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.

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Pure Incense / Bulgarian Rose Masterclass, Saffron & Rose Masterclass, Camphor Masterclass, Connoisseur Laos Agarwood

This (final for now) installment of the most recent Pure Incense 2021 reviews ends up as something of a miscellaneous section, but includes a couple rose incenses.

The first of these is the Bulgarian Rose Masterclass. One might consider this the most high end upgrade of the Connoisseur Rose, even if it is geography specific, as it still has a lot of similarities. This latter formula is one of the incenses that has maybe traveled the most in scent through the years. In many ways any Pure Incense Rose I’ve sampled is still the conglomerate aroma of the rose oil being used along with the vanilla, charcoal and sandalwood of the base, and it can be fairly difficult to comment on the rose perfume being used without being cognizant of how much this base shifts that. In this case the base provides something of a sweet note that certainly cuts in, but I don’t think it obscures the fine delicacy of the rose oil being used here, which has enough resolution to it that it actually starts to resemble the actual scent of roses and not an approximate pitch at a related floral. Before telecommuting I used to work across from the California State capitol park which has a very sizeable rose garden in it and when this thing is in bloom, walking through it is a veritable lesson on what a lot of roses smell like at once. I will say, first, that it’s something of a confirmation that roses may not be my most personal favorite scent even at its most natural so I’m not always the one to give the right take, but I would say the Bulgarian Rose Masterclass comes as close to any natural rose scent as I’ve seen on an incense and that is highly commendable. For one of the few times I’ve ever said this I actually wonder what this oil might smell like without the ever competing vanilla scent and on a more pure charcoal delivery system because it really seems like a fine absolute. But certainly if you love the scent, you will want to check this one out.

The rose is moved to a bit more of a back note with the Triple Saffron and Rose Masterclass. Here the saffron is in charge and it’s a reasonably resolute saffron note with that sort of tangy, spicy-herbal note you tend to find in most saffron incenses. Saffron is of course the stamen of a crocus sativa flower and so even the raw materials tend to break down a huge supply of these flowers into the cooking spice and then one might have some idea at what it would take to turn even that material to an oil, absolute or otherwise, with the expense of such perhaps raising the question to how much real saffron is in this. The rose becomes less resolute in the face of such saffron heft and, as a result, loses some of its clarity to become a complementary note. I do feel with this one that the intensity of the oil does tend to mask the base more so it’s not cutting through as much and it tends to prevent this mix from getting too sweet. There is, fortunately, some level of interplay to the saffron and rose that makes it interesting nonetheless, but I would guess that whether you like this or not entirely depends on how much you like saffron. High end Pure Incenses can be pretty successful with saffron, for instance I very much enjoyed their Saffron & Musk incense, so again this may also be where I sit with rose as described above.

The scent of the Camphor on the Masterclass stick is actually much stronger on the fresh stick than during the burn, which disappointed me a bit because that note is almost exactly what I’m hoping for (camphor is one of those medicinally-related scents that not everyone likes but I most assuredly do). Alit, the vanilla of the base comes through almost shockingly loud and while you think it might create a conflict, once you get used to it it’s actually surprisingly comfortable. At this point the camphor tends to fade back into roughly the same place that it fills in some of the agarwood or oud sticks. There’s some intriguing dryness to this scent as well, almost as if some level of buttery sandalwood also wanted to be part of the profile. Overall though one thing I do like about camphor wood and it’s even true to some extent on a campfire is that kind of weird cooling vibe that it exhibits (I mostly remember using it for cold sores). So while this stick may be much more than the single note itself, it’s a nice stick nonetheless. And it is certainly different enough to feel more like a genuinely unique incense stick than just a variation.

And finally, perhaps circling around to the Oud group in some way, is the Connoisseur Laos Agarwood. There’s some level of similarity to the camphor on the fresh stick but it’s a bit sweeter here and not as pure a note. This is actually quite an intense agarwood, similar to the general Connoisseur but quite a bit denser in aroma. While it’s labelled as an agarwood and not an oud I have to stretch the imagination a bit to even say what the difference could be as this seems like it could fit in with the oud reviews fairly easily. It’s perhaps not as spicy as some of the others, but generally speaking this sort of wood tends to have that element even at its mellowest. Like the Oud Kathmandu, this has some level of actual wood presence in terms of resolution and definition. In fact based on a recent box of the generic Connoissuer Agarwood I’d easily recommend this one over it, perhaps because the oil seems pretty intense. Like most Pure Incenses there’s still some level of vanilla in the base but the oil mix more than makes up for it. In the end I think if you’ve tried any of the ouds I recommended in that review then it depends on how much you like them in terms of whether you want what are essentially variations on a theme, but then again most of the variations are all the kind of incenses that aloeswood lovers are going to go for.

Prabhuji’s Gifts / Chakra Series / Muladhara, Svadhisthana, Manipura, Anahata, Vishuddha, Ajna, Sahasrara

The Western tendency to create correspondences with Eastern spiritual systems seems largely a side effect of systems like the Golden Dawn where everything from colors to astrology signs to elements to Hebrew letters to tarot cards were lined up with one another to link things up and create one sort of universal spiritual system. This has long permeated new age culture and you can see it here in this seven incense chakra line where all the packages have different colors and so forth and the scents have been created to match up with each chakra, as if working with chakras was a simple as burning incenses and holding the right crystal. But hey, marketing right? (There’s a new Facebook ad equating using their groups as a method for transcendence that is currently annoying me, but I digress.) For sure the packages are quite nice on these, and if we can reference the many gems of the Ramakrishnanda incense line (scroll a bit down after this review), then I was hoping there would be treasures to be found in these as well, as Prabhuji’s Gifts has created a lot of memorable and inexpensive incenses that have become favorites of mine. They have such a wide variety of scents and lines now that there should nearly be something for everyone. So anyway let’s start from the root chakra and bring the energy up, or at least see if these smell good.

The Muladhara Chakra incense lists sandalwood, khus, patchouli and clove. This looks to be of Bangalore pedigree with a heavily dusted, somewhat hybridized masala with charcoal, very similar to what you’ll find with Satya incenses. However, like most of the Prabhuji Gifts line the perfumes tend to be better. I think the idea here is that earthier herbs like patchouli and khus are meant to be grounding, but the mix of all four of these ingredients really tends to blend those types of earthier elements out. You end up with a sort of budget quality woodiness from the sandalwood with a bit of a cooling vibe, not at all what I’d expect from the “cover.” As the incense burns you realize it’s going for a sort of mild stabilizing effect and that you do get the clove and patchouli as milder notes in the background and so overall this is pleasant if not quite exciting. But that may very well be the point.

Svadhisthana Chakra is all about the sacral (aka tummy) chakra. It has a similar style to the Muladhara, but is perhaps a bit softer. The list here is vanilla, rose and vetiver. I’m always a bit skeptical of incenses with rose notes at this sort of inexpensive price range and the one here seems a bit odd in the mix. The company also tags this chakra with the water element where something like jasmine seems a better fit and it’s kind of odd to see something like vetivert here as well. So it’s a bit of an odd duck. Like most of these incenses there’s also an inherent woodiness to it that isn’t listed and you can certainly smell the vanilla, although it leans a bit to the less sweet. I can’t really identify anything too unpleasant or odd about the notes, but the mix of them doesn’t sit particularly comfortably for me. It ends up being close to a lot of incenses you find at this range where the perfumes didn’t quite make it.

So, up to the solar plexus level with the Manipura Chakra, this time with a more simple blend of lavender and sandalwood. The consistency here brings it back more in line with the Muladhara. The simplicity makes this a much more satisfying incense. It’s interesting after sampling the lavenders in the Happy Hari/Temple of Incense axis to sample this as the sandalwood presence gives this a much different feel that those, perhaps less obviously lavender but still soft and pleasant enough to not be offputting like in the Lavender Fields variant. It’s more that it just sort of moves the sandalwood over into a more pleasantly general floral range. So it ends up being probably the best incense in this line. But again I find this interesting on a correspondence level because lavender more often tends to be thought of as air element here and because of that it doesn’t feel like it matches with the fire correspondence listed in the back. For fire you’d likely want something spicier like cinnamon in the mix.

Anahata Chakra at least keeps the rose (and maybe geranium) associations of the heart chakra in place, although it does so with patchouli as the first note listed. It reminds me a little of the Temple of Incense Om Masala, although perhaps not quite as deluxe. For listing a couple of big floral notes, it feels like they’re dialed back in comparison to the earthy and spicy notes and there’s some level of halmaddi to it as well. But the price difference between this and the Om Masala is probably a bit telling in that this has less definition, especially in the perfume area, it is pleasant but in a somewhat muddier way. It’s the kind of incense that would have had a bit more presence in the “halmaddi era” but without the full recipe, it leaves it feeling pleasant but a bit generic.

The “oriental woods and amber” of Vishuddha Chakra create an incense not terribly different from the other sandalwood prominent incenses in this series. It’s quite dry with very little in the way of sweetness and doesn’t have as strong of an amber note as you’d like. Without any real definition of what woods are included, it actually matches the profile fairly well and doesn’t seem as sandalwood-heavy as the others, but this pushes it into a somewhat generic and somewhat personality-less area. I like that it’s a bit different and the cooling feel of it does seem to fit the color scheme here but again, this falls a bit more into the way Satya incenses can be kind of hazy in terms of what scent they’re trying to reach. It’s perhaps that feeling that this is reaching for levels of expense it couldn’t possibly reach at its price.

It’s hard to get enthusiastic about the jasmine and tulasi that matches up with the Ajna Chakra. Ideally when you’re moving up into rarified spheres you’d like the quality to bump up quite a bit, but after the Absolute Bliss/Temple of Incense Vintage Jasmine/Jasmine Blossom, this one falls quite flat. Whatever is going into this mix frankly isn’t cutting it and the perfume is off in a way that’s distinctly unpleasant. It could be that this is old stock and it has faded some but I’m not sure I’d risk another go with what’s left. This stick is more like something you’d expect out of Satya, either factory. And honestly I’ve tried one of Satya’s jasmines (I think it was the Bangalore “Jasmine”) that’s actually more defined than this one, so maybe part of the issue is the Tulasi? Hard to tell for sure, but simply nope.

And finally we get to the crown chakra with the Sahasrara Chakra and the lotus blossom that often signifies the mandala here. But just like with the previous incense, I’ve had Queen of Lotus/Lotus Flower, Floating Lotus Flower/Shiv and of course the devastating White Lotus Oudh Saffron out frequently of late, so I perhaps was not in the economy section when I sat down to review this. Fortunately it’s a bit nicer on its own than the Ajna, and there’s at least some level of attempt to get the floral notes right, but it’s not the same class, not by a long shot. It does have a bit of sweetness as a masala hybrid that helps it a bit, but it also verges a bit sour sometimes. Overall it’s really worth paying a few more bucks for something closer to the real deal, this is something I’d say is nearly always true when it comes to florals.

Now keep in mind as I close this that there are a few incenses in the Ramakrishnanda line I still like a lot, although one of their finest seemed to have been discontinued for a different recipe. But these days I’m fairly sensitive when I pick up a new line that doesn’t seem to be quite as up to the standard I remembered in terms of wondering if the original catalog might have shifted as well. While I might have put the Ramakrishnanda line ahead of say the Designs By Deekay line by a hair with some overlap, I’d put most of the chakra line a bit lower and maybe a step ahead of the Satays in most cases. We’re talking about the same sort of masala-charcoal hybrid style in the Satya family here, but for sure I’d stick to the Ramakrishnandas first. However, it’s worth checking out some of the enthusiastic reviews of these incenses at the specific incense’s web page, to get some different perspectives. After all at $3.38 a package there’s not a lot of risk here.

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.

Temple of Incense / Bombay Blues, Coconut Dream, Dancing Sufi, Jaipur Joshi

Temple of Incense Part 2
Temple of Incense Part 4
The entire Temple of Incense review series can be found at the Incense Reviews Index

This next quartet from the Temple of Incense line shows some interesting variations. As you explore the line, you find a really wide range of different scents that leads one to expect that there’s nearly something for everyone in the group. This group contains basically two (somewhat similar) charcoals and two very sweet and almost confectionary-like incenses. It has been truly fun to go through this range, there’s a surprise at every bend.

Bombay Blues is a really well-named incense. The given ingredients of patchouli, mint, geranium and khus push this aroma much more into cooler regions than a lot of incenses. The base feels like maybe a notch north of a charcoal in the direction of a masala. The khus and patchouli both provide a bit of a clay-like base note but they’re also co-responsible along with the mint for the incense’s overall smooth and chilly top notes. There are surprisingly few green notes like you’d expect from these sorts of ingredients. Even though it is not mentioned in the ingredients there seems to be a bit vanilla note in this as well, which may be the only warm thing about it. The geranium seems to be much farther in the background as a subnote. It’s a very interesting scent overall, it certainly sets a mood and atmosphere quite different than any I usually expect from an incense. Overall it’s probably not as much to my taste but please don’t take that to mean the artistry isn’t still at its usual high level here and if the ingredients list is attractive to you then you’ll certainly want to see if it’s to your taste.

I was working through some Ramakrishnanda incenses recently and noticed that the company had changed their Govardhana incense away from the original loban and coconut aroma to wood rose and vanilla. As someone who felt that the stick was one of the most successful coconut scented incenses I had tried, I was disappointed to see it go, so perhaps it’s fortuitous to try a new coconut incense with Coconut Dream. As I mentioned in my original Govardhana review, I have smelled some utterly disastrous coconut incenses in the past and find it’s a pretty bad idea to formulate one purely on a dipped oil as its likely to smell more like suntan lotion than real coconut. Unsurprisingly Temple of Incense does create a very nice “coconut champa” incense here (although this is scent is still largely charcoal-based) which has enough of a woody base note to make sure such a sweet scent doesn’t get too cloying, and rather than suntan lotion, this smells more like a coconut cream pie with hints of toasted coconut and a lot of vanilla. It even has the kind of grassy subnotes real coconut has, which I think might have the side effect of making your stomach growl. Don’t get me wrong, anything this delectable is probably something you want to use judiciously, but I can see coconut lovers wanting to eat this one up. It’s very nicely done.

Dancing Sufi is an extremely close cousin of Happy Hari’s Niyama Sutra which I have effused elsewhere about. In fact if you have done a deep dive into the Temple of Incense catalog and noticed that they too have a Gold Nag Champa with flakes in it, it’s hard to not feel that both lines share the same recipes or creators. This appears to be an incense with a top note so delicate that it may begin to age really fast as I notice it a bit more in the fresh Niyama Sutra than I do here, but they’re both extraordinary incenses in my book. The notes here are vanilla, kewra, amber and rose absolute. I remember kewra (aka screwpine) from old Shroff incenses and you can smell its particular and unique subnote here. The vanilla and amber are also really obvious, but it’s curious to imagine what gives the top note a sort of like nutella hazelnut or caramel sort of aroma because that’s really what makes this particular stick pop gloriously. Well, that and the beautiful rose note, which is a wonderful secondary bit of complexity. Definitely put this one on your shopping list if you haven’t tried it, it is a particularly fine incense. However US customers might find it more price conscious to go for the Niyama Sutra. You really don’t need both.

Jaipur Joshi is not terribly far from Bombay Blues. It’s perhaps a little more obviously charcoal-based but they both share a mint background that give both incenses a bit of similarity. The other notes in this incense are amber, woods and musk and this mix is certainly less earthy and cooling than the Bombay Blues. The amber here is unlike how it is in most of the other Temple of Incense line and more reminiscent of the charcoal “royal amber” types due to its more perfume-based transmission. The musk is particularly strong here and the woods are very similar to the way they feel in the Wood Spice incense. So in some ways if you’re familiar with some of the rest of the line, it’s difficult not see this as a bit of a hybrid, a combination of elements from other incenses in a new mix. But where the coolness of the ingredients tend to mask the charcoal base in the Bombay Blues, the base is a bit more obvious here. Temple of Incense do respectable charcoals for sure, but I find it to be a bit of a limited format and while this never gets too harsh it feels like it pushes in that direction a bit.

Temple of Incense / Himalayan Spikenard, Wood Spice, Bengal Beauty, Ganesha

Temple of Incense Part 1
Temple of Incense Part 3
The entire Temple of Incense review series can be found at the Incense Reviews Index

So here’s the other half of my initial order, minus the samples, from Temple of Incense. I noticed there’s an “est. 2012” on the boxes which just made me wonder why news on these fantastic incenses took so long to spread. It does seem like there’s a substantial UK to India connection that really helps with the foundation to some strong companies there, so I’m sure there’s more hunting to do. Anyway in this round we have both charcoals and masalas (including a very familiar traditional) and another of the line’s baton size wonders that nearly makes me faint away due to the beauty of it.

Himalayan Spikenard acts as one of the high enders in the Temple of Incense catalog at nearly twice the price much of the range goes for. That’s because it’s not just a spikenard-fronted charcoal but because it has a something of a bakhoor-like oud scent in it as well as musk, oak moss and vetivert. The thing I really love about spikenard is you can experience it ranging from the sweeter notes found in Japanese incense or Greek monastery-styled incenses to musky, earthy aspects of it that feel a little wilder in the natural source. Here you have the full range of the spikenard note even though it’s essentially fronting a blended oil. It is a charcoal, so I do think the mix of these elements actually goes to highlight that in a way not everyone might like, but there’s nothing wrong with this mix of oils on their own, in fact it’s a bewitching blend with a bit of a erotic flair to it. And most importantly it has some aromatic elements I don’t think you will find in most incenses. It’s like having something familiar with a more exotic edge to it.

The Wood Spice is an intriguing (also charcoal, but not as obviously so as the Himalayan Spikenard) incense that reminds me of a couple different scents. The notes listed here are not specific, just flowers, woods and spices, and while I think the woods obviously take the central place, there seems to be a lot of other activity rotating around this center. It feels like it works on two levels, the woods blend on one hand and then some sort of tangy richness on the other with a powerful hit of spice that reminds me of anything from cardamom to clove or nutmeg. The spicy wood feels like it goes in a bit of an Oud Masala direction, but without the more expensive agarwood touches and with the heavier spice touches, the scent profile ends up being something like the old Maharaj or Maharaja blends of the original champa era, although to be fair I think this is more due to the oils than any sense of halmaddi at play. It just feels that there are dozens of ingredients and that the mix creates something that justifies the more general notes than being specific of just a few. The oil overall feels like it could work either as a perfume or cologne, depending on your definition or preference.

Bengal Beauty is one of the latest in the family of incenses that have a long history of lavender-ended goodness. My old favorite was the old Mystic Temple Honey Dust incense, which was a delectably sweet treat of honey and vanilla and I’ve seen it in the old Satya Natural and Happy Hari’s Yama Sutra and probably a few more lines I’ve forgotten about now. It may very well be the second most common traditional Indian masala next to Nag Champa itself, although it feels like this version may have shifted more to a charcoal or hybrid style than it used to be in the old days. And this is as good of a version that exists on the market currently. Part of that is the sweetness, another part is it’s a bit more balanced in a sandalwood direction and part of it is that its more obviously an amber as well (there are some similarities to ToI’s Amber Supreme as well). The other notes mentioned on the box are khus and rose and while I get the earthy notes of the former, the rose is far more subtle. It probably tends less to the sweet side than other versions, but that makes it a better balanced incense. This is a very friendly Indian masala and not a bad one to put on your starter list.

I don’t know what it is about these thick stick incenses like Ganesha, maybe it’s just that they feel like they’re frontloaded with a lot of halmaddi resin, but just like the Shiv this is a stone classic of a scent. The notes are lotus, lavender, eucalyptus and light florals, but the overall effect is like some modern candy fronted Japanese stick except in big stick form. It is super pink in color and in aroma in fact “Valentine’s Day candy champa” popped right in my mind as I wrote this in front of a burning stick. This is fairly well blended, sweet and feminine floral, you certainly get the lavender and eucalyptus notes in the mix but it’s so sweet that most of the rest of the floral notes just kind of converge into this big bouquet of hallelujah. It’s an incredible floral and because of the oils not quite as gentle as the Shiv is, but it’s no less impressive. I would love to see what a big batch of this looks like and smells like. More like this please!

Baikundo / Silver Umeno Kaori Long, Gold Umeno Kaori Long

I actually had to check to see if we had ever featured Baikundo incenses before. Japan Incense have occasionally made a distinction between Baikundo and Awaji-Baikundo, but they look to be the same company, from the same island. It’s the company that did some very innovative incenses based on hydrangea tea that we featured years ago, some of which I believe are still available. Baikundo have a small catalog, at least imported to the US, and largely create modern incenses. I haven’t tried all of their more traditional looking incenses, but based on these two I might guess that they’re a bit more like Daihatsu, where the scents are mostly created from perfumes and oils. So interestingly, while both of these look kind of like temple incenses, they’re definitely in the modern vein with a bit stronger of an aroma than most wood-based incenses. I bought both rolls based on samples as they’re affordable and quite nice.

Silver Umeno is described as vanilla but it’s also really quite a woody in a somewhere near-sandalwood sense. So in a way you’re getting both. It’s actually well done because the incense keeps it dry and you’re not getting into the sickly sweet characteristics some vanilla has. There appears to be some level of definition to it as well as some level of balance with the wood. I would guess most users of traditional incenses are going to probably find this too perfumed, but to my nose they’ve done a good job and it’s a friendly enough scent that even visitors may be OK with it. Like I sort of alluded to earlier, I can only think of some of Daihatsu’s base incense line as a pointer in that the incenses may be perfumed, even in a modern sense, but they still manage to do so in a way where it doesn’t feel cheap.

The Gold Umeno is a bit of a spicier blend. It’s got some of the same base as the silver, but without the vanilla it feels a little less modern. It’s strange, but I don’t remember anything about aloeswood notes when I first sent for it, but yeah there are some subnotes from either the wood or a reasonable perfume of it. Like the Silver, I like this because it’s still in essence a woody incense, it’s just that it obviously gets its stronger scent from being saturated in oil like a lot of moderns. The Daihatsu comparison with the Silver is also similar here. Honestly for my nose something like this feels a bit more enjoyable for a more affordable daily incense than the usual green sticks you see. Presence is important and this definitely has some. There’s some level of herbal content in this that keeps it from being entirely woody as well. Overall it’s quite pleasant.

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.

Yamadamatsu / Fujitsubo (Coils)

This will be the first of my reviews of several Yamadamatsu scents I recently picked up from the wonderful people over at Japan Incense. Fujitsubo means (in the way it is written here) jar of wisteria, and comes in two forms, stick and coil. I am basing this review off of my impressions of the coil variant as I write, and I am immediately confronted with a sticky sweet floral reminiscent of a strong perfume. I get top notes of vanilla and lavender, with mid notes of rose and a base note of talcum powder and a slight, slight hint of spice. There is not a strong learning curve to this mix, as all the scents are quite up front and easy to pull out. At the very lowest end of the Yamadamatsu coils, this incense should be a pleasing treat to anyone who loves strong, sweet in-your-face florals without breaking the bank.

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