Triloka / Cones / Amber Sun, Angelic Frankincense, Arabian Jasmine, Dream Rose, Green Patchouli, Musk, Royal Sandalwood, Sandalwood Fire; Ropes (4 unnamed)

In the Indian incense field some very heavy players have emerged onto the field in the last year or two. They appear to be using quality ingredients and some very well thought out combinations of herbs, spices, oils and resins to produce stellar results at very affordable prices (the fantasy of being able to buy 10 sticks of quality Japanese Aloewoods or Sandalwoods for under $5 makes me glassy eyed : o ) ). So the expectations for quality in the Indian incense market have been raised a great deal. This has resulted in making the selection much bigger and at the same time somewhat harder to deal with from both the consumer and the manufacturer point of view.

A couple things that Triloka has going for it are the quality of ingredients and their pricing. Plus I am sure they have a lot of established fans, having been around for decades at this point. We’ve covered some of the company’s sticks in the past so will be covering a series of cones and ropes in this write up. Mike’s reviews are noted by asterix, the rest, including the intro is by Ross.

In most of these cases the base used to create these cones can come off fairly harsh, particularly when the main ingredients don’t work so homogenously together. In Amber Sun‘s* case the cone appears to be going for a similar scent to the honey amber wax/resin combos. Due to the combo of base and aromatics the mix is fairly soapy and a little rough, but not at all unpleasant. Given the sun in the name, it seems appropriate for this to be a little on the hot side (almost like the scent of granite in the summer).

The Angelic Frankincense* also seems about half “cone blend” and half frankincense scent and if it wasn’t for all the deluxe frankincense resins that have been coming out way of late, I might rate this higher. At least this does what it sets out to do and unlike a lot of Indian incenses (including Triloka’s stick frankincense), this has a distinct if mid-quality, resinous scent with a tough of lemon. Like all the cones here, the binder might irritate the sinuses, so expect it to be a little hot.

The base of the Arabian Jasmine* isn’t quite as strong here, so I’m not sure if the make up is different due to the red color here (as opposed to the previous two cones’ tan color). Unsurprisingly, this is a very perfumed cone. Fortunately, even if it’s obviously not a premium jasmine scent at this price, it’s still fairly dry and not too cloying, a touch fruity even, like a strawberry synthetic. Not amazing, but not offputting either, for the price it’s quite well balanced.

The Dream Rose* is an interesting floral cone to be sure, only roughly approximating (or dancing around) a mix of dry petals, fruity and perfume scents. There’s rarely ever a rose incense that hits it right at this cost level and overall this is a bit on the cloying side, particularly by the end of the cone.

There is a sort of classic sweet Patchuli note in the Green Patchouli that is married up to a “green” spicy note. For me this does not work, but I could see how it would for others. The two main notes seem to be trying to act as a balance between each other but for me it is more like being pulled back and forth.

In the Musk, a somewhat balsamic floral musk quality is hampered by the wood. This might really work well if the quality of the wood had been higher. The actual musk scent is at least in the ball park (given how wide the variations seem to be). I would guess it is herb/spice based and it works. The burning wood scent tends to get in the way of the musk tones, which is too bad as they are well done.

The Royal Sandalwood has a somewhat floral note with a semi sweet quality to it. It smells like it is made without synthetic based oils, which is a relief. It does not have a particularly noticeable sandalwood scent to it but is overall a pleasant floral based scent. The floral quality may be the “Royal” part of the name. I could see a lot of people liking this. It is a cone so it will put out a lot of smoke and scent very quickly to scent a room.

The Sandalwood Fire has a much more pronounced sandalwood scent to it; it also has a very dry overall character, not at all floral or spicy. It is rather surprising in that respect. I generally expect to find a deeper oil based sandalwood scent in Indian incense so if that is your goal then this is most likely not your incense. However, if you were looking for something to break up the traditional heavy oil approach then this might work for you.

The Triloka rope sampler we received contains four different rope incenses only identified by the colored tips, so we’ve indicated the color for each incense.

Like a lot of Tibetan rope incenses, the overall bouquet in the Blue Tip* is like a mixture of herbs, the smell of juice powder mix and spice, so it not only has a wood base but a wide variety of combustibles that make for an unusual and very smoky blend. This has tints of sandalwood, citrus, the tannin like scent from seeds (like in wine), grapefruit, hints of evergreen (juniper, maybe cypress), and a mixed fruit scent that makes this quite pleasant through the final rope loop.

The Green Tip* rope is a much woodier and less fruitier blend than the Blue Tip and subsequently a lot more generic, with there being more of a cedarwood presence than the softer woods in the previous rope. There’s a slight tinge of orange peel but mostly a lot of BBQ, cardamom, clove or spice. An average rope, pleasant, but not arresting.

There is a certain sweet floralish quality to the Red Tip mixed into a herbal note that is very interesting. There are no oil notes present and little of woods. So what you are getting is pretty much herbs, spices, resins and whatever flowers are in the mix. I do not recognize any of the notes but do find the overall mix to be interesting and pleasant. I could see this working in a prayer or alter setting quite well.

When the Yellow Tip is lit, a pervasive juniper-like note comes on very strong followed by a very clean burning herb note. The overall feeling here seems to be cleanliness or purification. There might also be something along the lines of sage in the mix. Probably not something you are going to use all the time but in the right context it would work fine.

Triloka incense is quite widespread in the US so should be found at many stores. You can also find a wide array of Triloka products through Sensia.

Mermade Magickal Arts / Serpent Flame, Pan’s Earth, Wings of Air, Mermade Moon, Sacred Spirit, Salome, Wilderness

[Note: several of these incenses were limited editions and have been since discontinued. Check with Mermade Magickal Arts for availability]

I will always be fond of Mermade Magickal Arts as one of the companys that really showed me how amazing incense could be. While the company does not make them anymore, at one point loose incenses like Shamanic Circle and Dragon Fire were among my staples, blended incenses with fantastic ingredients that had a similar effect like aloeswood on my subconscious. When these were first available, several of the blends had unusual and possibly psychoactive ingredients like datura in them. I noticed the last time I bought these blends before their discontinuation that the ingredients had changed a little and while the new versions were similar, by then either they weren’t having the same effects on me or they were truly different. I originally tried Shamanic Circle in the practice room of a band I was working with and it had a pretty major impact on everyone. I remember thinking hours after the experience that I could smell the incense floating around my memory. In fact the very existence of this site may be partially because of this blend and its company, so in a way I feel I’m coming full circle in being able to talk about them.

I wanted to set this up to demonstrate that to some extent because of these experiences, I’ll always be fond of this company, one that appears to base their products (from incense to music and beyond) on Wiccan/magickal concepts. Immediately I thought of the Scott Cunningham Llewellyn books on incense and my own experiences in making blends from those recipes over a decade ago. This relatively new line of incense “cones” that I’ll be covering here sticks fairly closely to these spiritually minded methods of making incense allied with an experienced hand in incense creation. Every cone here feels like the recipe was experimented with and slightly changed to reach a balance between the woods, resins, herbs and oils in them. And not only that but those familiar with experimenting with these ingredients on their own will realize that there is a rather high quality of ingredients in these “cones.”

I use the term cones in quotes because these are not your typical cones, rather they’re shaped more like flat triangles. The first five incenses (part of the Nature Spirits series) here follow western magickal elemental correspondances and in most cases the element corresponding with the incense can be guessed from the name. And better yet, the elemental quality of each cone comes out quite obviously upon burning. One thing is for sure, most of these incenses have very high quantities of resin in them and if you’re coming over from the Japanese incense side and known Minorien’s Frankincense, you’ll already have your foot in the door in terms of the spicy resin like quality of the cones.

Appropriately the series starts off with Serpent Flame, the incense corresponding with the fire element. Expectations that this would be spicy and hot were met. The base appears to be benzoin, dragons blood and balsam tolu, but particularly I was thinking of the hotter Benzoin Siam when burning this, except that Mermade have managed to balance some of the more difficult sides of this resin. The quality of (Madagascar) cinnamon in this appears to be high and it gives the incense a sort of cinnamon bun like scent, except with hints of shoe polish (in a good way of course) that I’d chalk up to the dragon’s blood. It’s a very friendly incense that really got the whole series off to a nice start.

Pan’s Earth reminded me quite a bit of some of the Cunningham earth-related recipes. I was pretty surprised not to see patchouli on the list of ingredients as it seems by far the strongest note in this incense. This sort of patchouli oil is similar to the types that tend to put some westerners off, except that this is definitely higher quality than what I walked by this morning, a little sweeter and closer to the Himalayan patchouli that I’m fond of. I’m left wondering if part of this might be the vetivert. The other ingredients in the incense are aloeswood, Hougary frankincense and juniper and I particularly get the juniper which gives it a bit of evergreen spice. I thought I got benzoin and lemon from this as well which undoubtedly was the frankincense ingredient.

Lavender is almost always associated with the air element, so its presence in Wings of Air was not surprising. Adding sweetgrass and Himalayan juniper to the mix intensifies this feeling and in terms of hitting the element on the nose, this is almost close to perfect. Using lighter resins like elemi and mastic seems like a very intelligent choice, you get the depth of aroma from the resin without the more definitive notes that come with frankincense, myrrh, benzoin and the like. If the oil note in Pan’s Earth was somewhat overwhelmed by the patchouli (or vetivert) notes, in Wings of Air it’s almost picture perfect. While every single one of these incenses really gets the elemental correspondances right, this might be the classic example in the group.

Mermade Moon is the line’s water incense and as of today looks like the company’s number one bestseller. It’s basically a spicy myrrh incense with quite a bit of play in the oil, which, given the ingredient list, I’d probably chalk up to the Jasmine Sambac. In fact it’s hard to imagine many watery incenses without jasmine as its perfume tends to really capture the changeable nature of a body of water. Apparently the base was white sandalwood, which was a note I didn’t notice so much probably due to the stronger aromatics. Or better yet, this incense uses the fixative onycha, an ingredient from a certain seashells that was apparently used in the original Hebrew temple incense. It all adds up to a rather sultry and slightly Scorpio-like musky blend that could rank as one of Mermade’s best cones.

The Nature Spirits series final “elemental” incense is Sacred Spirit. This is the series woodiest incense by far with liberal amounts of aloeswood and sandalwood. While both of these ingredients do show up in some of the other cones, this was the first where I really noticed them as part of my notes. The woods give this scent a bit more of a sublime scent than the other four, which strikes me as perfect for the “akasha” element in that it’s the one that triggered the most subconscious impressions for me. Like Pan’s Earth, this also has a bit of frankincense to it that gives the scent some more depth.

Mermade’s line Scents of the Sensuous includes Salome. This appears to be a much thicker cone than usual, possibly due to the high number of ingredients in the blend. It’s slightly reminiscent of the above-mentioned Serpent Flame, although not as spicy (and certainly not firey). I’d assume the Tolu Balsam is the ingredient that connects the two. It seems with this incense that it’s a little less about a concept and more about the aroma itself and as such this seems a bit more complex than the elemental line, with varying notes of frankincense and labdanum. It’s very rich and sultry and it strikes me that you actually need very little of the cone to fragrance a space. I was reminded at this point just how important resins are to Mermade incense and there were times this reminded me of a catholic or orthodox resin blend.

I couldn’t find Wilderness on the Mermade site (and it also took me a while to track down Salome), which makes it a little more difficult to describe. But like Salome, Wilderness is very similar to loose resin blends, in this case usually close to forest/celtic type blends with overtones of greenery and trees. I found this a really nice, evocative scent, with the base resin blend spiced up by various herbs. Some of these were spicy, roughly in the nutmeg, mace, clove and cinnamon territories except I wouldn’t swear to any of these being part of it per se. Of the incenses here, this was the one that took the longest to absorb as there seems to be a lot going on with it.

Mermade Magickal Arts have been around since 1984, a family operation whose long years of experience really shows in the creation of these incenses. All of their cones show a great deal of thought in terms of combining base notes, oils and resins and as so many of their incenses are based on various resins, it’s almost as if these cones are a new class or style of incense and as such are a welcome element of one’s diverse collection of scents. It’s great to see this outfit still in operation over the years, still combining art, music, spirituality and craft into a distinctive name brand that continues to be one of the best creative enterprises for scent in the US market.

A second installment of Mermade incenses is forthcoming, covering a few of the company’s loose blends, all of which take me quite a bit longer to go through.