Happy New Year (including Gokula and notes on Mermade Magickal Arts)!

I just posted the last two articles for my Gokula series today as Gokula is running a 20% off sale through 1/8, so I figured if you hadn’t checked the line out yet now is a perfect time! There are some definite goodies in their gigantic line and there’s actually a whole back half I didn’t review that are Mahavadhas sourced, so if you come across any of those that are good, do let us know in one of the Gokula post threads! Anyway, this takes us nearly to the end of the reviews stored up from last year, there may be a couple more to trickle in. More on this in a sec…

As I’ve been taking it easy over the holidays, I haven’t had too much of a chance to review or evaluate anything, but I did want to mention a few more Mermade Magickal Arts goodies. These aren’t intense reviews as I basically love all Mermade incenses which definitely all deserve deeper dives, but Katlyn tends to always be really busy during the holiday season and releases quite a few new vintages and I wanted to get in my thoughts before they’re gone. It was really nice to see Baccy Claus again, it’s at least the second vintage but I would guess the batch I had previously was before we started ORS up again. This one seems an improvement, never a surprise with Katlyn’s work, almost as if the middle had been brought up to match that peppery herbal note that makes this a scent unique in her catalog (think a mix of tobacco and herbal with the greener evergreen notes cradling this top scent). This one even has some unique elements in the mix with a touch of Amanita and Sativa, I’ve had the pleasure of an incense or two in the long past where Kat will mix something like this in and the results are always special and a bit different from the normal catalog. So certainly this is one to add to your cart right away.

Also checked out was her latest vintage of the Classic Kyphi, as I have long stated on these pages the Mermade kyphis are always well worth checking out, although I have been really unable to plumb the depths of this one quite yet. It’s really impossible to evaluate something this complex after just a sitting, but this will certainly be out right next to the heater over the next month. Some of the most recent kyphis strike me almost like drier wines compared to the sweeter ones, if you need an overall take. Forest Honey seems like a new experimental merging of two of her lines (say Sweet Medicine and Wild Wood for example) and is quite a bit different from Kat’s usual green holiday mix and a welcome variation. As always you get that great balance that allows you to experience both sides of the scent. But once again, I still need to dig out the time to really sit with it. Similarly with the Jasmine Dreams. I spend a lot of time both reviewing and evaluating and largely getting really fatigued by jasmine incenses over the last year, so it was great to get back to one that really highlights how good it can be. Perhaps part of the reason is this has a lot of green frankincense and repeat customers generally know how high quality this frankincense can be from Mermade. But this has a real nice peach note (resin seems to help bring this out) that you can often get out of the better jasmines and it seems like a perfect match with the better frankincense. So overall and as usual, it’s impossible not to recommend all these new treats, not to mention that it looks like Mermade has several Esprit de la Nature goodies in as well which always go really fast. I haven’t tried any of these but they’re always great as well. I would bet Bonnie probably has more at her site!

So with that said while there are probably a few more reviews in the wing to go, we’re reaching the end of the current “season.” This year is unique particularly in that there’s also very little in the current queue to review as well. I think we’ve debating internally that there are things like Satya incenses that I’ve sort of had on the table, but with less time to really review things of late it can be difficult to force yourself to take a look at incenses better worth avoiding. There’s a Review Information link at the top left if you’d like us to review your incenses, just let us know. Happy New Year everyone!

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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.

Mermade Magickal Arts / Goddess Temple – Katlyn’s Kyphi #2, Moon

There’s a virtual history of Mermade kyphis being reviewed at ORS going back to 2011 (and a much longer tradition of Mermade making them) if you take a look at our Reviews Index. The Egyptian Temple incenses known as Kyphi are not only some of the world’s most famous historical blends but they are some of the most involved, complex and fascinating as well. One of the things I find most fascinating about them is that in the right hands a kyphi incense can be both simple and complex, creating a composite aroma out of a large ingredients list. The amount of preparation that goes into one of these incenses can be daunting and based on Katlyn’s words at the incense link, she has devised a new way of blending Kyphis to save both time and energy, which will allow the incense to be made more available. Anyone who has tried a Mermade kyphi knows this is a very good thing indeed.

Reviewing a kyphi may not be as difficult as making one, but it’s a scent that is kind of hard to pin down. I’ve always used something like a fine wine or whiskey because the overall bouquet of a kyphi can be so rich and multi-faceted, usually with a distinct sense of age. It rarely feels like something you can just pick the elements out of, it’s more like the elements come together into something new. There are definitely similarities from one kyphi to another (usually for me it’s whatever the raisins and honey do, if they’re in there). However, I think this vintage, Goddess Temple – Katlyn’s Kyphi #2, is a bit different than previous years. It feels like this is more resin heavy overall. The ingredients listed are frankincense (Hougary, Black Sacra, and Honey), Yemeni myrrh, Pinon pine, labdanum, Chios mastic, Saigon cinnamon, Turkish galbanum, and styrax liquidambar, all dusted with agarwood powder. It’s interesting because this feels more like a modern reformulation of a kyphi, one I wouldn’t be quite as sure of if we weren’t in safe hands with a creator who has spun out years of brilliant kyphi vintages, not a one I didn’t love. While it does feel somewhat different from previous Mermade kyphis, and I’m assuming the #2 is marking the occasion, the feeling that this is still in the style with a lot of depth and creativity is still in place. The notes tend to loom larger than the listed mix with quite a bit of interesting floral activity and heavy spice content that becomes even more noticeable as the incense melts on a heater. I’m not sure if there are raisins or anything like that in the incense, but that sort of defining kyphi note is still in the mix somehow, it’s a scent that reminds me of anything from plums to prunes to raisins. I very much like the idea that this is now an “all year around” kyphi as if you’re a fan of loose incenses kyphi is really one of the first incense types I would recommend. So it is a very cool thing indeed that the availability of this has widened. It is still complex, releases all sorts of subnotes along the timeline of the heat, sings with really quality ingredients, and still has that lovely feeling of fine spirits about it.

Katlyn has done a lot of what I would call lunar blends as well (Temple of the Moon, Mermade Moon, Moon Goddess, and Luna all come to mind). These have what I would call western magical correspondences about them, which means they tend to have some up front jasmine notes. Mermade has done a lot of fine work with jasmine and you may not be surprised that Moon is another solid entry of the type. For this blend she has used Tamil heartwood sandalwood and Jasmine Grandiflorum in a base of Yemeni myrrh, kua, black frankincense, and rare okoume resin, with some Chios mastic drops mixed in. The sandal and jasmine mix is really what is out in front on this one, although it’s perhaps not quite as overtly floral as previous lunar Mermades, and I would guess the okoume resin is giving the entire scent an intriguing subnote, a little bit of a slight gravel that I might liken to some copals and that helps the scent not to get too safe. So overall it’s a bit of a different direction for a lunar, a bit more fruity floral overall with some intriguing wood and resin subnotes to top it off. But I think in the end you will want to visit it for the sandalwood and jasmine mix.

Oh and before I close, there’s great news on the “restock” front in that Sweet Medicine is back in stock. I know I’m incredibly happy to see this beautiful honey and sweetgrass scent become a mainstay, it is one of my favorites in a great line up of goodies, so be absolutely sure to pop off and grab some.

Temple of Incense / Amber, Amber Supreme, Benzoin Absolute, Big Cleanse

Temple of Incense Part 6
Temple of Incense Part 8
The entire Temple of Incense review series can be found at the Incense Reviews Index

I am a relative beginner in the world of Indian incense. While in my incense journey, Indian style incense was the first I encountered, it was during that time period in 2013-2015 that, for the most part, Indian style incense was mostly overly bombastic with shrill single notes that chased me out of the room or had me putting it out hastily. Smells like burning hair and cheap cologne would have made many of my descriptions back then.

So recently, I encountered Happy Hari for the first time, years after the founder died. This opened a door and I quickly began searching for more, almost coinciding with Mike reopening ORS. Learning about Temple of Incense sent me in a scramble. My first order was for one of everything. I have not been let down by this exciting journey and I decided to share the reviews in alphabetical order, leaving out the ones that Mike has already reviewed.

Our first stop is with Amber. As someone who first encountered King of Amber, this is exactly the same. For those who don’t know King of Amber, this is an extruded resin stick. It has a thickness and a heaviness to it that makes it stand out from most other masala sticks(other than other resin sticks like it). It also takes a while to light, showing that there is more resin than oil to make this stick.

I’d love to call this ‘Amber Absolute’ or ‘exemplar’ of the amber scent but it is more like ‘Egyptian Amber’ in that it comes across more like the soft Egyptian Musk type of smell you can get in attars and even in multiple brands of incense sticks. However, I don’t want you to imagine the cheap and artificial smell that can come from those $5 perfume bottles. Rather, this is more that they took actual resins and oils to create this from natural sources, and the result is this amazing, bewitching, soothing scent that everyone in the family comments on when I burn it.

The best thing about this compared to so many other incenses with ‘amber’ in their name on the market, this never crosses the line into cloying. It maintains a atmosphere of mystery with the soft amber scent. Since amber is common in so many western perfume blends, my nose always picks up amber in many Indian incenses as ‘perfume’ yet here it remains solidly like I expect honey amber resin to smell, with that touch of something else that grounds it a little bit, perhaps labdanum or similar, and it adds that mystery and musky type of note that keeps this from getting too sweet.

Next is Amber Supreme. Instead of being a thick, extruded resin stick, this is a handmade masala finished with a light brown dust. The name makes me imagine that this is going to be stronger, faster, better than Amber, but supreme can mean other things, like restraint, discipline and regimen. In this case, this is a much more muted version of the amber smell, it is less sweet and has a little more of the ‘baby powder’ note of amber in it, but again, none of this is the artificial amber or perfume amber. This doesn’t cross into cloying, or sweet, it remains subtle and restrained, which is two words I rarely trot out in a review of anything Indian style. I also want to a address how different the sweetness is between the two. Amber has a sweetness like honey and this one has a sweetness more like confectioners sugar, which helps support the more bitter aspects of it’s scent.

I would suggest Amber Supreme for anyone who finds Amber to be too strong for their tastes, this also lacks less additional ingredients so it is more like ‘pure amber’ or ‘amber absolute’ than the previous entry. Definitely do not burn this on the tail of Amber because you will barely notice it.

Similar to Amber, Benzoin Absolute is a thick resin extruded onto a bamboo core. As someone who has loved Meena Supreme in the past, my initial hit off this was ‘Oh, so ToI renamed Meena Supreme to Benzoin Absolute’. But that lasted for just a moment as I realized this lacked the other perfumes and finishes of Meena Supreme and instead has a scent profile that would represent maybe 50% of the Meena scent.

What you get here is what I call the ‘Indian’ interpretation of benzoin, as this doesn’t come across as the burnt marshmallow note I associate with the plain benzoin, so either the locality or the processing is different here and this benzoin is less sweet and has a few more metallic and maybe even confectionery notes, like a bitter marzipan.

Big Cleanse is a thick charcoal stick with oils and maybe a bit of resin. The website sells it as a smudging stick and I think it might be good for exactly that sort of thing. It has a very herbal smell, reminding me of the German bitter teas like 7×7, and because of that, I like how this smells, though many who I have burned this with have commented on how they don’t like the bitter and acrid notes coming off it.

If the three sweet incenses reviewed here are yin, this has enough yang bitterness to balance all of them at once. While the purpose of this blog isn’t to wander as far into the spiritual nature of incense, this is clearly more for intention and cleansing than for sitting and pleasantly enjoying. However, I’m also someone who has spent years drinking bitter Chinese teas and similar kinds of things from Europe and so I don’t mind a little bit of bitter here and there, especially if you consider some of these sweeter incenses like Amber dessert.

Mermade Magickal Arts / Royal Pastilles + Golden Lotus Heater (Revisit)

I had to do a little digging to remember the last time I had reviewed Mermade pastilles, and it looks like 2014. I’m assuming I must have missed some interim batches somewhere in between. These pastilles have always been a neat little treasure but I had almost gotten used to thinking of them as variations on resins, although done in a way that they kind of resemble candies. I do remember a Turkish Delight themed incense that I think may have had some relevance to this topic. But I mention all this back history in order to show there’s been quite a bit of creative evolution within this theme as it is. The description of Royal Pastilles includes black frankincense, Yemeni myrrh, Sumatran benzoin … ground finely and carefully melded with labdanum absolute and raw labdanum resin bits. This mixture is “then hand-cut into triangles and dusted with extra fine Agarwood powder.” What strikes me a lot about this particular blend is that these resins almost tend to be a little over to the quieter end compared to the more citrusy green and hougari frankincenses. It creates a lot mellower of a melt overall which doesn’t tend to overpower the woods quite as much, so there feels like kind of nice balance of qualities between both. Once again the way Katlyn has blended the resins and oils to create the main aroma feels almost like some level of bewitching spirit within, I’m almost starting to feel like these are almost potions. There’s just this feeling of some level of brewing and aging within that helps the combination end up being a sum of its parts. In fact this one seems to have some vague hints of Mermade’s Kyphi on a bit lighter of a level. It is fun for me seeing the creativity flourish on such subtle levels.

Which brings me around to something we’ve already talked about for a quick second on ORS and that’s that Mermade finally has the Golden Lotus Heater back in stock again. I’m not sure how long they were out, but it is a wonderful thing that they are finally available again. Ross first reviewed this heater back in 2013. In an era where planned obsolescence is almost a given with electric equipment, my experience with incense heaters is they last a long time (I have a Shoyeido heater and a Golden Lotus and they both still work fantastically 10 and 8 years later) and take this from someone who has left his on overnight accidentally more times than I can have counted through the years. If you’re used to just stick incense and combustibles the world of heated incense is almost an entirely different level and over the years I’ve learned to love all styles pretty warmly, but I will say that you can not beat the way heaters deal with resins, particularly frankincense or multiple resin blends (for my nose there’s always some level of charring going on when frankincense is burned or put on charcoal). There are few specific investments I can recommend on ORS but one of these heaters is definitely one of them (I am also informed that the Subitism burner is well-loved, but it is leagues more expensive and likely to be well outside of many budgets). In fact I’m sure there are creators beyond Mermade such as Esprit de la Nature who may very well designs incenses with the Golden Lotus heater specifically in mind for their creations. The heaters are super easy to use, they make loose incense go for potentially hours and they are perhaps most importantly smoke free and mandatory if you are one of those people who love aromatics but not the smoke. So it’s really an essential purchase for the incense head and I might add that heating stick incense on heaters can also reveal entirely new facets of your incense as well.

Mermade Magickal Arts / Sanctuary, Pan’s Earth (2021) + Esprit de la Nature / Lavender Kyphi (via Mermade) (Discontinued)

Here’s another handful of Mermade offerings including one direct from Esprit de la Nature. One I almost missed and the other two newly arrived…

I bought Sanctuary a little while back so I’m not sure if what I’m reviewing here was the first or second batch as mentioned on the page. Katlyn lists the ingredients for this blend of sacred space as Copal Blanco, Copal Negro, Maydi and Sacra Frankincense, Breu Claro, Greek Sage, Palo Santo, Peru Balsam and Fir Balsam. So I think the one thing that this instantly brings to mind is the idea that this is something of a South American blend with a touch of the outside. Space clearing incenses often to tend to be resin heavy, so this checks the box, plus this has that sort of uplifting feel that copals frequently bring to incense especially when they’re high quality. Sanctuary is also a bit of gentle blend, much more so than resin mixes that are frankincense heavy, in fact the frankincenses here seem to have not so noticeable an impact on the overall bouquet. The Palo Santo is fairly obvious as it always is in a mix, and I very much like the way the balsams weave in here as well. Once again Katlyn’s skill at blending multiple ingredients and getting them all to face out in a noticeable way is quite apparent.

Be en Foret’s Lavender Kyphi (picture is just a sample container but cool enough to include – check out the final artwork at the link) is another one of her intriguing variations on the old Egyptian formula. Check out this amazing ingredient line up: “From the Garden: Salted lavender buds and Dominican Sage leaves from my garden, Spikenard root from the Himalayas, Violet leaf extract from France. Resins: Dark Frankincense, Tolu Balsam, Dark Benzoin, Labdanum, Kua Myrrh, Liquidambar, Peru Balsam. A dash of aged Ambergris in Sandalwood oil ● Bound with organic honey and raisins ● Rolled in Agarwood and Sandalwood powder.”

Gulp. That’s a whole lotta goodness there, as is common with labyrinthine Kyphi preparations. Be sets this at a very low temperature kind of melt so you really gotta get in there to experience how complex this is, but of course the lavender is in front just like the name implies. One thing I love about kyphis is there are multiple ingredients, multiple recipes, everyone does them differently, they’re aged and tend to have vintages even among single “authors” and so vary all over the place while still hitting these notes that remind me of the finest of wines or even ales. The second thing I notice off this incense is the honey and balsam scent, a lovely mix that also tends to highlight the spikenard which is a favorite of mine. I do tend to like my lavender as close to the plant as possible, so I appreciate that it’s the kyphi that tends to be sweet here, which is a really nice contrast. And yes this does have that almost thick, wonderful base of a kyphi, more noticeable as the heat progresses, which I always contribute to the raisins and the way they kind of infuse a bit of wine-like goodness to the mix. Anyway I hope you’re convinced on this one, Be has the kyphi juju down!

And if kyphis are a tradition going back to Egyptian times, Katlyn has made something of a vintage out of Pan’s Earth herself. This is one of Mermade’s perennial classics, an almost definitive pagan earth incense, a mix of divine resins with all sorts of herbal notes that furrow their roots deep into the soil. And like kyphi, repeated vintages of Pan’s Earth always seem to improve and get more deep and impressive, and honestly, this one’s even a bit of a quantum jump in how good it is, easily my favorite of all of the good scents under this name. So what’s in the 2021 version? Black frankincense; breu claro; copal negro; vetiver root; aged patchouli; agarwood chips, powder, and oud; Pan’s Earth Special Blend Oil; Arbor Vitae cedar tips; jatamansi; costus root; kua; and Yemeni myrrh. The first thing that always strikes me about Pan’s Earth, despite all of the high end ingredients is that patchouli and vetiver mix. That green, soil-rich earthiness is just right up my alley and has always been the feature that would draw out this god of satyrs (and to be fair jatamansi and spikenard also have a little of it). If you’re gonna talk about Pan you need something feral and dark, something that makes civilization vanish. However to my nose this is actually a bit more resinous than I remember previous vintages, and it almost feels like the aged depth of it actually highlights and provides a well-roundedness to the incense that reminds you that the mystery of Pan still remains and that matched with all that earth is the sense of the universal as well. Perhaps 100s of years from now, some future archaeologists and anthropologists will be trying to make sense of the complexity of Pan’s Earth. Because this great incense is now becoming a tradition like kyphi, where there’s so much to experience, a review may not be able to do it full justice. One subnote melts into another into another. Definitely don’t miss this!

Mermade Magickal Arts / Earthly Delight, Black Flower Lubana, Rite of Spring

First of all let’s just take a look at the remarkable piece of art adorning the little vial of Earthly Delight. What a tremendously gorgeous piece of work. The colors on this piece are really reflective of the sort of aromatic kaleidoscope that this incense provides. The ingredients are listed as Oman Frankincense, Crimson Kua, Yemeni Myrrh, Garden herbs and blooming flowers, Sandalwood and Summer Spices, and Orange Blossom Absolute. Special attention has to be paid to the summer spices as these pop through nicely along with the really beautiful orange blossom absolute. It’s the sort of orange spice mix you might find it a soothing tea and the whole bouquet just pops with freshness. Unsurprisingly the frankincense and two types of myrrh (the kua) make up the base of this incense, and this base has obviously been wonderfully crafted to bring out the orange blossom. I actually really love the way Katlyn modifies various incenses with frankincense to bring out the various citrus types associated with various types of resins. I’ll add that I left this one on overnight accidentally and when I came back into the room it was still quite aromatically active so I’m sure a little of this aromatic powerhouse goes a long way. I will of course highly recommend grabbing this wonder while you can, although I feel like I say this a lot!

From the highly complex to the devastatingly simple … Mermade has done a lubana or few over the years, they tend to be very mild due to their benzoin content and honestly even the highest quality levels of benzoin don’t change the scent profile of it too much. So it’s nice to see one with a healthy share of black Omani frankincense in the mix to highlight the powerful and alluring scent of vanilla in the Black Flower lubana. One reason I like the frankincense here is that the vanilla would probably get a bit thick if paired with benzoin on its own, given benzoin covers a bit of similar terrain, so the frankincense gives the vanilla ingredient something to contrast with and become something of a separate aromatic entity from its base. There’s a bit of a subtle tweak with the labdanum, vetivert and agarwood hints as well. Nicely done and my favorite lubana from Mermade yet.

It’s a fun synchronicity to sit down and review Rite of Spring after getting a nice complete box of Stravinsky with that work on it. Just off the fresh incense this is a deeply pink/red incense as you might imagine with ingredients like Rose de Mai. In fact this seems to have been arranged with love magick in mind and so it has a huge floral hit. What’s impressive about this incense; however, is that once you get past that rosy top, you’re left with the mix of herbs, linden blossoms and honeysuckle that really pay tribute to the spring vibe of the name. Once again this is an incense where the resolution of these ingredients is very high. Like with all Mermade incenses, the ingredients are just superb. There are really just no better floral incenses in the world and each new variation is a wonder. I just had to hold back on dumping the entire vial on my heater in order to see if the metaphysical effects would work!

Mermade Magickal Arts – Dia de Los Muertos, Pachamama, Sweet Earth, Sandalwood Oud Antique, Ali’s Rare Incense Powder 2015, Kyphi 2016, Oud Kyphi

As mentioned in my New Year’s post, Mermade Magickal Arts incense goes fast these days, although many of their incenses come back as vintages. This, of course, is a credit to the venerable Nevada institution who never fail to keep improving their art form. In recent years we have seen all sorts of new directions from them, including a line of central/southern/meso-American incenses, forays into Japanese style oud and sandalwood mixes, hybrids of these with resin and oud ingredients, and even a successful jump into Tibetan incense. Personally this continual high level of excellence and creativity has me watching the site fairly often, which means that the reviews here can come from samples or purchases. Sometimes I can’t get to reviews fast enough before certain scents rocket out of the inventory. So it’s worth keeping an eye out whether at the site or especially on Facebook for the next creation. Anyway I hope to tackle some recent new incenses here. The last time I looked all of these were available for purchase but it’s worth acting fast these days. The two new Kyphi vintages just went up after the New Year!

The first two incenses on this list fall roughly in the central/southern/meso-American category and are somewhat superficially similar in that both are blends of white copal, black copal and palo santo. In Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead), the emphasis is on the two copals with the palo santo wood being a slight, although noticeable touch. Copal has been called the frankincense of the west for good reason, but when it comes to the really quality forms of it, copal really has a strong and powerful personality all of its own, a much denser, earthy undertone to it that only the darkest frankincense resins and myrrhs touch on. Mixing the white (blanco) and black (negro) copals tends to be a perfect match, just like frankincense and myrrh, chocolate and peanut butter, salt and pepper etc. It gives the overall aroma the bright, lemony-piney notes of the white copal with the more subdued and mysterious elements of the black copal. I really love how in the middle it’s all so foresty but in such a different, more temperate way than how we describe it when we think of something green. It’s worth noting that lower temperatures on a heater won’t volatize the copal quite so quickly and allows the scent to dreamily work its way to your attention.

Pachamama incense uses a similar list of ingredients but I believe the locations from where the copals come may be different and there is a much higher ratio of Palo Santo in the mix. The ingredients list Palo Santo resin and wood from a recent shipment of really extraordinary Palo Santo which almost revolutionized my opinion of the wood. This is a really powerful and aromatic, with some minty overtones I had never noticed from previous samples, and is certainly worth grabbing on its own. It has an immense presence in this mix and the results end up being quite a bit different from Dia de Los Muertos as a result. The copals here really share the scent rather than dominate and strangely enough, I’d say that this actually seems more resinous and less woody than the previous incense, with a really impressive amount of complexity given the short list. Pachamama whispers of shamanic ceremonies in deep rainforests, rays of sunlight through leaves and the rich fertilized earth of an unspoiled nature.

Sweet Earth seems to touch on a lot of the same aspects of Pachamama but with a totally different palette. While Palo Santo remains in the ingredients list, we’re back in the more familiar territory and base of a (honey) frankincense and myrrh mix. The incense is a marvel in terms of how the incense reflects the name, how the whole scent profile comes from such an earthy base, that sort of freshly tilled, post-harvest scent of leavened soil, loam and clay. There aren’t really the notes of more citrusy frankincenses which allows the mellower honey scent to merge with the liquidambar storax and create the sweetness of the name. The poplar buds/Balm of Gilead is a scent I’m not particularly aware of on its own, so there was a complexity in the incense I found to be quite evocative and fresh. In some ways this incense is about half familiar (I was reminded of the previous Dionysos in part) and half completely new and unique, yet it’s overall quite inventive and original, and most importantly quite addictive.

Moving across the Pacific, we have Mermade’s latest Japanese-Oud hybrid incense Sandalwood Oud Antique, perhaps a follow up to the previous Ensense Antique. These incenses fall in the premium category due to the list of rare and high level ingredients being used, in fact there seems to be quite a high level of agarwood going on here from several sources, always a treat. This underlies the high quality sandalwood in the mix which is mostly dominant but the real twist here is the use of two oud oils. These oils as a mix strike me as being rich, spicy yet not overpowering, a merger that is aimed to create an equality with the finer wood qualities. Like with previous styles, there’s a really nice Japanese, almost candy-like mix that reminds me of certain work from, say, Shoyeido. Towards the end of the heat, things get quite spicy. Overall it’s a very classy blend, very stately.

We’re also seeing vintages of old classics come through, which is always heartening. One of these classics is Gregg King’s Ali’s Rare Incense Powder. I have reviewed this venerable scent once or twice in the past (I seem to remember the first batch of it being a mix of “lozenges” and powder) and have never seen it as anything less than a mandatory incense treat. Be sure to look at the list of ingredients in the link to see just how many fine ingredients are here, what’s always been extraordinary is that not only do they all mix well, but none of them are buried in the overall scent. It makes it once of the deepest and most complex incenses on the market. The sandalwood is perhaps the most noticeable link among all the ingredients in its luxuriant and most resonant guise, but for me I really love the way the vanilla works in this incense. Vanilla in so many cheap incenses is just a headache waiting to happen, in Ali’s Rare Incense Powder it is a delectable treat. Anyway for further impressions on this blend, it might be worth digging for previous reviews as there’s never been a batch of this that didn’t impress and I’ve never felt the quality to waver in any way.

And as it’s the beginning of the year, it is also Kyphi time and the 2016 vintage is as good as you could possibly expect. In fact I think I would need a time machine back to ancient Egypt to find a market kyphi that’s better than this one. The problem on my end is as these vintages improve with every year I’m running out of superlatives to describe it (sifting back through previous Kyphi reviews is also recommended here, I would think all of them still apply). You would need the equivalent of a Wine Spectator expert who could sift through the many subtleties of such a complex incense to really describe this Kyphi, as in many ways it is the fine, aged wine of incense and actually shares the qualities of really good spirits in terms of power and quality. In fact this is an incense where so many ingredients come together and end up merging into one totality where it can be actually difficult to make any differentiation from one ingredient to another. What’s even more impressive is there’s a second blend called Oud Kyphi which is a form of the original with added oud and agarwood before the incense becomes cured. It’s just like when you don’t think the Kyphi could get any more stunning, along comes this upgrade. Surely this could be one of the finest boutique incenses ever devised, it’s certainly not the kind of scent you’d double task to even if you’re able to. It’s a virtual whirlwind of complexity and astonishment, the kind of scent that could only truly be approached by fine poetry.

As I finish this up I also want to mention I’ve really been enjoying the Labdanum resin from Crete. When you think of how many great incenses from Mermade are made from such excellent quality material, it behooves one to occasionally check out some of the material on its own. I’ve tried labdanum before, but some of it can come with some nasty off notes. No worry, there are none of those here, quite to the contrary. So don’t forget to check this out as well as the palo santo wood and some of the many fine frankincenses and copals Mermade carry. There are many treasures to uncover here.

Mermade: Cyprian, Xochi, Luna, Naga’s Nest:

This is the first of about three different reviews I have put together, the other two will come out later this coming week.

Cyprian – Agar-Labdanum-Rose: This is an altogether wonderful blend that uses three of my favorite materials. As a mood setting or meditation blend it is perfect as it works for both moments of reflection as well as warmth. Best on an electric heater, it can last quite a while and has a long “hang time”.

Xochi – MesoAmerican Visionary Incense: Fresh, bright and alive is how I think of this one. The Copal’s and other resins mixed with the assortment of herbs and flowers is a great and lively scent on the heater that works really well at the end of the day. It does help one to relax and let go, which is not a bad thing at all. This has become one of my favorite scents and is quite different from what I normally go for. Nice for Spring and Summer times.

Luna – Lunar Resin with Jasmine: So, using real Jasmine in incense is really kind of an art form. It can be very difficult to get it to smell right, the blend of materials with it is all important as are the quality of the materials. This one has it all working together and is sublime. It is not overwhelming as many of the Indian or Japanese style Jasmine incenses can be, it just sort of takes a place in the room and lets life go on in a much more pleasant fashion. Highly recommended as a true floral incense. Best gently heated.

Naga’s Nest – A Himalayan Fantasy Incense: I really like the Rhododendron in this mix, it adds an honest water note that is very unusual and quite fascinating and rides over and through the different woods, herbs and frankincense notes. Something very different from Mermade that will appeal to a lot of people. On a hot day this might be just the thing to cool things down a bit.

New offerings from Mermade

Smirna” – Styrax Benzoin: This is fun and also a very straight up resin hit. This is very different from Siam Benzoin(which has more vanilla) and this also looks to have a few things mixed in but has a really pleasant scent that works quite nicely for this time of the year. It is a great addition to the frankincense and myrrh.

Oh yes, Katlyn just got in raw Labdanum resin from Crete. This is the best from the best source and is a real treat. Maybe not for the faint of heart, but if you read this blog that probably does not really fit you anyway, makes a wonderful “present to self”.

Kyphi – Isis – 2013: One of the best of Mermades Kyphi blends with all the features and scent notes that make this a constantly  good buy with an added slight amber note floating around in the backround.. Not as “dark” as say, Deep Earth or Mephisto, but still loaded with resin/wood goodness. When I smell this and then contemplate Roman emperors burning something along the lines of thousands of pounds at once I think to myself..maybe we should try it in DC  🙂

Indigo Dreams: This one is somewhat surprising to me in that I rarely go for Lavender based incense. However in this case it really works well with a slight vanilla base note mixed in. This is a very pleasant scent and the relaxation aspect of the mix is an added bonus. Might be a bit hard to get, I have discovered  that someone I introduced Mermaids works too tends to wipe out all the stock of this sort of thing.

Pomander: Resins, woods, spice and a bit of orange make for a great holiday/winter scent. I am always glad when Pomander makes its yearly appearance.

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