Baieido / Ensei / Healing, Gallant, Pure

Baieido started their Ensei series many years ago with five different aromas and looking in the index I see Ross did a review of four of them in 2009 (I’m still kind of amazed any time I’m reminded how long ago some of our reviews are at this point). I tried them in a sampler back then, I think, and don’t remember them being particularly great, they felt more like a way to modernize some of the more traditional scents and in a catalog of wonderful aloeswood and sandalwood incenses, they didn’t strike me as measuring up. Ross said in his review, “These are not super powerful scents, but rather work on more subtle levels, one can use them near others without “blowing them away,”” which I think is a solid statement that also goes for this new trio. I don’t know if any of these particular sticks match up with the old (and still available) Ensei scents, but Healing is a “spicy aloeswood aroma,” Gallant is a “meditation aloeswood,” and Pure a “thick aloeswood aroma.” So some overlap maybe. But anyway, all of these are shorter sticks and come in smaller tubes of 20 sticks. They’re priced about where you would imagine at $15 and the aloeswood is probably what I might describe as low to mid end wood, with the sandalwood being a bit more premium, and Baieido usually do a pretty good job with both (although I might argue with aloeswood depletions the company is not quite what it once was).

And so they burn fast, real fast. Healing is really not terribly unlike one or two of the Kobunboku blends. It’s not heavily spicy and there is some level of aloeswood in the mix but it’s not a dense or resinous blend, it’s definitely pitched a bit lighter. There’s also a bit of like fennel like cooking spice in addition to whatever that cinnamon clove layer has in it. And I would guess there’s some nice sandalwood (it has fresh quasi-heartwood notes) in the middle as that’s part of what reminds me of the Kobunboku series. Overall it’s a bit cooling as well. So yes this one is very Baieido and if you know the company then you would expect to get to know the materials, although in this case 20 short sticks may not be quite enough. On the other hand after four sticks I’m not terribly sure how deep this one goes.

Initially, I found Gallant to be a bit richer of a blend, somewhat tangy, in fact the kind of smell I more usually associate with a spicy aloeswood rather than a sweet one. But there were some comparisons where it actually felt like it wasn’t all that different from Healing, so I figured the spatial configuration of your burning set ups may bring out different notes. I noticed what I thought were some intentional floral elements blended in and then searched for them on a different burn without finding them. Once again it feels like there is some decent quality sandalwood in the middle and once again it’s actually quite nice and beneficial for the overall aroma, but there is no really powerful aloeswood scent here. It feels more or less like the aloeswood exists to contour the overall scent. Like Healing, I was left fairly nonplussed by this one.

Finally, there’s the Pure. I’m assuming thick isn’t meant to reflect modern slang, and after two rather delicate blends I was hoping this one might be dialed up a bit more. And it is, maybe a little. It’s a bit cooking spice like the Healing, a bit more aloeswood-aroma heavy on the front end. But calling it thick seems to not take into account that like the others this is a very mellow aroma, with maybe a bit more tangy of a mix than the other two.

Ultimately these are not unpleasant incenses but they match my memory of feeling like the Enseis were really not all that much to get excited about in a crowded world full of aloeswood mixes, even in the Baieido catalog where most of their sticks are better than this. The format means it’s something where you might want a touch of scent and in a home full of heavy incense use, these are probably too fleeting to make much of a dent. Of course if you’re someone who leans to the Japanese style and even finds some of those too powerful, this might be more to your speed. But it feels like if I get the slightest bit of a distraction, I’ll turn around and the stick will be out.

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Seijudo / Kotonoha Indian Sandalwood Blends, Kotonoha Vietnam Aloeswood Blends

Seijudo are mostly known in the US for their very expensive aloeswood to kyara line that seems largely made from charcoal and expensive oils/perfumes rather than woods (much older reviews of these are in the Reviews Index link on the left and the few I’ve tried in last year or so were still about the same as I remembered them). The high ends of these incenses were probably comparable with Shoyeido’s now deleted kyara trio, so given that we are losing a lot of these high enders to aloeswood depletion it’s a bit surprising you can still purchase these. So if you were thinking about trying something deluxe now’s the time to do it (for example we just lost the top three Kourindo incenses to shortages). I can’t imagine most of these are going to last forever. However, these two larger box Kotonoha incenses (120 sticks) present both sandalwood and aloeswood incenses in a much more traditional form and accessible price (the remainder of the catalog available in the US seems to be low smoke incenses).

So where does the Kotonoha Indian Sandalwood Blends fall on the Japanese sandalwood spectrum? I would say at least mid-end. It may not quite capture the sort of crystalline resinous top of the best old mountain woods but it’s rather superb through the rest of the burn and very much avoids the pitfalls of the low end stuff that is usually full of filler wood and often other oil elements. It’s a very friendly sandalwood that really avoids any off notes, and it has a bit of coolness and freshness. To roughly compare, if I was to go up to what might be my current favorite Japanese sandalwood, the Kikijudo Koubouku Ginmi Sandalwood Mysore India, you would be basically paying up to four times more per stick to get that extra note. So I think, assuming you’re willing to pay a bit for bulk, this may be one of the better sandalwood buys out there and I would think at this price there’s a bit of creative magic to make this one work as well as it does.

The Kotonoha Vietnam Aloeswood Blends is a little harder to pitch because when we look at 2022 vs 2012 what we might tag as low, mid and high end aloeswood has changed drastically. This means the high end stuff is getting incredibly rare to where the mid end may be the high now in many cases. The prices haven’t changed much at all but it is worth keeping this in mind when you shop. So the Kotonoha Aloeswood at just $10 more for the same amount of sticks in the sandalwood box may not be the sort of deluxe aloeswood that you meditate on for deeper more profound notes, but it is a very nice and accessible aroma that sort of hints at the type of stick that has a bit of cherry on the top, except this is equally as herbal and is still resinous enough to be interesting. The comparison of this to the Koubouku Ginmi aloeswoods is not unwarranted either, and while those three are deeper sticks overall and priced accordingly, they still hint at the kind of stick you are getting in this box. Ultimately these are still aloeswood sticks and there is no attempt to make them something more than that.

I am not sure if the creators at Seijudo, like Kikijudo, are essentially trying new works with the sandalwood and aloeswood quality that remains accessible, but if they are I think they’re still doing some fine work as both of these are very pleasant wood incenses. I’ve had them out numerous times since I bought them last year and while they are not intended to be high end pleasures, they are still quite a fine quality for the price, so if you want something you can pull out more frequently and still get a decent incense, I would recommend both of these.

Qinghai Jiumei Tibetan Medicine Pharmaceutical Co. / Jiumei Tibetan Incense

So here’s one of those “double roll” packages of Tibetan incense, filed at incense-traditions.ca under their therapeutic and relaxation category. It’s described as “an excellent therapeutic incense containing a lovely blend of fragrant plants such as eaglewood, sandalwood and nutmeg.” First of all, like why don’t we just get rid of agarwood and aloeswood and start calling it eaglewood? Isn’t that a much cooler name? Diversions aside though, finding this wood in relaxing or healing incenses from Tibet seems to be a very common sort of thing. The nutmeg addition, though, seems quite a bit more in front than it usually does and in many ways sort of makes this incense. It doesn’t quite add that same sort of spice note you’d find when cinnamon and clove are more forward in the incense but you can still sense the nutmeg quite clearly as something that tops the mix of the two woods and gives it its own aromatic nudge. And just like most Tibetan incenses the use of a sort of musk on top of the scent is present here as well and somewhat titled to a slightly animalic presence. So yes, this is indeed quite the nice scent and like so many goodies from incense-traditions, you never get the impression that Jiumei Tibetan Incense is anything but a dense and quality scent. And it’s a little bit different in that the eaglewood base doesn’t lean this in an evergreen direction so much, so its addition to your collection will likely expand its diversity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kunjudo (Awaji Island) / HA-KO / Paper Incense / No. 1 Spicy Jasmine, No. 2 Agarwood, No. 4 Sandalwood

Japan Incense sent over these three beautifully designed paper incense leaves to review. Honestly as soon as I looked at their delicate construction, I had some hesitance in even wanting to burn them, the art and aesthetics seem so perfect (I love the delicate notches and details on the leaves). Second, I am getting to be of the age that if I’m burning incense and something else happens, like I get a call from work or there’s some sort of minor crisis to resolve at my place, etc., I can immediately forget what I am burning and come back with it depleted. I only had one chance at these really, so I needed to be ready. It’s one thing when you lose a daily stick, no worries, but man when that happens and it’s a kyara or something, it can be highly disappointing to be distracted. So, gulp, I took photos and wrote all of this before even lit a tip. Keep in mind as well that I am not sure if this qualifies as a “sampler notes” but since they all appear to be part of a five leaf set, one does not really have the luxury to try more than one without spending a lot of money. To me this feels like something of an aesthetic or artistic treat but at a bit over $5 a leaf it is obviously luxury priced. And it was paper so I was like how fast are these gonna go up? Also, I believe these usually come with a felt mat to burn them on. I didn’t have one so used a bed of ash. It must be said that you want to keep your eye on these when they burn as even the slightest draft can move the leaf from incense to fire hazard.

So I went in order and started with the No. 1 Spicy Jasmine. My first reaction was both that it burned a little slower than I expected (it still goes pretty fast) and that the aroma was definitely modern. As the leaf widens it gets a bit more smoky as well, unsurprisingly. But overall the paper they used is obviously formulated to not have much in the way of off notes (although after burning all three you can definitely get the “paper note” as well). Now I’m not sure I got much of an actual jasmine note out of this, although it certainly had some mild spiciness around the edges, but it’s still interestingly floral in a sort of wet way, a scent I might associate more with a perfume than an incense. In fact without the binder of a stick, it’s almost a bit purer this way. Overall the scent actually reminded me a bit more of something like peaches, but it did have a few subnotes in the mix which made it interesting. It’s hard to say with one leaf if this is something I would burn a lot more of if I had multiple leaves but it was an interesting experience. And I would think this could appeal to a more modern audience.

The No. 2 Aloeswood is probably a bit more over to my personal tastes and while this obviously isn’t wood burning, the creators have gone some way into making something reminiscent of an aloeswood scent, a perfume that is modern but maybe reminiscent of something like the Xiang Do aloeswood. It is still essentially a perfume on paper. Perhaps in this sense, having a leaf burning with a woodier scent is a bit more on point, almost autumnal in a way. I found this one particularly cooling in a way I wouldn’t have expected. Almost moody in its profile.

The No. 4 Sandalwood is perhaps a bit closer to the scent you know and love than the previous two although it feels like it’s mixed in with some perfume aspects, but in a way I thought was quite complementary with the wood itself. It is almost like the intent was to bring the spicier aspects of the sandalwood to the fore and like the Aloeswood, I found this to be somewhat autumnal. I liked the somewhat fruity aspects mixed in as well, I though these were a lovely touch. it’s almost like there’s a strong touch of apricot in the mix.

So overall one must think of these as an aesthetic experience, with scents derived from quality perfumes rather than the usual incense experience. Obviously these are not incenses you are likely to use every day, but would be something for special occasions or a nice aesthetic touch to plans. It’s like you actually want to watch the pretty leaf burn rather than leaving it alone for the scent. So anyway much thanks to Japan Incense for the opportunity to experience this novel form of incense, I found it quite fascinating and certainly the leaves are beautiful indeed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dimension 5 / Terra Enchantica, Terra Conundra

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

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

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

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

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

Dimension 5 / Voyager, Ottoman Empire, Ethyl Phenethyl

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

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

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

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

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

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