Mermade Magical / Classical Kyphi by Nathaniel, Deep Earth Premium

Howdy! Its been a while since I have written a review, but I managed to scrape some funds together to snag an order of Mermade Magical Arts’ Classical Kyphi by Nathaniel Musselman.
The wonderful people over at Mermade Magical also were kind enough to throw in a few samples with my order, including Deep Earth Premium 2013, so I will be doing a double review today!

Classical Kyphi has a scent that upon first whiff ,smells reminiscent of fresh raisin bread and frankincense. After a bit the cinnamon starts to come through, with a touch of anise. Heated gently on charcoal or an electric heater, this will surely please anyone who enjoys sweet, spicy scents.

The Deep Earth 2013 is hands down a new favorite of mine. I will most definitely be keeping a supply of this on hand, once I have the means to. As stated in the previous article by Ross, it comes across very thick, resiny and woody. Upon placing it on my charcoal censer, I was immediately hit with a strong aroma of labdanum, although curiously it does not list labdanum in the ingredients. Alongside the top not of labdanum, I noticed myrrh,  with a scent resembling honey and agar wood in the background. Anyone who is a fan of deep resin and wood scents will definitely love this blend.

Seikado’s Gohitsu, Daikouboku & Keigado’s Jiyou Koh

Seikado’s Gohitsu (Five Brushstrokes) Aloeswood: A nice, inexpensive Aloeswood blend from Seikado. It holds to a “middle of the road”  Aloeswood scent with a slight top note that is somewhat spicy. Which is not too say cinnamon like or anything along those lines. It’s actually quite different from other Aloeswood blends and is pleasant, easy to use as a background scent and a pretty good deal as an everyday incense. Fifty sticks in the box at around $14.00.

Seikado’s Daikouboku Sandalwood: This is a very nice straight up Sandalwood from the makers of Solitude line of wood blends. Seikado seems to big on the use of oils married up to Sandalwoods or Aloeswood to produce some pretty potent blends, almost ranging into what reminds me of Indian styles. In this stick they have not gone that route, opting instead to produce a very nice deep Sandalwood scent with a bare hint of spice/herb notes. I find it to be very easy to use and at the same time different then say the Baieido or Kyukyodo sandalwoods. This is another excellent everyday scent that will be merciful to your wallet.

Keigado’s Jiyou Koh: This is low smoke type incense, and it really is closer “no smoke”. Normally I do not like this style but this one I am finding pretty fun. When I first smelled it at Kohshi /Japan Incense it reminded me of something, about a week later I realized there were similarities with Shoyeido’s  Myo-ho in the top and mid notes. After looking at the ingredients list (Fennel, Cinnamon, Clove, Polygala tenuifolia (Polygalaceae), Angelica acutiloba) I realized that the first three are something I always associate with the scent of Myo-ho(along with Star Anise). All this being said I find this stick to be a pleasant backround scent, not very strong or prominent( like most low smoke stick) but it does add an interesting note to a room. Because it is a low smoke stick it will also tend to eliminate other scents, something to keep in mind if you want to clear the air.

Daihatsu / Myo-jou, Taganohana, Kaizan, Chyo-Sin

Daihatsu are a Japanese company who, like Nippon Kodo, tend strongly to modern styles of incense with the use of perfume blends. Unlike Nippon Kodo, Daihatsu manage to be fairly successful with the format, creating many incenses in the $5-$10 range that are quite good for the price. I’ve sampled the company’s Tanka range in the past; however, it’s this range of four sandalwood based incenses (scroll to bottom) that are a little closer to home in terms of traditional scents, even if these still could be considered modern in that the woods are married with strongly scented perfumes and/or oils to reach their aromas.

The four incenses in question here increase slightly in price for each title starting at $5-6 for Myo-jou and ending at $10-12 with Chyo-sin. All are boxes of approximately 55 sticks at 5 1/2 inches per stick, and the incenses all come in unusualy hexagonal, cardboard rolls within the boxes, rather nice packaging given the prices. All four incenses are sandalwood based, both in the oils and basic stick; however, most of the aromatic play appears to be in the perfume.

Myo-jou is unusual, at least for my tastes, in that it’s not only the most inexpensive incense of the four but it may be the one I prefer the most. It’s possibly the driest of the four incenses, although the top oil is among the most heavily scented of the four. Overall it’s a sort of sandalwood and spice blend where the spices help to bring out those very qualities in the wood. Along with the wood and spice, I smell hints of nougat, talcum powder and candy floss, although the sweetness of these side hints never overwhelm the odor. Like many incenses with so much in the play oils, the aroma is a bit on the shallow side, but it’s well-priced and certainly the best place to start in the Daihatsu catalog.

Taganohana acts almost as a contrast by being the incense of the four with the least strength in the perfume oil, letting some of the woody base play as part of the aroma. Cinnamon and star anise are added to the ingredients chart for this incense and you can get intimations of both, bolstering the spicier elements into a more richer aroma than the Myo-jou. With less of the oil in the play, this incense comes a bit closer to those in the Shoyeido Daily range. Of these four Daihatsus, Taganohana is probably the least sandalwood oriented. Comparing it to a Baieido spice stick like Koh or the Syukohokoku range demonstrates fairly well how different a perfume-fronted spice stick can be from a more traditional blend.

Kaizan seems to move back to an aromatic area closer to Myo-jou in that it’s another sandalwood and spices blend without a list of specific ingredients. It’s probably the most overtly perfumed of the four sandalwoods here with a more floral/vanilla/musk type of blend, soft, sultry and a bit muted. Of the four incenses here I think this was originally the one I liked second best, but over repeated use I’ve found the oil to be just a tad thin, as if it hints at something it never quites reach. On the other hand such a restrained formula keeps the incense from attaining the sorts of harsh, bitter or soapy notes you tend to find in modern and/or synthetic incenses, which, given how inexpensive these sticks are, is no mean feat.

The range’s high ender, Chyo-Sin, gets its price likely due to the presence of some rose oil with the sandalwood. I’m not particularly fond of rosewood sorts of incenses, but this is quite a bit different in the perfume, capturing elements a more natural stick might have missed. Part of this is the spice middle, which helps to balance the floral rose elements and give the incense some extra richness. Giving this a secondary revisit, I might have switched this box out with the Kaizan when I decided to buy two of the four boxes.

I found it interesting that secondary samples of Taganohana and Chyo-Sin both struck me as being a little less strong in aroma than I previously remembered, which I could chalk up either to a muted sense of smell or possibly a little degeneration, which is something a bit more common when the aromatics are carried by perfume. However, I found that this actually helped to bring the wood bases out a little more and improve my opinion of the range. Because overall if you put together affordability, packaging and perfume art success, these four Daihatus incenses actually do a pretty good job at hitting their marks. Given the price range, these tend to be as successful or more so than other modern incenses at the same range, which should make them well worth checking out for the price conscious.

Encens du Monde / Moments of Eternity, Moments of Serenity

Right in the middle of the Encens du Monde Short Rolls list (scroll down a little over half way) are a couple of incenses that are actually quite different from the others in the line. For one thing, they’re at least an inch shorter each than the rest of the short rolls and they’re also quite a bit thicker. The thickness of the stick, however, doesn’t really add to the smoke content and both of these incenses are quite smooth and consonant even while made up of a number of ingredients. Like many roll incenses, these two come singly or in boxes of (12) rolls. I’ve also seen gift boxes with rolls of both and a holder, but as far as I know these haven’t been imported yet and could be discontinued.

Moments of Eternity is an earthy, tan colored stick and made from white sandalwood, cinnamon, oak moss and essential oils. Overall it’s actually not a heavily perfumed incense, which is often the case for many brands in the Encens du Monde canon, instead it definitely goes for a strong spice content and as such is reminiscent of gingerbread cookies or graham crackers. While it’s not a particularly startling incense at the beginning, I’ve found myself presently surprised coming back into a room full of the aroma of one that has been burning for a while, it has a mellow consistency to it that’s quite nice, a spicy stick that’s really never overwhelming.

Moments of Serenity is the green stick companion and a far less distinctive incense, created from sandalwood, cinnamon, benzoin, kansho (spikenard), star anise seed and cloves. I could see this ingredients list almost being more appropriate for Moments of Eternity as it implies a high spice content. However Moments of Serenity is far more like a green, every day sandalwood in scent. While there are notes of the ingredients list in the top part of the aroma, they’re very subtle and often lost with fatigue, leaving the stick smelling rather standard after a while. I spent quite a few sticks just trying to suss out further qualities from this one and was left disappointed (nor was I convinced age was a factor in this case). However, it does share the same slick and consonant qualities of Moments of Eternity, even if that particular incense is the most successful of the two.

Overall, I’d recommend Eternity, but would suggest other green sandalwood types with more distinctiveness (for example Kyukyodo Ikaruga or Shoyeido Evening Zen) over Serenity.

Zuika Koh Revisited

I have had a box of Zuika Koh from Shunkodo for about 5 months. I got it, used a little, and then got caught up in some other incenses and only recently started burning it again. Really, I think I had to grow up into it
Mike reviewed it last November and in recently going back to look at the review( because, yes, he was and is one of my main sources for what is worth getting :0 ) ) I sort of rediscovered it. So I realized that it had gotten somewhat lost in the shuffle and decided to bring it back out to play.
The ingredients list on the websites seemed a little lacking to me so I wrote to Kotaro at Japan Incense/Scents of Japan asking for a little more input. He wrote to Shunkodo and they wrote back:
“Ross, I got mail from Shunkohdo. It is a company secret recipe. However, he mentioned to me that Zuika Koh contains some of following ingredients such as: Aloeswood, Sandalwood, Clove, Cinnamon, Star anis, Spikenard, Patchouli, Benzoine and Boruneol.”
Which are pretty much the standards of the Japanese incense world. Of course there is the “secret” part that makes up the difference and adds that certain something of uniqueness.
One thing that I am now noticing about this incense is the quality of the materials. The Aloeswood is really nice, and given the price of the stuff of late, that can become a deciding factor in scent and cost.
Also Zuika Koh straddles that fine line between spice and floral where neither one is out front and the wood element can still play such a big part. Actually in this incense they all sort of trade places through out the burn. This is a really pleasant and captivating grouping of scents. It is great for the reflective moment or perhaps study. It’s calming, not overpowering, yet at the same time can really get your attention once you start to discover all the subtle nuances it has. As Mike said it’s better to burn this one early on if you are going to be using more then one incense, then you can really enjoy it.

– Ross

SAMPLER NOTES: Nippon Kodo / Elemense

In the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit that at least 75% of Nippon Kodo’s US catalog isn’t really marketed at my sort of nose. But it’s interesting that the most recent two lines they’ve released, including Elemense, have been roughly traditional incenses, or at least both this and the Kohden line are sandalwood-based incenses that stay fairly close to traditional ingredients, even if it seems clear that perfume art is used in most of these cases to get the aromas. Elemense incenses are actually quite a bit more inexpensive than the Kohden lines and perhaps maybe not as clear in their aromas. They all seem to retail around $5.95 a box.

The Elemense line seeks to embody the five classical elements in five different incense blends, using Space as the fifth point (rather than, say, Spirit or Akasha). In doing so they tie down each element to a geographic location, or as some of the spiritually inclined might say, a mundane chakra. Having reviewed Mermade cones that followed a very similar pattern recently, I was constantly reminded of the similarities and differences between these two lines as the sorts of blends they come up with are similar. However, as mentioned before, Mermade cones are definitely all natural while there are synthetic aromas used in the Elemense incenses.

We start with Earth which is described as having bountiful hints of vetiver, cypress and patchouli and is tied to El Mirador, Guatemala. Where Mermade’s Earth cone was very strong in the patchouli era, it seems to be very mellow or blended in this one, in fact I didn’t pick it up at all. Like many of NK’s incenses that use three ingredients, the result is more of a blend that comes off like one ingredient, and in this case the more citrusy/evergreen qualities of the cypress came out the strongest. If I see patchouli and vetiver in ingredients I do tend to expect a certain earthiness not apparent here, instead they just seem to give off milder spice hints to give background to what’s a very strong, and mildly cloying perfume oil.

Water doesn’t have an ingredients list unless you count green mist, ice water and musk. Personally I don’t really have much of a line on the ice water or green mist aromas, but let’s assume this is roughly the fragrance around the Detifoss waterfall in Iceland. I found this to be pretty loudly aromatic, the sandalwood base front a very intense floral perfume that reminded me of the Free Pure Spirit line, with a scent that dissolves into soapy, synthetic-ish back notes. It evinces the trouble I have with a lot of this company’s incenses, a desire to combine so many fruit and floral elements that the result is something indistinctive and washy. In fact I assume the fruity qualities are supposed to come close to water, but as with the Earth incense, I didn’t find this particularly elemental.

Fire was the most successful of the five incenses in terms of nailing the element itself. This stick burns hot, with a lot of spice and sweet benzoin notes (I was thinking amber, so this is likely more a Siam Benzoin). Along with benzoin are Philippine Mango and clove, supposedly evoking the Mayon Volcano in the Phillipines. The overall effect is dry and crispy, but like all the incenses in this line the oil is pretty strong and synthetic-like and thus more intense than some of the Kohden incenses I might compare this with.

Air introduces a combination of anise, tomato leaf and galbanum, the middle ingredient evocative of the Fragrance Memory incense Siesta Siesta. This is quite different of course, and I found myself picking up more a watermelon vibe than tomato leaf. Usually with air incenses you tend to get a strong lavender note, but there’s no such thing here, perhaps none grows on Ecuador’s Mt. Chimborazo. I got quite a bit of spice on this one, in the thyme or rosemary vein (perhaps the anise), which did give it some very airy qualities. It made me feel a bit edgy overall, which I’d also attribute to the company getting pretty close to the element on this one.

Space would be the most difficult one to nail of course, and the idea is embodied here by Erg Chebbi’s “transformative mysteries.” In reading the ingredients list I was quite surprised, the saffron, cinnamon and amber implying something much spicier than the heavy floral notes at work in this incense. I was getting rose, carnation, gardenia and/or daffodil similar in ways to arabic ouds, except no oud of course. Unfortunately any sort of floral incense at this price is likely to have a lot of off notes and this one is no different, with a very strong soapy, alkalline vibe to it. While the idea of something so intensely floral should work for the element in question, I found the overall stick to be fairly unpleasant and unbalanced.

At least in the case of Elemense, one’s not going to be putting out a lot of money on a risk, but I’d suggest sampling them first if you’re not familiar with the company’s incenses. As they’re probably the most visibly marketed Japanese incenses in the country, they’re subsequently not the sort of scents those looking for wood and spice are going to go for. Unfortunately for the most part the scents are fairly shallow and often strike aromas without a lot of intricacy. Compare a $6 box of this to a $6 roll of Baieido Kobunboku if you don’t believe there can be a big difference even at very low prices.

{Afternote: It seems that the 5 incense Elemense series seems to match up in both name and number of incenses with NK’s Naturense line. Having tried only one incense from that line, I’m not sure how much more they do match up, but thought it was worth noting.]