikourin and Jinkourin, because they are startlingly complex in a way that stays at about the same level until you hit the kyara. But then there’s the Jyakourin Musk which is really like no other incense in any other line and one might also want to travel into the rather impressive low end before bouncing back to the near top and going for the spicy, square cut of the Saikourin. They’re all a bit thicker than the normal Japanese style, which seems to give them a little more power, which is always a good thing in my book. In the end, like me, you may want them all.
  3. Absolute Bliss/White Lotus Oudh Saffron. Corey of Absolute Bliss whipped out this variant of their Oudh Saffron incense when I least expected it and I was utterly bewitched by whatever is making up the floral component of it. It started this train in my mind of what happens when you “floralize” a woody stick. There’s something about the mix of this that adds a lot of complementary subnotes, no less this sort of minty vibe that threads its way through the middle like its sewing everything together. It is probably one of the most deluxe Indian sticks currently available at the time and it might be one of the best charcoal-based incenses I’ve ever sampled. As I implied with Wara, my main reasoning for inclusion on this chart is simply just how much I reach for a stick because I need this scent right now.
  4. Absolute Bliss/Natural Beauty. My brother Stephen spoke very highly of this one for quite a while before I got to try it, but in Corey’s first batch back the supplies of this were highly limited, so it wasn’t until his second that I got to stock up fully on this utterly wonderful scent. For one thing, I think this second batch might have used a bit more halmaddi than the first because it struck me as a bit softer. But even with that sweet middle what you come to this one for is the mix of woods that front an almost perfect cedarwood note. It is literally one of the best incenses on the market now, and if you like cedarwood in any way I strongly urge you to check it out. Like everything I discuss here it’s a “reach for it” classic. At any time it could move up a spot or two on this list.
  5. Temple of Incense/Absolute Sandalwood and so many others. While the British importer Temple of Incense opened their doors during ORS’s hibernation, we were not aware of their presence until reader Peter Bartlett alerted us. This sent ORS staff into a buying frenzy over culminating months to try everything in this gigantic stable of incenses (well over 50 I believe), which, in some ways feels like an expansion of the Happy Hari and Absolute Bliss imports. First of all, the Absolute Sandalwood absolutely took my breath away, being markedly the most accurate-to-scent sandalwood incense on the market at the moment, bringing back memories of the old days when it was not an endangered wood, meaning it was either duplicated rather well or someone came across old stores. But it wasn’t just this, but the three super thick stick glories of Shiv, Ganesha, and Shakti; the weird glories of the blue Electric Musk, and the gorgeous beauty of Tulsi among so many others that have made this company one of the best Indian incense importers in the world. And it doesn’t hurt that the service and great energy of the Aydee family make one feel very comfortable supporting such a fine outfit.
  6. Mermade Magickal Arts/Sweet Medicine and so many others. When ORS was in hibernation I often wonder what treasures I must have missed from Katlyn Breene and Mermade when my attention wasn’t turned their way. In a field where so many incense companies and creators come and go, vanishing into the mists of time, I can honestly say that I have been experiencing Mermade creations since some time in the late 90s and have experienced an overwhelming and bewildering array of incredible incenses with something like a 95%+ hit rate. Katlyn has never showed any signs of slowing down, not to mention continuously and steadily improving her sense of craft and prowess. She is now a mentor to so many other nascent incense creators and I am often just amazed at what her creative genius will dream up next. This year she not only found a cool shortcut to being able to increase and vary her kyphi incenses but she has also dipped into South American, Tibetan and other styles of incense, all bearing her creative stamp in all the best ways. Perhaps my favorite of the year and worth listing here because it has become one of her revolving staples, is the propolis and sweetgrass based Sweet Medicine, which is so lovely you might be able to replace candy with it.
  7. Espirit de la Nature/Mother’s – Ancient Winters Remembrance. Another wonderfully skilled magician of scent hails from Canada and often collaborates with Katlyn, selling some of her incenses through Mermade and many others through her own imprint Espirit de la Nature. It is one thing to find incense creators out there who create their own blends, another to find someone with as distinctive a creative stamp as the work of Bonnie (Be) Kerr. Incense from EdlN is not merely an experience of combinations but a presentation of the voices of botanics and fungi, with a quiet resolution encouraged by careful crafting and a number of ingredients that are not often common in incenses. I was first introduced a year or two back to Bonnie’s skill with larch resin, in an incense that had all the depth impact of a great agarwood stick, but this was only the first in a long series of amazing and bewitching scents that I eagerly grab when I have the opportunity (I will only add that at Mermade these fly off the shelves, so you need to get in early). I have two new ones sitting here that I haven’t even had the time to heat up yet but in the previous batch was the astonishing Mother’s incense which was an evergreen incense with a different slant to those you often find from Katlyn’s, all of which show Bonnie’s art as ever improving, becoming more impressive with further new creations. Oh and there was the incense cones, showing another wonderful innovation. I would guess like with Katlyn, Espirit de la Nature would be likely to be on every ORS top 10 from me going forward, she’s that good! Be sure to visit her own site and check in as she has all sorts of incenses I haven’t even been able to try yet, undoubtedly a veritable cornucopia of brilliance.
  8. Drigung Monastery / Drigung Fragrant Incense. – So if I was to have a potential follow up to my obsession with Wara Monastery incense it would probably be Drigung Fragrant Incense. This isn’t to say I haven’t tried and reviewed a cavalcade of great Tibetan incenses this year thanks to the wonderful incensetraditions.ca, but this is another in the “reach for it” category that I have tried restocking and storing as well. However, I am not sure of the viability of this stick moving forward, simply in that the sticks have apparently gotten a bit more fragile over the year and are not reaching North America in mostly one piece. So in terms of the availability of this I would definitely get in touch with Hart over at the store. But scent wise I think this a good example of the sort of vegetable imitating animal scent that seems to be the puzzle we often have over some Tibetans these days in that they have musk or civet sorts of tones while purportely not harming and of the animals in the production. I like this one’s overall sort of musk hit, it’s kind of like a tweak on Mindroling grade A incense in a direction I like more.
  9. Dimension 5 Line. I was pleased to watch Josh Matthews high end craft sticks start to reach a market this year. Josh has a creative urgency that combined with a deep aesthetic and understanding of fine woods and oils have begun several lines of incenses that actually DO use fine woods, ouds and other ingredients (rather than including these ingredients in descriptions and leaving us to guess over the provenance). While this undoubtedly puts a higher cost on the sticks, it is commensurate with the prices also put on the ingredients and so in some ways if it’s not something of a first, at least it is a first in terms of having them generally available (rather than being part of an operation that tends to be something of a rush to place an order in a small time frame like a few other really good small companies use as a model). I also have to say that I have learned an incredible amount about fine materials from Josh, which I’m sure will be trickling into my own reviewing as time goes on, and I have enjoyed our ongoing conversations. But I do think Josh and Dimension 5 are well worth keeping an eye on as time moves forward because as with Katlyn and Bonnie, he already has a fine sense of aesthetics that is only likely to keep improving with experience. If you want to try something that is remiscent of Japanese incenses but often just as high end or more, be sure to check his work out. Right now it’s hard to even pitch one as they’re all at the same consistent level and each new one I try is a marvel.
  10. Kida Jinseido/Ikuhokoh. The problem with doing a top 10 of a year is sometimes the front end gets away from you and I was actually confusing Kida Jinseido when trying to find a Kikijudo incense to put on here when I realized I had missed a biggie on my list that I haven’t burned in a little while simply since it’s out of rotation but nearly went through a large roll of it early in the year. This is something of an analog to Shunkohdo’s great Ranjatai a sort of mid to high end aloeswood blend with a lot of fine materials. If I had done this list halfway through the year it could have been a lot higher up the list.

Here are a number of runners up, all of these were mostly new incenses I discovered and really enjoyed or old favorites that are still part of a heavier rotation. Please use the above-linked Reviews Index if you need to find any of these if and until when I find the time to link em up: Kikijudo/Kouboku Ginmi/Sandalwood India; Absolute Bliss – Floating Lotus Flower, Forbidden Fruit, Bholenath, Bengali Jungle Flora; Happy Hari – Oud Masala, Niyama Sutra; Pure Incense – Connoisseur Opium, Connoisseur Blue Lotus & Musk; Baieido – Kyara Kokoh; Kunmeido – Asuka; Kyukyodo – Fuyu No Yoru; Nippon Kodo – Kyara Heian; Seikado – Kyara Koh Hien; Shunkohdo – Kyara Houzan; Tennendo – Propolis; Yamadamatsu – Shuju series, Hojo “Kyara Firebird” line, Kumoyi, Ouju; Aba Prefecture – Agarwood Heart of Shambhala, Gang-Zi Nunnery Incense.

Dimension 5 / Terra Enchantica, Terra Conundra

Dimension 5’s Terra Collection (pictured above) is what one would have to consider the Dimension 5 high end in the sense that even the individual 3″ sticks here come in in the teens in pricing from top to bottom. As Josh Matthews puts it, “The Terra Collection features unique and extraordinary agarwoods and ouds. Each one presents a striking and exotic scent profile, highlighting the specific agarwood or agarwood/oud combo.” Josh uses the real thing in these sticks. When you read about something like an oud in an Indian stick, you can be assured that the creators are either making a little go a long way or they’re using their creative skills to approximate one, but the Terra sticks are created with real oud and therefore bear the appreciating costs of highlighting oils of this expense. Even small quantities of real oud can go for $100s. So these are absolutely in the realm of delicacies. Josh was also kind enough to provide a trace amount of the actual oudhs in these sticks so it would be easier to review them, but this also means I can confirm their presence. All of these incenses include agarwood, oud, sandalwood and spices and most also have some resins in them as well.

When I first got some samples from Josh both of the two incenses I am reviewing in this first installment were included, so I’m able to sense their development as well. Both of these sticks strike me as having quite a bit of fine sandalwood in the mix which I think probably helps to highlight the oudh oils or woods in different ways. Sandalwood is also notoriously a strong part of any good base. Unlike some of the other incenses I’ve reviewed in the line, however, I think the presence of actual oud oil is definitely more prevalent in the sticks that have it than in most of the other Dimension 5 lines. I once bought an oud sampler many years ago and really enjoyed trying them and so dipping into the ouds themselves to compare brought back some good memories.

The mix of woods and sandalwood oil featured in Terra Enchantica is one that really has some great woody and fruity notes. The wood notes sit very nicely next to the sandalwood oil (and there should be some sandalwood wood too), but I also very much like the mix of spices that is being use at the bottom as they feel really intelligently placed alongside these other notes. Enchantica is actually the bottom of the Terra line in price (although it looks like it’s tied with Terra Teleportica, which was a more recent addition to the collection and will be reviewed next installment) but it’s already quite spectacular. In speaking to Josh, it was also mentioned that the agarwood itself also tends to a bit of a sandalwood scent as well, so I think it’s a very good example of how agarwood can drift into other profiles as well. While you get a huge sandalwood presence through the middle, there are a lot of more playful notes that are really quite different from the usual Japanese stick and I think you have to credit the fine sandalwood oil for this sort of feel. The note that actually strikes me the most is this sense of apricot in the foreground. Overall this is a very nice example of how you can say this is sort of on the lighter side, but without really losing any complexity whatsoever and that is a refreshing change indeed.

The oud being used in Terra Conundra is a fine, balanced example of such an oil, rich, complex, and multi-faceted, bearing everything from the sort of wilder notes all the way to fruity top notes. However taking a quick sniff of the oud and going back to the stick not only confirms the identification but also shows there’s quite a bit of actual fine agarwood boosting this as well. It is a very different stick from the Terra Enchantica, journeying into some more traditional woody territories, while having a unique touch of spice. In fact I’d say historically, Terra Conundra has really improved from early batches into a very fine incense indeed. Instead of just the many notes from the oudh on its own, you now have a great deal of interplay with the woods and whatever other mix of ingredients that are helping to balance this out. There is so much going on in this stick it’s almost overwhelming, it’s even starting to approach some of the complexities of fine Japanese agarwood and kyara sticks. It’s also a very fragile stick so keep that it mind when handling. And absolutely do not leave your area when this is going, this is not the sort of incense you use to generally add scent to your environment, it is designed specifically to pay attention to. One can really only imagine a world when you could get 50 sticks in a tube of something this intense, one might not buy anything else.

If you are interested in any of these incenses or previously reviewed sticks, please contact Josh at dimension5incense@gmail.com. Next installment, likely to be posted some time in January, will include the other three Terra sticks. To all of our readers thank you for paying attention and enjoy your holidays!

Dimension 5 / Voyager, Ottoman Empire, Ethyl Phenethyl

The three incenses here, along with the previously reviewed Urrere Unlimited and Tibet With Love, are all part of Dimension 5’s “Eclectic Collection” (all five pictured above). This seems quite fairly described as there’s a lot of diversity in style across this group, a range that really touches on a lot of scent areas. When Josh sent me the first samples I received of his work, two of them were early versions of both Ottoman Empire and Voyager, so I also got a chance to see how his recipes evolved over time, although it wasn’t until later that I got to see the approximate recipes.

With Voyager, you get a list of sandalwood, agarwood, frankincense, spices, resins and others, but as Josh describes, the incense is essentially “frankincense forward.” Voyager reminds me of a lot of the Japanese frankincense sticks, not only the Minorien and Tennendo sticks but the Shoyeido Incense Road as well, like the profile shares aspects of all of them. In this sense it would be sort of the frankincense on wood of the Minorien, a bit of the sort of banana tang you find in the Tennendo (although I notice this a little bit more in the original recipe, the piquancy is a bit mellower here) and a bit of the confectionary like sweetness you would fine in the Incense Road. As in many of the Dimension 5 incenses, Voyager has a very noticeable high quality sandalwood in the mix, one that peaks its way out in what I assume is Mysore glory. Obviously at a more luxury price it is the additional elements that complement the Frankincense that are the draw here over the other more affordable frankincenses made for the US market, although compared to a lot of other Dimension 5 incenses the agarwood is dialed back a bit. But overall I can’t really think of a sort of deluxe Japanese-style frankincense incense that has this more luxury take and so Voyager is actually quite unique. And the more you use it, the more you will see some other interesting things pop out from its profile.

With Ottoman Empire, you are more or less instantly reminded of fine Turkish rose oils. I’m not sure what the specific scent is but it strikes me as a fine absolute (it is actually a specific essential oil so I am adding this note on 12/3). Although it is listed second it may be the scent’s real primary note. With agarwood, sandalwood and other spices in the mix it’s probably not shocking that this is going to be reminiscent of ouds in a surface sense, however this feels a bit less wet or oil/perfume based and more of a dry wood kind of thing. The difference between the earlier version I received and the one being reviewed here is the balance has been adjusted for the better and it feels like the new one has a bit stronger of an agarwood presence, which means it is balancing quite nicely with the rose being used. I’ve said this before but often Dimension 5 incenses will elicit a wow out of me. Like if I have this routine where I light a stick, and then say check an email or something, the aroma will hit me and for a second I’ll forget what I lit and be wow that’s really good. Ottoman Empire is one of these. There’s some very fine aloeswood in this one, the kind of higher end wood that tends to have more of a personality, but that mix of it, the sandalwood and the rose essential oil melts really nicely with whatever spice part of the blend that gives it a nice tertiary deepness to it. A really gorgeous stick and one that after burning a few sticks of the original blend and a few of the new blend, I’ve gotten to know really well.

Ethyl Phenthyl could possibly be the most chemical name I’ve seen for what seems like such an organic sort of stick. The alcohol appears to be used in perfume, and I looked up some rose and honey descriptions of it, and for sure there is a really honey-ish note in this intriguing stick. But given the list of ambergris, agarwood, sandalwood, orris and others, it’s really that list of notes nearly in that order that is what is really featured here. The ambergris is exquisitely lovely on this, salty and rich, but I found that in some of the sticks, when it hits the sandalwood pockets, the incense is really arresting in how it profiles how great that note is and I would assume it’s because the orris (extract?) is melded so closely with it. Orris is something I’ve never quite checked out on its own yet, but when it pops up in incense it seems floral and yet deep at the same time, imparting a note that’s all too unique (it strikes me as a bit violet-like). So there is really a ton going on in this one, because I got through all of that without talking much about the agarwood, which also does really weave it’s way in here nicely. All of this is just further testament of Josh’s improving skill with melding a wide array of aromatics with deep complexity, and this is another that is a real joy to listen to. I’m starting to do that thing where I’m like no maybe THIS one is my favorite Dimension 5.

If you are interested in any of these incenses or previously reviewed sticks, please contact Josh at dimension5incense@gmail.com. In many ways the Eclectic Collection is really a wonderful place to start in his catalog as it shows such great diversity, as well as some really unique incenses that aren’t particularly common in the field. Stay tuned as I will hopefully be getting to his Terra Collection in a couple of installments later this month.

Dimension 5 / Urrere Unlimited

One of the sad parts about resuscitating ORS earlier this year was that the man who was practically my original partner in running the site passed away not long after I announced the site’s return. ORS might not exist if it wasn’t for Ross Urrere. Historically, this site started when I started posting about incense on my own blog. Ross joined in quite a bit and then there was some discussion about actually breaking off the incense part of the blog and creating something independent. Ross agreed to start writing, christened the site fairly quickly and off we went for many years. Ross also was interested in making his own incense and over the years went from afficionado to a revered creator in his own right. Ross was very generous and kept me fairly well supplied with samples of his incenses like Ocean of Night, Comfort, Souked Aloeswood or Sandalwood with Ambergris, all of which were brilliant. I am sad that I have completely run out of Ocean of Night even though, I was probably the benefactor of 4 or 5 vintages of it, but I do remember it fairly well (there is some truth that the inspiration to start up the site again came from revisiting a lot of vintage incenses that I actually ran out by the time I pressed go). Ocean of Night was a remarkable incense, almost sui generis from an incense standpoint, with an oakmoss presence that really set it apart from many of the heatables on the market. And I know I wasn’t the only fan of it, in fact I’ve never met anyone who didn’t like his incense work, a work I might add that was informed by studying perfume as well. In fact it is his friends in Mandy Aftel’s circle who inherited Ross’ recipes and I can certainly say for myself I look forward to the day that these return to availability.

Another appreciator of Ocean of Night is Josh Matthews at Dimension 5 who actually created this really wonderful tribute to Ross, an incense that includes Ocean of Night as an ingredient in the blend (as well as a tiny touch of the original in order to suss it out in his blend). We did make sure to OK it with Ross’ inheritors and very much appreciate their graciousness in allowing Josh to offer this wonderful stick of incense. So first of all, Ocean of Night included sandalwood, oakmoss, frankincense and the usual unlisted herbs, resins, spices and woods. To create Urrere Unlimited Josh uses Vietnamese and New Guinea agarwood, as well as other spices, including cardamom. Just reading this again, I like the idea a lot to use this unique spice in the mix. If Ocean of Night included any agarwood it was largely marginal so this uniquely crafted stick that actually marries that scent to fine aloeswood is a perfect tribute. I like the unique take of matching up the cardamom spice with the oakmoss front of Ocean of Night. I also like the way Urrere Unlimited reminds me of Baieido’s Kai un Koh in its relative unsweetness as Ross was a huge fan of that stick. The aloeswood here has a nice sense of dry elegance and bitterness that I think matches the incense quite well. The blend also reminds me a lot of another favorite of Ross’s, Shunkohdo’s Ranjatai. All of these things make me feel like Ross would have appreciated this stick very much. And overall there is a lot to listen to, after a few sticks I think you’re very likely to sense a lot more of what is going on than just the surface.

Like Tibet With Love, Urrere Unlimited is also part of Dimension 5’s Eclectic Collection sampler. Reviews of the final three scents in this sampler as well as a new batch of incenses called The Terra Collection are all forthcoming here, but are all now available. If you are interested in any of these incenses or previously reviewed sticks, please contact Josh at dimension5incense@gmail.com. I will say again that these are wonderful treats for the incense connoisseur, made from a collection of very fine materials, many of which rarely show themselves in stick form. In that sense many of these are completely unique in the market.

Dimension 5 / Tibet With Love

Somewhere in probably 2007 when I first started writing about incense, I made an order from a company who I won’t name – let’s say I didn’t order from them again – who sent me an unnamed sample or two, one of which my whole brain just leaped on. I never ended up being able to tell if it was a Korean premium or a Baieido incense, but it had a certain woody tang to it that was almost instantly addictive. I feel to some extent that Dimension 5’s Tibet With Love scratches that same itch. [11/17: Oh and here’s the brand new label!]

This little marvel of a stick impressed just on lighting it, I think I probably swore a few times in delight. Where Josh Matthews has created a lot of Japanese-influenced incense sticks, this is the first I’ve tried that is something of a tribute to Tibetan incense, but it turns out to be a whole lot more than that. I find it to be something like an aloeswood-infused hybrid of a mix of styles that reminds me of the Bosen-style Tibetan sticks, Korean incense (particularly this sort of tanginess) and a bit of the Japanese style as well. Josh describes this as “A musky cornucopia of Tibetan-style goodness, exploding off the stick. These sticks are much fatter than my Japanese style incense – but not as fat as many other Tibetan-style incenses.” This is true, the sticks still seem to be thinner than the Bosen style and maybe analagous to some of the Kourindo sticks in thickness (and they’re also a bit longer than the D5 standard at four inches). The ingredients list includes sandalwood, juniper, agarwood, herbs, spices, resins and others. It’s strange for me because where so many of Josh’s sticks are more agarwood heavy and deluxe, this one just scratches so many itches and hits an area where so few have gone before that I think it’s a perfect example of his creativity at work. There are a bazillion things going on it in the sense that you can sense that entire list of ingredients in so many ways, all of the woods are clear (although the agarwood is out in front a bit), the resins nice and fruity and the spices an utterly delight to the senses. I really, really love this one.

It’s worth mentioning that this is on the more affordable side of the D5 incense price spectrum and thus maybe a perfect entry point into checking out the work of this extraordinary artist. You can reach Josh and Dimension 5 Incense for more information as well as the purchase of these and other delectable treats at dimension5incense@gmail.com. More to come as well, thankfully.

Dimension 5 / Old World Japan, Mirage, Cloud Ten, Mezmer-25

It’s a rare pleasure for me to introduce a new talent to ORS, in this case the talents of incense creator Josh Matthews. Josh is a long-time reader of ORS who got in contact with me shortly after reopening and began sharing his incense creations with me. I have a philosophy with ORS that I don’t really want to review too many incenses where readers will open up a page read excitedly about some new incense I am enthusing over only to find out that the incenses are unavailable or discontinued. But this sort of belies the fact that there are a number of boutique incense creators who make really fine incenses that never find their way to these pages, in fact some of them open up availability on them for what is essentially hours. And I think you might find that Josh’s Dimension 5 (whose door is now opening) may very well end up as this type of seller, once people get wind of his creations. First of all let me share some information about how he works…

“I’ve been collecting premium agarwoods, sandalwoods, top-shelf aged oud oils, and other exotic aromatic delights for many years. These are small, handmade batches of luxury incense that showcase some of the finest materials I have. I develop these formulas for high and refined olfactory pleasure, arising from meditative absorption in the experience they offer. Generally speaking they are not intended for casual background scenting of a room (for instance, I often only burn ¼” to 1/2” of these incenses at a time).”

Josh’s incenses are 3″ long and most of them seem to be at about the same thinness as the thinnest of Japanese sticks, most of which are modelled on this style. If I was to pick out one almost overarching theme of all of his incenses, the four here and some other experiments that I have tried, it would be how fresh all the elements smell and perhaps secondarily how much resolution and separation is involved in them. Whether it’s sandalwood, agarwood or anything else you can always tell they are really high quality ingredients with an impressive amount of resolution. Just in conversation with Josh I’ve been told the expenses of some of the ingredients that go into these incenses. It’s not just a matter that the ingredients here are high quality but many of them have specific and unique personalities. You are essentially looking at what I would call high end Japanese-style or maybe something like Japanese-tribute incenses and they are priced accordingly. These are incenses definitely not to light and find something else to do, they demand all your attention and are rare treats. [NOTE 11/19/21: The pictures below are from before Dimension 5’s new labelling, the latter of which can be seen in the top picture.]

I believe Old World Japan might not only be the first I tried of his incenses several months ago but it is the first of four that Josh is offering for sale. Listed are agarwood, sandalwood, spices, herbs, resins and others and it is really a panoply for your senses. You easily get both woods, both very fine and high quality, layered in with a number of other notes. It feels like maybe there’s some star anise, clove and maybe something a bit more peppery in the mix that gives one level of it something of a kick. It’s interesting to see that this one is inspired by Baieido incense as it often reminds me of some of their loose wood and spice blends. As I mentioned earlier the whole thing smells incredibly fresh and vibrant and there’s a lot of movement, from sweet to tangy and back to spice again. One might notice aristrocratic in the description of some Japanese incenses and I think that vibe is really captured well on this one. It speaks of age, maturity and balance. If you think of this as the most inexpensive of the four, it’s even more impressive as it’s already well into premium territory. And where the next three are largely wood-based first, it feels like the spices in this one are just as important a part of the bouquet – say a blend vs a wood blend, if I might split hairs.

Agarwood, sandalwood, spices and resins mark the list for Mirage, which is described as “shimmering and sweet – lavish woods and warm vibrant spices.” It actually seems to balance a bit of a dry blend before you notice the sweet middle kick in. The agarwood/sandalwood mix is really no less noble than the Old World Japan, but obviously the spice mix is much different. Once again one instantly notices the multiple notes at work here, none of these incenses really have a static mode and Mirage has plenty of activity in the wood contour area that can take your attention off the sweetness before it kicks back in again. In particular once you have a couple stick’s of Josh’s work it’s hard not to notice the central place the really fine sandalwood tends to play in most of his incenses. And it’s the fine stuff with more than enough of the old mountain resin note to tell you no expense is spared. It all adds up to a tremendously complex incense, almost like a listening session at a calculus level. As I continued to use it I started to notice some really subtle spice work, almost on the fringes of the aroma.

Cloud Ten actually lists sandalwood first, along with oud, resins and others. Josh describes this as a “Sky nectar sandalwood experience with medicinal and kinam-esque qualities.” Kinam is essentially sort of a Vietnamese name for high grade agarwood either approaching or equivalent to kyara, so we must assume some craft to approach this note is involved in this level of the incense. Now keep in mind where I have gone on record complaining a bit about low end sandalwood Japanese incenses, you really can’t make the same complaint about any of these woods in the Dimension 5 stable. All of the sandalwood here has gigantic presence very similar to what it’s like to heat high quality wood chips. And that’s just really the base here as embedded in the middle of all of this is what smells like a touch of frankincense and a really svelte oud note that provided a nice little rich tanginess as well as that resinous fruitness for the woods to bounce back and forth off of. And of course it needs saying again just how wonderfully fresh and vibrant everything feels and that repeated usage shows all sorts of intriguing subnotes that pop up. I’m particularly glad Josh launched a blend that is sandalwood fronted as he’s very creative with merging these notes with other elements.

Perhaps the crown jewel of the four is the truly astonishing Mezmer-25. Josh describes this as a “swirling, uber-decadent agarwood bomb” and it almost feels like I couldn’t describe this any better. The ingredients include agarwood, oud, sandalwood, resins and others and overall it’s just an insanely powerful hit of some of the most impressive high-end incense ingredients you are likely to find out there. It is quite simply agarwood nirvana. I know from talking to Josh that he works hard to help balance a lot of the natural wood tendencies and this is something of a masterclass at such an attempt, where fine wood, oud, what seems like a touch of musk, and other ingredients all go to pulling out the best aspects of each other. It’s the kind of scent to reach its tendrils into the consciousness parts of the brain and start pulling at your synapses. It actually took me to my third stick to really start noticing the cool sandalwood notes in this one too. A remarkable stick.

Do keep in mind that these are essentially high end treats, they’re created for maximum immersion and immediate experience, but they show the creative hand of someone really invested in not settling for low end ingredients and using the best of what’s available. I’ve been fortunate to have checked out some of Josh’s other work and the creativity is at a high level across the board and so I’m hoping that this is just the initial salvo and that you will be hearing a lot more from him. You can reach Josh and Dimension 5 Incense for more information as well as the purchase of these delectable treats at dimension5incense@gmail.com.