Absolute Bliss, Happy Hari / Absolute Sandalwood, King of Saffron, King of Sandal, Oudh Saffron, White Lotus Oudh Saffron (new versions)

Absolute Bliss has recently gotten in a big restock and while I’m not entirely sure if this covers everything with significant scent differences (I am told there is also King of Musk which I would have absolutely jumped on had I known), it definitely covers five sticks that range from slight to significant improvements in aroma.

The first, Absolute Sandalwood, was enough of a trainwreck that I didn’t review it originally. Corey at Absolute Bliss is basically as aware as we are when something ships over that is not up to snuff, so in that sense I don’t really relish a blistering review of something we all know isn’t good. The new version of Absolute Sandalwood may not be the greatest sandalwood every extruded but it presents a really unique sort of woodshop-like take on it. Where the previous version did not get this mix right in the slightest, this new one actually really started to intrigue me after a few sticks. Think of that mix of turpentine, glue and fresh wood dust you’d get in a shop and then kinda bolster that with some level of sandalwood in the mix and you’re onto what this one smells like. I’m sitting here with my third stick from a 10g package and actually really starting to like it, in the sense that it’s actually complex but the complexity is almost like these specific woodshop elements one at a time. It has a strange quality of richness with these elements that elsewhere might not be to a lot of people’s tastes. So while I’d probably caution one not to go hogwild, I would also highly recommend checking out a small package of it to see if it’s your speed. I’m actually starting to love it.

King of Saffron is not the King of Saffron I remember from many years ago when Paul Eagle was running the shop – that stick I remember being brown and very different from this one. The current King of Saffron should be familiar to those with some experience with Indian incense as it’s essentially the very thin, extruded, yellow dusted stick often called saffron sandalwood or some other name in plenty of catalogs through the years. I probably came across 3 or 4 versions of the same incense in the Vedic Vaani catalog this year except Absolute Bliss’ version is definitely better than all of those, and incredibly reminiscent of when the Mystic Temple version was a classic. The only other incense I’ve tried in the last 25 years that reminds me of the glory years of Indian incense is Temple of Incense’s Extreme Sandalwood. King of Saffron not only has the dryness, the saffron spiciness and a level of wood but it has that incredible floral finish that these incenses used to have but have usually just disappeared. It also has a wonderful camphor thread through it which has always been one of my favorite things about this particular scent. And remember these sticks are thin enough that 125g of this is likely to have has many as two times as many sticks as you usually get by that weight. So this is one you want to jump on for sure.

The King of Sandal is also very different from previous versions and it’s not really so much a pure sandalwood stick now as a sort of sandalwood champa type mix and a really beautiful one at that. It’s actually not easy to balance the sweet and woody of these two elements, and I come across plenty of these mixes that are off in some way. This new stick is halmaddi rich and probably leans in the sweeter direction but it’s rather perfectly balanced for a sandalwood top note and not only that it’s a very accessible scent. In many ways it’s not unlike the Oud Masala in this sense, where the sweeter base really creates more of a blend than say a charcoal with oil would. I actually was kind of wondering if part of this is that the sandalwood here isn’t turned up too high where the woodier notes might conflict a little more. Needless to say this is another highly recommended new find.

The last two incenses, the Oudh Saffron and White Lotus Oudh Saffron are now in a different format, moving to a bit larger of a charcoal masala base than the previous versions. These are incenses that are largely carried by the oil mixes on top and when they are, the mixes tend to vary a little from batch to batch. This is my third batch of the White Lotus and it’s largely the same incense, just maybe a little bit different. The second batch may have been a tiny bit more dialed back in the woodiness where this new batch turns it back up a bit. The Oudh Saffron however, actually strikes me as quite differently formulated. I am not sure how to explain this except that this new formulation seems a bit more complex and rich than the prior one. I think that the inherent woodiness in Indian oud incenses is generally pretty rare because there usually isn’t any real oud in them and so the approximation doesn’t account for the deeper and richer aspects you’d find in wood or wood-heavy aloeswood incenses like you’d find in Japan. Instead Indian oud incenses tend to approximate that a bit and go for more of those spice tones you tend to find at the top of ouds. Saffron itself is also pretty multifaceted, even among incenses called saffron sandalwood that stretch beyond the one I reviewed above, the note can be anything from floral to spicy and all places in between. Here I think it ends up pushing the usual Indian oud spice mixes into something a little richer. It still has the same sort of almost licorice like middle in it the previous stick had, but of course when the batch is fresher you’re likely to catch all of this more up front.

So ultimately a stock well worth going back for. As always, there are no current plans to actually put these incenses up at the Absolute Bliss website so it is highly recommended and encouraged to contact Corey directly using the methods at his contact page. My experience is that you can find what you want and ask him for a Paypal invoice. Please note that currently Absolute Bliss only ships to the US.

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Dimension 5 / The Utopian Dream Collection / Division By Zero, Sandstorm, Yume No Supaisu, Borneo LTD, Cosmika Flamboya

I hope those of you who are looking for the experience of a stick incense created from ultra-fine quality materials have had the chance to check out Josh Matthews’ Dimension 5 line. Given that many of these types of incenses tend to be run in small batches with Comiccon-like windows for purchasing, it’s good to see one a bit more available. And not only can you contact Josh at dimension5incense@gmail.com for more information as well as purchasing information on these incenses, this latest batch is also up at Mermade Magickal Arts for purchase as well! We are really glad to see this wonderful series of incenses available at both sources.

The first of the five incenses in this collection, Division By Zero, is described as a Vietnamese agarwood, sandalwood and spice blend with some oil work. Usually with Japanese incenses (or in this case Japanese-styled incenses), we tend to check if they’re predominantly agarwood or sandalwood based. In this case it really is a blend of both woods with a rather equal amount of spices. The mix, which I’d guess must contain a bit of cinnamon and clove, or a similar mix, imparts an almost applesauce-spice like element to the entirely, one that seems an equal to the woods. The aloeswood and the sandalwood sort of blend together where the crystalline nature of the latter seems more topped with the regal elements of the former. One notes as with all of the Dimension 5 incenses that there seems an almost painstaking attention to getting the balance right which allows all of the elements to shine in their own right. In this case it feels like the aloeswood is being used more for the top aspects than for any middle or base. The surprise is that it feels somewhat resinous, although that isn’t listed in the ingredients, but it’s a quality a lot of fine wood tends to impart on its own. In reviewing this on two occasions it was the first stick I burned in the morning and it seemed quite fit for that time of the day.

Sandstorm is Dimension 5’s most sandalwood-fronted incense, although it includes quite a bit of Indian and New Guinea aloeswood in it as well; however, the presence of sandalwood oil in the mix tends to mean the aloeswood is included to contour what is indeed a storm of sand(alwood). I tried an early version of this before this current refinement and was immediately amazed by it. I tend to prefer good Indian sandalwoods by a long margin usually because Japanese incenses seem to mostly center on certain qualities in the wood that have long been diminishing in quality due to shortages. Sandstorm does a better job of dialing the volume up on the overall scent a bit without losing those more heartwood like qualities. As a comparison, while I was reviewing this stick I also had the Kotonoha Indian Sandalwood blend out so decided to burn a stick of it to compare it. As a comparison, Sandstorm does appear to use quite a bit more aloeswood, as the edges of the scent tend to have agarwood qualities that are a bit deeper than what you’d usually find in a sandalwood-based stick. But these notes also maintain a bit more of that central sandalwood note in Sandstorm that the Kotonoha stick basically just hints at. Sandstorm adds what are some neatly complex aspects to what is a surprisingly involved blend for this type of wood. It’s a sandalwood to contemplate and even so just a bit more than that.

Yume No Supaisu is described as “A dry, woods, resins and spices incense with musk, kaiko, and others. An advanced incense connoisseur stick – the least immediate of the collection, tremendous depth, a highly complex incense for the blackbelt afficionado to learn over time. Old school Japanese with whispers of Tibet.” It has a very large list of ingredients: red soil Vietnamese agarwood, New Guinea agarwood, Indonesian agarwood, Tongan and Mysore sandalwood, spices, resins, musk, operculum of sea snail, and others. So where to start reviewing such an elaborate stick? There are really a ton of varying notes that come off this one. In front it feels almost like some sort of tangy fruit or plum, but this front really gives way to a mix of sandalwood and agarwood qualities that are quite startling. With so many different kinds in use, you are treated to a fairly wide range of aspects, but they all sort of hang together as one and that’s before the other elements outside of the woods pop out to tickle your nose. Once again that feeling of the unity giving way to a multiplex of sensations and then back again really arrests your attention. Truly a beautiful aroma and almost hard to believe it was possible to take this big a step up from the first two classics, but I’d dare say this is Josh’s masterpiece to date. There are depths in this one that you don’t reach except at the higher levels of Japanese woods. And the “whispers of Tibet” seem very real on this as well, there’s a note that pops up that feels a bit more swankily herbal than you would normally find in a Japanese stick. It’s a touch on this one I really enjoy.

Josh provides a longer and detailed explanation for his Borneo LTD blend, which gives a window on a creator’s thinking about how they go about crafting their incenses. Josh uses a number of different types of aloeswoods for his blends, but this one focuses on a particular island’s resinous woods. This is somewhat edited but you can request the full explanations directly from Josh if you want to read more: “My apex Borneo island wood blend, featuring 4 different types of top-shelf Borneo agarwood and 2 primo Borneo island Ensar ouds, blended with resins and spices. If you’ve had very high quality Borneo agarwood on an electric heater then you’re familiar with those lovely “green mint honey” types notes and the deep woodiness … I spent a great deal of time balancing the ratios of the different Borneo agarwoods and Borneo ouds, and also balancing those elements with the resins and spices blend – the goal was to highlight those gloriously green, woody, somewhat austere type notes of Borneo agarwood while eliminating the acrid, harsh type notes that can so easily arise from such wood. Is there a sweetness in there? Maybe, but, more this is focused on the pleasure of bitterness. May have a learning curve..”

This was actually the one I dipped in first as I am fascinated by this type of wood and the surprising variation of regionally sourced aloeswoods. To say the least if Josh’s goal was to highlight the honeyed tones this is a pitch perfect job with that element directly in front and center. That mix of sweet and bitter is really the prime experience with all of the different woods and ouds mixing in for a rather unique, powerful, and yet very friendly aloeswood experience. In fact there’s not really a lot more to describe than what Josh does himself except to say this one is an extraordinary success. The thing about a lot of these really rich and powerful sticks with high quality materials is that they often tend to be so multiplex that their uniqueness isn’t always as obvious from initial burns, but I think like most of the incenses in this collection you are really getting a lot of differences as well that highlight why these types of woods are so coveted. This is an absolute beauty for sure and if Yume No Supaisu was a masterpiece on a multi-ingredient level, this one is a masterpiece of aloeswood crafting.

And finally we have the long-awaited Dimension 5 high-ender, Cosmika Flamboya. Josh says “This one pulls out all the stops. By far the most elaborate oil work of any of my sticks. A decadent mélange of agarwood, sandalwood, spices, oils, oud, resins, musk, and others. Stack it against any kyara incense in terms of wow factor.” It includes Vietnamese agarwood, Malaysian agarwood, sandalwood, oud, musk, operculum of sea snail, resins and others. So you could literally write an essay on exactly what kyara is but rather than being explicit that there is kyara in here, I think you can definitely describe this as least as a kyara-like incense. It has the kind of notes you might find in some of the real kyara incenses such as the sadly depleted Kourindo Kourindkyarai where caramel-ish tones meet a much deeper wood scent with that almost definitely kyara blend sweetness in the mix as well as a touch of that sort of minty-menthol-green note you find more in the less blended kyaras. But much of this plays on top of those deeper turpentine-like notes you only tend to find in the more expensive aloeswoods. A lot of these aspects seem matched with the other notes in order to bring out the woodiness, but there’s a rather dank musk note floating on top and some level of acridity that may come from the operculum. It’s all quite fascinating and gives you this feeling there’s so much more to learn from it once the stick has been used up.

There is a feeling with the Dimension 5 line, particularly due to the shortness of the sticks that is kind of Boggle-like in that you have something like a set time to name all the incense notes before the stick depletes. You are reminded that the premium ingredients are premium for a reason but one thing I really like about these is Josh seems to craft these to maximize the notes and really get them out there in a clear presentation. These are very much incenses to give your entire attention to, they are not at all made to light and be peripheral, there is simply too much goodness to these to waste them like that. Even in reviewing I had to almost block out the time to make sure I had a nose on the stick through the entire burn. And these are simply the best Dimension 5 work to date, some of the deepest and most extraordinary mixes that you would almost expect to see in the upper stratospheres of premium Japanese incenses. So if you’re for mining for depth I can not recommend these highly enough. PS: if you have an Instagram account you can also access some short videos where Josh talks about these incenses.

Mermade Magickal Arts / Kyphis, Incense Cakes; Espirit de la Nature / Giroflee Ordorante

It seems like with the new kyphi mechanism in play that there’s been a substantial creative outburst at Mermade in the winter months. Combine that with ORS being in something of a downtime, it can be really hard to keep up and deeply go into some of these new and wonderful scents that Katlyn has been whipping up in winter months, so I thought I’d do my best to try and do some sort of overview to catch up on some things. As I’ve mentioned before, the catalog window for a lot of Mermade goodies is short and often ORS reviews can shorten them a bit more, and even when I start a review page in draft, I have to keep tabs on what is still live or not by the time I’m ready to publish something. And this too, of course, goes for the Espirit de la Nature incenses that show up. It’s often like watching a car zip by.

So let’s start with the Mermade kyphis. I covered Kyphi #2, Goddess Temple, here. I believe the #3 was the green Emerald Temple variant and the #4 was the Amber Kyphi (pictured left), all of which are now gone, at least for the present. If you read the #2 review then you will realize these are largely intriguing variants of the same sort of kyphi base with a new front. All of them are wonderfully etched in detail and I’m just generally of the opinion that if you see a Mermade kyphi go up for a sale then it’s a good idea to start planning an order. The amber variant did not last long at all and it is a really wonderful incense, with the back half connected through this kyphi lineage and the front a wonderfully perfect amber scent, distinct and almost definitive. And I think the #5 variant here (coming soon, will link when live) will be Goddess Temple with Oud (pictured right). I just have a few early samples of this one from Katlyn’s last package but I might have to separate this one from the “usually special and magnificent” to the “particularly special and magnificent” category. I love the way the oud in this one sort of tinges and modifies the kyphi lineage of all these previous incenses. It does so in a way that might create the most significant change of this line of incense. It feels less like it has a new top note and more like the oud has just deeply infused itself into all aspects of the scent. When you think of kyphi as this sort of aged melange of ingredients that all add up to something like an aromatic vintage, the #5 seems to be a really cool leap sideways that might make you feel like you’re trying kyphi all over again.

Another project Katlyn is working on is “incense cakes.” There are three different ones that are all very recent, Cakes for the Queen of Heaven, Rose of Isis and Dionysos. These are all essentially a mix of resins, woods, herbs and spices that are all formulated into small little discs with a stamp applied and mostly mixed in with another natural ingredient. The first blend is subtitled a Mesopotamian incense and includes cedar wood and essential oil; Suhul and Yemeni myrrh; Iranian galbanum; styrax – liquidambar; labdanum resin and absolute; black frankincense; and juniper herb and berries. Not sure if my botany is up to this guess and it’s not in the ingredients, but the cakes look mixed in with eucalyptus leaves or something visually similar. You can actually really suss out the specific ingredients in this mix and one thing I like about it is that a lot of these are not as common in available incenses so you really feel like the styrax and labdanum are quite forward here and the evergreens give it all a more herbal quality than a green one. It all adds up to a nicely mysterious mix that reveals a cool creative take on a regional scent.

Rose of Isis is a bit more straight forward a blend, with the rose and sandalwood mix out in front. The rose comes from three different absolutes, and the sandalwood is the quality Mysore, but in addition there’s Sahul myrrh, Saigon cinnamon, Hougary frankincense, and benzoin; the mix dusted with agarwood powder. I’ve long understood Katlyn to have a really deep connection with Isis energy and have experienced a number of her crafts in this vein both on and off the market to know she is a vessel for it. The rose here is lovely and powerful, redolent even in the fresh tin, in the way that a friendly rose absolute can lead to it being a bit like valentine’s day candy. But there’s not just that element, but a really genuine scent of the actual rose flower that is paired with that. As the heat continues the rose note will tend to fade into the background more, with the myrrh and cinnamon comng in louder towards the late heat. The sandalwood seems a bit milder than you might expect, mostly due to the powerful rose front, but it tends to tie everything together in the background.

Dionysos is something of an incense cake version of one of Katlyn’s older incenses with the same name. In fact this review is still probably fairly spot on in many ways and here you can get this almost vintage spirits sort of vibe just over the fresh cakes in the tin. Part of this I believe is the black currant bud absolute. As a kid who grew up in England in the 70s, black currant was almost ubiquitous in sweets and I loved it. Here it’s modified by some of the other ingredients into kyphi-like age, like a fine intoxicating spirit. There’s classic incense resins (undoubtedly part of what carries the currant), agarwood, juniper berries, sweet tobacco absolute, cassis (also black currant), galbanum and a pinch or two of sativa. I sort of roughly classify this kind of incense into Katlyn’s later summer blends, there’s this sort of feeling of heat and harvest at work, ripe berries, hay and herb. One you definitely would want to pull out at a party, an event much richer with the god of wine in attendance.

There were also a couple new Encense du Monde incenses in the Mermade catalog of late but one blew out incredibly fast and the other might be gone by the time I get this incense live (3 left! Going, going..). This last one left (well they both were!), Giroflee Ordorante, is naturally up to Bonnie’s incredible talent, an incense that boasts a very involved ingredients list: “Matthiola longipeta ssp bicornis enfleuraged [night-scented stock] while still on the stem into benzoin, palo santo and tolu balsam resins, propolis, rose extract, palo santo wood, sandalwood, rosewood, cloves, cinnamon, vanilla, patchouli. Bound with reduced organic honey. Powdered with monarde fistulosa- rose variety.” What I immediately notice with this Nerikoh style blend is the mintiness and balsamic qualities combined, but it’s sort of the layer a lot of complexity sits on, a complexity I am not sure I’d even have the time to get into before this very original blend disappears. I’m not even familiar with what appears to be the main note, the night-scented stock, so I can’t place it in the aroma exactly. So in many ways Giroflee Ordorante is certainly unlike any nerikoh style incense I’ve tried in a Japanese catalog, but it stretches the form in quite the innovative way. These little pellets pack both a massive and quiet aromatic punch with that almost trademark creative touch Bonnie has that feels like fractals disappearing into infinity.

And I’d be amiss to not mention that the latest batch of WildWood is in stock, and while I haven’t tried this latest one yet, it’s certainly in a lineage where I have loved every single one and it is something you’d have to consider a Mermade evergreen classic.

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!

Pure Incense / Connoisseur Blue Lotus & Musk, Connoisseur Musk De Luxe, Vintage Catuhsama Oud Musk, Connoisseur Opium Intense

In this second, recent, installment of Pure Incense reviews, I’ve sorted this group essentially into the musk category, even if the Oud Musk is probably more of an oud with musk touches and the Opium may or may not have it at all, but the latter does seem to have some real similarities to the Musk De Luxe stick both in color and perhaps more partially in scent. Second, two of these incenses, the first and last listed, were part of the samples a kind reader sent to me some months to check out (the third sample is currently out of stock, so I did not get to grab that one but certainly would have) so this is a group I like a lot. In many ways when you’re really looking into ouds and sandalwoods and so forth it can be a breath of fresh air to move to incenses that tend to differ from more or less any other creator’s output and are great without needing any woods to complete things.

The Connoisseur Blue Lotus and Musk, unsurprisingly, is essentially just a slight variation on the Connoisseur Blue Lotus. As most Pure Incense appreciators know the Blue Lotus is certainly one of the line’s most original and dependable aromas and it ranges across the entire Pure Incense spectrum, although for my nose, I prefer to have the quality of the perfume cranked up as much as possible, as it is on this stick. Lotus oils vary so much in incense that it can be fairly difficult to really describe what a lotus scent actually smells like other than the flower itself, but in the Pure Incense Blue Lotus incenses, it has always been something of a powdery, gentle and distinct floral scent that is so unlike any other lotus incense that it’s an essential stop for increasing the variety of your scent collection. It is, for example, completely different than the lotus incenses in the Absolute Bliss/Happy Hari/Temple of Incense range, and as far as I know I can’t think of any other line producing the quality of either manufacturer that’s still in business. The musk added here seems to be very slight in comparison to the main Blue Lotus incense, it’s certainly tangible and perhaps moves this into a different kind of sweet territory but it doesn’t have the power that the musk does in the De Luxe below. But for my nose after retrying the regular Connoisseur Blue Lotus recently, it feels like this is of slightly higher quality overall and it reminds me more of the first time I tried and reviewed it than the most recent box I tried. And yes here, the vanilla of the base I think really compliments the perfume. It’s a really friendly and wonderful incense.

The Connoisseur Musk De Luxe is also the type of aroma I think is relatively uncommon and could be quite novel to readers’ noses. In a lot of ways it’s a similar issue to lotus perfumes, musks can vary a lot and of course they can also be sourced from animal or plant sources. Often when it is not expressly stated that it’s a plant-sourced musk, it’s because it isn’t, but in this case if you pop on over to the Pure Incense Nepal Musk page, you will see the language affirming that Pure Incense musks are plant based. Anyway this brick red color stick is kind of a sour-sweet marvel that is really an aroma of its own. The vanilla feels a bit more dialed back here compared to many Pure Incense sticks, which I feel was a good move (or maybe the musk obscures it) and the musk has a very pretty center note that really sells it. I like its tanginess, the almost definitive sweet note and just the overall power of the stick. In fact this is often the case in the Pure Incenses that have the perfumes dialed up. It is not at all the kind of refined musk scent you’d see in, say, a Kourindo incense which would have the sweet center note up more in front.

The Vintage Catuhsama Oud Musk is described as “two parts of musk, four parts of sandalwood, three parts of aguru or saffron and one part of camphor, when mixed together, form catuḥsama.” I would still probably class this closer to the ouds in the previous installment however this has a much mellower wood sort of scent which I would assume is due to the dialed up presence of the sandalwood. The vanilla in the base is also pretty noticeable here, partially because it tends to come out a bit more when there’s more sandalwood oil in the mix. For an oud scent this is probably closest to the Egyptian Oud from the previous installment in that it has a healthy bit of spice to it as well, not to mention there are no really overtly strong agarwood notes in this (although definitely enough to recognize its oudness). It feels a bit more of a balance of a number of aspects than any one thing. I remember some musk sandalwood masalas from the past that were kind of roughly in this area, so if you remember those, think of what that would be like with a spike of oud in the middle somewhere and you’d be fairly close.

Finally, the other sample that I received prior to this order, the Connoisseur Opium Intense. In my experience Opium in an incense tends to be more related to the perfume with that name than the poppies or the smell of opium itself. However here the scent comes from opium essential oils which “have been used to create a masterful wondrous scent that is like a rich sultry Ambery oriental woody fragrance with dark exotic notes.” I like that description, can definitely get the amber out of it and overall I just like how this is another great scent that doesn’t really smell like any other, and for sure it’s better than any opium perfume on charcoal stick I have seen offered. But naturally I can’t really side by side this with the real thing nor do I have any valid memory or what that might be like, and if I did I’d still wager this is probably a lot prettier. And you really gotta love the end of the description: “Lose yourself in dreams of other realms far away from the concrete and iron civilisation all around us….to a place with a variety of trees and bushes and flowers and birds and bees and swans and parrots and all manner of colourful flowers and scent and birds and creatures!” Wheeeee!

Pure Incense / Egyptian Oud, Oud Jakarta, Oud Kathmandu, Oud Noir

Pure Incense expanded their incense lines considerably during the ORS closure (I keep thinking I need to rename this something like “The Retirement Years” or the “Big Gap” or something). I remember their regular, Absolute, and Connoisseur lines from when we reviewed them, but there appeared to be a concerted effort to really expand the Connoisseur line in the last ten years and it is quite frankly where the strength of the company lies. I do highly recommend checking out the reviews we did on most of the early incenses by looking the company up in the Reviews Index because outside of natural variation Adi Guru and Pure Incense have done a fairly remarkable job of staying consistent through the years.

As I understand it, Pure Incense is one of the western companies that contracts with India’s Madhavadas family to create incenses and import them to the UK. This venerable incense family has been around longer than I have and was behind both the Primo and Ganesha lines before they closed. As most familiar with this company know, they make a very distinct masala base created from charcoal, sandalwood and vanilla powder that can be something of a heavy player in their aromas. It is almost worth trying some of the line’s base scents to see where you sit with that base, maybe before trying some of the high enders; however, when it comes to the higher end Connoissuer and Vintage lines there is really a deluxe range of top oils and perfumes that are extremely impressive. I was sent a few samples of Pure incenses from a reader and was really taken with them and eventually got around to making a nice order of my own, one that amazingly got stuck in US customs for what I am told is the first time in PI history. After some form filling out, they ended up finally arriving. I’ve decided to break the series of boxes and samples up into about four reviews in order to a group a few things, including this series of four oud incenses. Ouds are of course fragrances made from agarwood, but it should be noted that Pure Incense creates both Ouds and agarwood incenses. To my nose the Pure Incense ouds are a bit spicier and more oil based than the regular agarwood incenses. And in fact this is a range of incenses that is very close together so talking about the differences is probably more useful as they are largely the same sort of incense, just with different regional woods being the source for the perfume.

A Pure Incense Oud is generally what I’d call a spicy wood sort of scent. These are similar to the Happy Hari Oud Masala and so forth but they’re also a bit mellower due to a bit more of a masala blend in the base than charcoal alone. The thing to keep in mind is that the Madhavadhas base has a lot of vanilla to it and how much it cuts through into the overall aroma is pivotal to the overall scent. Ouds, including the Egyptian Oud Intense, tend to be strong enough to mute some of the vanilla without completely eliminating it, but the sweetness of the base is not completely submerged. The Egyptian oud oil here is quite friendly, this isn’t one of those oudhs with barnyard/animalistic notes at all, it’s quite cinnamon/clove spicy while having a definitely agarwood sort of scent to it, so it’s a very likeable stick overall. Pure Incense also describes the scent including “tobacco notes and leather and hint of fruit” all of which feels like a decent take on a lot of the more subtler notes. But intense it is and that is what you want in an oud overall, so there is plenty to listen to here.

Pure Incense describes the Oud Jakarta (Indonesia) as having “a real heady wood note and beautiful undertones of peach and green leaves.” The peach note is a surprising thing to note for sure, but it’s absolutely there and in strength as well and it really adds a nice flavor to this oud stick. I’m sure having that bit of vanilla in the background intensifies this note a little, but don’t think that means there isn’t plenty of deep, woody oil notes on this one. The green leaves note is one that kind of reminds me of an incense or two in the Nippon Kodo Yume no Yume line that had something like this (can’t remember the specific one but both Bamboo Leaf and Horse-Tail Plant ring a bell) and it also reminds me of the scent of a green, unripened banana with a bit of tartness. Anyway it’s a very powerful scent, when I tried it the oil seemed strong and recently placed meaning for a while you might want to back up some. But every bit of that agar-woodiness is really here and I’ve smelled a lot of Indonesian aloeswood in Japanese sticks that didn’t really approach this kind of wonderful intensity so it’s quite a marvel. And as a difference I would say this isn’t quite as spicy as the Egyptian and while you’re comparing two oud sticks it just goes to show you how deep, different and complex ouds can be. Really gorgeous stuff and one of my favorites of the whole Pure Incense aloeswood line.

Pure Incense calls the Oud Kathmandu “The best Agarwood incense sticks on earth.” I’ll just say there are some agarwood incenses out there I can’t even afford enough to make that kind of call and leave it at that, mostly because that’s a statement that takes a lot of guts. Even in the Pure Incense line up alone, I’m not sure I can make that call, even in this review alone, but this definitely has a very different aromatic profile to the previous two oud incenses. Quite frankly I can’t remember every trying a Nepali agarwood incense of this sort, maybe a bit of wood in a Tibetan stick, sure. This is the woodiest of the oud sticks so far and it’s quite different from the two I’ve just reviewed and it does indeed have some very unique and different notes to it that are quite arresting in the profile. It appears to have some level of resin depth to it that starts to approach the higher end Japanese sticks in a way, like there’s some particular weight to it and the overall wood profile is probably the loudest in this group. It may be why no other notes are really named in the description, but I pick up the leather here more than in the Egyptian and it shares a bit of the same spice to it as well. There is also some level of lacquer or turpentine as well which one tends to get when an oud is really aromatically dense. While I tend to set Japanese and Indian agarwood sticks apart since they’re somewhat incomparable in style, I would say this is a fine oud indeed and well worth checking out. And of the sticks in this group this is perhaps the one where the base is the most occluded by the top scent.

Oud Noir is described as Pure Incense’s “new Agarwood flagship scent. It has a strong prominent Oud note that is a pure dark wood with a leather note.” Like the Egyptian Oud Incense this is a stick where the base’s vanilla notes cut through, as the overall scent is not as strong as any of the geographic specific ouds above. Also like the Egyptian, this is a bit of a spicy oud, its got a fairly light profile and may be a bit closer to the line’s agarwood-named incenses than the two listed above. It has a bit of an airiness to it, although it does have some of the more denser end that it shares with the Oud Kathmandu, but for a stick called noir, it doesn’t feel as dark or nighttime as the others. There’s some level of floral subnote that I like and it’s a bit more on the prettier end of the range. It also seems to have some strong camphorous notes that the regular Connoissuer Agarwood often has. Honestly if I wasn’t doing these in a rough alphabetical order this might have been the one I opened with as it has a lighter feel than the other three. On the other hand having it be a bit lighter helped to accentuate the differences.

So the overall issue with this group is they’re all part of a range of one scent really and so it is somewhat arguable whether this is an entire batch you would want to grab at once. But compared to one another they show you why agarwood is so genuinely prized, because distillations of the woods from geographic locations show very different profiles within a sort of general idea of what an oud scent is. The thing to keep in mind with Pure Incense is generally there’s a base that’s as important in the overall profile as the scent of the incenses but its presence often depends on how loud, deep or rich the main oil note is. When the oil notes are intense that base tends to dissipate into the mix, while when they are not I think you get a lot of vanilla in the mix as well as some notes of sandalwood. There’s something of a trade off here as well as I think these elements reduce the amount of charcoal in the mix and at times it makes them easier sticks to process then, say, some of the more oil-based Ouds in the Happy Hari or Temple of Incense group. Finally, this actually doesn’t exhaust all of the ouds and agarwood incenses I received in the new batch, but I have placed some of these others in different arrangements for reasons I will talk about in one of the next installments.

The Mother’s India Fragrances / Oudh Nagchampa, Palo Santo Nagchampa, Sage Nagchampa + Herbal Sampler (Part 2 of 2)

Please be sure to read Part 1 of this review as this is really a continuation of that review and that context is somewhat relateable to how I continue below. I will also note again here that all incenses in this range can be found at Mere Cie Deux.

The issue with calling something an Oudh Nagchampa is different from a lot of other aromatics because oudh, of course, is an agarwood-based scent and oudhs can be stratospherically expensive, so one must lower one’s expectations for an incense that is only $3 for 12 sticks. We have certainly also had our expectations set by the Absolute Bliss/Happy Hari and Temple of Incense lines with sticks like Oud Masala and so forth that are still quite affordable while delivering very satisfying incenses with legitimate and surprisingly powerful oudh notes (although these are essentially 2-3 times as expensive if not more so). And so for me, I try to look at something like this new nag champa in the sense that does it live up to the name and if it doesn’t is it a good incense on its own? In terms of the former issue the oudh note isn’t the sort of rocketship it is in the previously mentioned lines, it does not sit about the champa base and dominate, it’s a much more subsumed and subtle scent. In fact it took me a bit less incense fatigue and a second stick to notice that it is actually in there as part of the mix.

So anyway, oudh expense to champa mix aside, how does it work out? Well the champa base comes out quite a bit in this, there’s a real sense of the gummy and halmaddi sweet. Most champa bases tend to be at least mildly spicy, if only from the sandalwood, so the oudh actually fits pretty comfortably next to it. For a note you often expect to be loud it ends up complimenting what is surprisingly one of the mellower incenses in this current batch. Its an odd one for me because it feels like the overall diffused aroma seems a bit more generic than when you get in there close and notice that it’s actually a pretty well balanced incense. There’s a bit of spice and tanginess to it overall that the incense gets from the oudh but overall the agarwood notes here aren’t as strong as you’ll find in a Happy Hari, Temple of Incense or Pure Incense scent.

The next two aromas, sort of like the Neem Nagchampa, strike me as pretty strange and experimental for a nag champa format as both palo santo and sage aren’t aromatics I think would match up well with a sweeter halmaddi sort of masala. The Palo Santo Nagchampa may then be the first of its ilk and it’s a very interesting match indeed. For one thing, the palo santo itself is quite good quality and very reminiscent of the finer wood itself, so it’s off to a good start on that front. The base seems to have some of the more chocolate and confectionary qualities of the Sweet Frankincense and Guna Nagchampa, although it’s certainly not quite as decadent as either. But it seems modified appropriately in order to actually make a palo santo nag champa and balance the Mother’s format against what is a very identifiable and unique woody aroma. Now you will either know or not know if palo santo is to your taste, but its surge in interest among lovers of Native and South American culture know that the aroma has made a significant dent in the new age markets with its popularity. I might caution one to try the wood out first rather than dive in here, but honestly the palo santo note here is completely legit and it is hard to imagine Mother’s could have done a better job with this one.

Sage, on the other hand, is a strange beast in that sage wrapped for smudging (or used in cooking) smells a lot different to my nose than oil distillations and then either one’s application to a masala can also end up varying in a whole lot of directions. Check out Stephen’s reviews of the Temple of Incense Desert Sage or White Sage for examples of variance. I also had a Designs By Deekay White Sage review up at one point that demonstrated its more smudge-like, resin-based approach. Japan Incense has a Minorien-sourced Sage stick. All of these really differ a lot. The Sage Nagchampa also does. There is certainly some level of sage like herb in this and maybe oil as well but it felt like the creators dialed it down a bit to mix with the champa base, because, let’s face it, you’d have to. It’s an interesting creative choice because unlike the palo santo where the wood tends to have spicier qualities that might roughly fit in a cinnamon, clove or copal category, sage is going to move more in a direction like the Neem Nag Champa except where that one is green and bitter, this has a sort of general cooking herb sort of scent to it, rather than feeling specfically sage. The Sage Nagchampa also has a very similar base to the Oudh Nagchampa in terms of having a bit of gumminess to it. The issue with a stick like this overall is that so much compromise has gone into balancing two almost opposing formats that even though the balance is successful, it also feels like maybe it’s created something a bit too generic and maybe not as reminiscent of sage or a champa in the end. I know of the seven incenses I’ve just looked at this might be the one that’s the muddiest and hardest to define. But at the same time, one must see it as a unique and interesting experiment for sure.

I was also sent what amounts two a two stick by three fragrance package of Mother’s new Herbal Incense range. I should probably mention another difference in the overall line in that many of Mother’s aromas now have mini stick options which is an even more inexpensive way to try some of their many incenses. Anyway the two mini sticks each here might come close to one regular stick so I’ll just give my initial impressions on these. Well I’m going to try to. I just realized that in order to get the wee packages out of the strange cardboard package you also have to loosen them from their moorings so I now have three incenses where I’m going to also play guess the incense (I’m on the second stick of each)! So here we go.

While nearly every incense in this new line seems to specifically be one note and so close that both cinnamon and clove are broken down into two different types, the masala mix does sort of alter the profile, so these aren’t the same sorts of aromas that you’d find in a charcoal. So the Rosemary actually kind of works a little like the sage does in the Nagchampa above. That is, this doesn’t really smell much like the kind of rosemary used in cooking lamb (for instance), it has a sweeter more distilled oil like scent instead. The masala seems to have some woodiness and sweetness in it to also change the profile to some extent. It hasn’t lost the spice qualities of the herb really, but it feels like its presented more like a floral than an herbal sort of incense. Overall it’s not going to be like most expect.

I actually had trouble telling which of the two sticks left was Clove Bud or Cinnamon Bark because they are so sweetened up that any clear note is kind of obscured. My best guess (in addition to finishing the second mini sticks) was based on the pictures at the site where the Cinnamon Bark shows the darker of the two sticks, but honestly it could have gone either way. The darker stick has a sort of Madhavadas family like base with a lot of vanilla in the mix and the spice kind of plays around the outside. It’s not at all like cinnamon candy you will often find in charcoal sticks (like the brash Fred Soll versions) but a lot more delicate. Once the aroma builds up, the cinnamon does as well, and I would guess there was no use of oils in this and only the bark. But to me the base seems a bit distracting.

Strangely the Clove Bud is even sweeter, almost confectionary like, in fact it reminds me a little of some Japanese moderns in a way. There isn’t really a vanilla-like base , but once again I am struck by how little this smells like the clove you would normally think of, which may very well be because the aromatics are distilled from the fresh buds rather than the dried ones ground for spice? I’m guessing mind you because this is very far away from what I normally associate with clove, a note that is fairly common in a lot of the Tibetan incenses I’ve been reviewing. Anyway I don’t see much more in the way of description to clue in a bit more on these (and Mother’s are actually pretty good with the info thankfully), but they’re an intriguing trio of incenses in how little they tend to resemble what you expect. A different take is OK for me, but I didn’t really have the inches to go into these to maybe do them more justice.

Temple of Incense / Nag Champa Gold; Oudh Masala; Dhoop Cones / Absolute Sandalwood, Benzoin, Frankincense, Lavender, Oudh, Rose, Vetiver

Temple of Incense Part 13
Temple of Incense Part 14
The entire Temple of Incense review series can be found at the Incense Reviews Index

Wrapping up the Temple of Incense reviews is everything else I managed to get that was in stock. After these reviews, the only things missing are the Palo Santo cones, and the Bakhoor aloeswood chips which I may review at a later date. Also, want to note that both Mike and I figured we had covered Nag Champa Gold but I’ll insert that here as we both didn’t manage to review the ToI version of this famous stick.

Starting with Nag Champa Gold, one of the flagships of the HH line is also a flagship here. This is essentially the same stick. For those unfamiliar, this is a very dry and astringent version of the famous nag champa scent. It has gold flakes/dust that comes from mica. I was told that this is actual waste from statuary production and since mica doesn’t tend to add anything to a scent it is purely aesthetic, like eating gold leaf. The stick itself is a yellowish bamboo core with a extruded charcoal-based masala dusted in tan and gold dust. The oil of the magnolia in this is exquisite and scents the stick before you light it. After lighting, the saltiness of the sandalwood and a touch of halmaddi/vanilla to give it some sweetness. My understanding is that if you used to like this stick a decade ago that it has a touch less halmaddi in it which makes it drier and more astringent. Overall, this is still one of the better Nag Champas on the market.

Absolute Sandalwood Dhoop Cone is an all black charcoal cone with oils added. This should not be confused with incense sticks of the same name because this is not similar in any way. This has some of the same oils I think go into Sandalwood Extreme, as this is a fairly good representation of Mysore sandalwood in all it’s salted butter notes. There is a touch of something sweet like maybe a hint of benzoin in here as well but it only seems to come out and play briefly before it gets coated in santalum smells.

Benzoin Prayer Dhoop Cone has a different format for cones, this is more like a thick cylinder that might be as big as 3-4 of the other sized cones. My biggest complaint on this is that they are harder to light without a graduated tip, but they give off a bigger smoke/smell and burn a lot longer. If you like the Benzoin Absolute stick that they make, this is a great continuation of that scent. This is a less sweet version of benzoin, while I’m still not an expert on the resin localities, this one doesn’t have the vanilla mashmallow scent and instead is something more like baking marzipan cookies and gunpowder. This is possibly my favorite of the cones I’ve reviewed in terms of scent.

Another in the cylinder format, Frankincense Prayer Dhoop Cone is different in that instead of being an all-charcoal base, this looks like pressed sawdust. This is a good representation of the boswellia sacra resin, it has a clean, citrusy scent that is a bit crisper and cleaner than the Frankincense stick they offer. Great for any application where you need 20 minutes of constant frankincense aroma, this is a room filler because of the thickness, and it has been a favorite in the family when I light one because everyone in the house smells it.

Lavender Dhoop Cone returns to the cone-shaped charcoal format and does a good job of bringing out a few different formats of lavender. Opening the jar, it smells like my favorite version of lavender oil, the one that captures a bit of the ‘green’ note like you’re in a field of lavender. When you light this, it becomes apparent that this oil is pretty much the only ingredient as you’re met with a mixture of both the fresh lavender and the more ‘warm’ lavender that I associate more like with soap and dryer sheets, the smell of relaxation. This really has a very clean feel to it and the marketing copy on the jar says it will ‘balance all seven chakras’ and I do enjoy how this seemed to have brightened the room a little bit.

Oudh Dhoop Cone is another cone-shaped charcoal formatted cone. Essentially, this is a cone version of the Oudh Masala, or at least, this is what my initial impression is upon lighting this black cone. It has a strong ‘cologne’ presence of oud here, where they are using distillation techniques that compress the scent into a much thinner profile without all the extra bells and whistles of the nearby plants and animals mixed into the scent. This is oud. Oud oud oud. As the cone has burned a bit, I can tell now that this is a bit different than the oudh masala, and it has a lighter, sweeter note than the Oudh, which is earthy and strong. Either way, I love how this scent is coming out and I definitely want a lot more of this.

Oudh Masala comes in a 60g Miron glass jar and is a powder meant for a electric burner or charcoal. I picked this up because of the name conjuring the HH reference and because I’m a huge fan of the stick. This is hard to describe, but if you’ve experienced Oudh and Himalayan Spikenard, this is like combining the best aspects of both of those and cranking up the intensity and the resiny goodness as loud as you can handle. In fact, if I put too much on at once, it gets overpowering because the oudh cologne scent is right there in the middle. If you enjoy powder incense format, this is so oily that you can actually just make a little pile and light it on fire. You won’t consume 100% of the powder but it burns most of the way by itself it’s so dense and resinous.

With Rose Prayer Dhoop Cone, we have another cylinder format, but like the Frankincense Dhoop Cone, this one isn’t made of charcoal, instead it looks like crushed rose petals and something like makko. Infused with what must be a mixture of oils, we get a fresh rose scent with a slightly sweet undertone like the roses are central to a bouquet that also includes something sweet like candied rose as well. Overall, this is a really good cone and the size of it means it burns a bit longer than the conical ones. This is good for people who really like the rose to smell fresher. That candied rose is under the central rose scent, which really is very good and reflected in the price point. It smells like rose petals and confectioners sugar. Really nice.

At Last, the Vetiver Dhoop Cone. Vetiver is always a wonderful scent when it is done right. My husband and I love vetiver essential oil and for many years used the oil as a perfume and received many compliments. This is a sweeter version of khus. This black cone seems to be charcoal with oils and I’m guessing they’re using all the best. There is a touch of what I detect as sandalwood in here, or maybe it’s just another note of vetiver I’m unfamiliar with because so rarely in incense do you get vetiver by itself for a conversation, most of the time it’s in a chorus.

Temple of Incense / Sandalwood, Vanilla Woods, White Sage, Oudh Extreme

Temple of Incense Part 12
Temple of Incense Part 14
The entire Temple of Incense review series can be found at the Incense Reviews Index

Finishing out the series of Temple of Incense sticks, we have some woody ones and the last one, Oudh Extreme, is another ‘advance sample’ as the ToI does not yet have it up on their website but when they do, hopefully this review will still stand up.

Our first stop is Sandalwood. This is the third sandalwood stick, after Banaras Sandal and Sandalwood Extreme. This is an oil-heavy charcoal masala hand-applied to a thick natural bamboo core. There is some flecks of light powder here and there but it doesn’t appear to be finished with powder.

Lighting this up, the oils become apparent as the stick immediately bursts into flame as it gets close to a heat source. The sandalwood is here, but it’s not as strong or as luxurious as the expensive Sandalwood Extreme. There is also something else added in, something sweet and dry, making this more like some of the cheaper Japanese sandalwoods where there is things like cinnamon and clove to spice it up as well as cover the fact that the sandalwood is probably a lower grade or else you’d just make a stick without the spices if it was nicer. Now comparing to cheap Japanese sandalwoods like Mainichi Koh isn’t to say this is a bad stick, I’m trying to zero in on the profile of sandalwood presented here, because there are hints of richer, salty and buttery sandalwood but they come sandwiched in this drier sweet note.

I’m going to post a note here and mention that when I compared this review I wrote to my initial impression of this stick, I realize something is wrong. In my initial impression, I describe it as a handmade masala on a bamboo stick painted red with a light tan powder finish. This is a different stick here because in my initial impression, I compared the sandalwood smell coming off it to Minorien Sandalwood, just a bit stronger because of the format. So perhaps there was a quality/consistency change between my sample and the purchase of the box.

Vanilla Woods is a charcoal masala hand-applied to a bamboo stick that appears to have been dipped in something. The masala has a sprinkling of a green powder (possibly that mint note). On the box, it is described as “Vanilla, Cassis, Sweet Musk, Woods, Hint of Mint.” My first reaction as I light this is that it smells like those sunscreens that are bad for the reefs. That sort of ‘banana/coconut/tropical’ sort of smell. But it transformed quickly between multiple scents vying for pole position. The mint is cooling and comes and goes but the clear leader is this vanilla smell that seems to trade places with a richer sweet scent that might be the cassis. However, I am not sure I detect a ‘sweet musk’ unless that is the sweet scent I called cassis or perhaps the sweet musk and cassis are on the same team? Regardless, as a charcoal stick that might have been dipped, this has a lot of class and character.

The second sage entry from ToI, White Sage is a handmade thicker agarbatti, finished with a light tan powder. This comes on a natural bamboo stick. This comes across as clean and crisp, though it is less exemplar of what I consider sage to be as there is something sweet in here as well as a soapy note that reminds me a bit of Ivory or Irish Spring in that sharp acrid note. The more I spend time with this rather cooling smoke, cool possibly because of the mint mentioned on the box, I am realizing that the scent reminds me a bit of when the dentist’s sterilized hands were in my mouth and against my nose. This is back when I was a kid before fear of things like HIV meant people wore gloves. Overall, I’m not a fan of this scent but it does have a very fresh and clean scent, like someone doing laundry with Fels-Naptha.

Oudh Extreme appears to be a triple threat. The bamboo is purple and discolored as if it has been dipped in oudh oil and my fingers smell of oudh after touching just the bamboo. The masala is a charcoal heavy masala, finished with a tan powder. My guess is the masala is charcoal and oudh and agarwood and then the stick is dipped in a oudh perfume/oil, and then finished with an oudh powder. This has so much oil in it that it lights like a torch. The scent is definitely deeper and more complex than the Oudh stick, this actually has a lot of scent profile in common with their Oudh Masala, which is a powder you can buy in their bakhoor section. This is very rich, very heavy in the perfume oudh profile. This has a bit of interplay between a sort of cologne scent you’d expect from the Persian area of the world, and the oudh sticks that Happy Hari/ToI carry. I really like this. It’s like when you’re burning Minorien Aloeswood and decide that you want a bigger punch so you reach for Minorien Kyara Chokoh. This is the bigger oudh punch. Recommended for anyone who loves Oudh and Oudh Masala from Happy Hari.

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.

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