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.
Shroff Channabasappa / Soft (Semi-Dry) Masalas / Apsara, Exotic Petals, Little Woods (new version), Orange Blossom, Pride, Raja Yoga, Silver Bouquet, Suganda Mantri, Tapasya, Yatra, Yogi Bouquet
June 14, 2013 at 11:04 am (Aloeswood, Amber, Balsam, Champa, Evergreen/Forest, Floral, Incense, India, Jasmine, Lavender, Mike, Neroli / Orange Blossom, Resins, Sandalwood, Shroff Channabasappa, Spice (Cinnamon Clove Nutmeg etc.), Woods, Ylang Ylang)
Shroff Channabasappa Part 1
Shroff Channabasappa Part 2
Shroff Channabasappa Part 3
Shroff Channabasappa Part 4
Shroff Channabasappa Part 5
Shroff Channabasappa Part 6
Shroff Channabasappa Part 7
Shroff Channabasappa Part 8
Shroff Channabasappa Part 9
Shroff Channabasappa Part 10
Shroff Channabasappa Part 11
Shroff Channabasappa Part 12
Shroff Channabasappa Part 13
Shroff Channabasappa Part 14
Shroff Channabasappa Part 15
Shroff Channabasappa Part 16
I’ve been wanting to write about this group of incenses for a really, really long time now, in fact it should be a measure of my appreciation for them that I’ve restocked every single one once. If there can be one string that ties all of these incenses together is that they’re (almost) all very sublime in terms of their mixtures of notes, the kind of quality that’s like a lure or siren’s song. When I first started to use them, I found it fairly difficult to get a really good impression that I could turn into words and then before I knew it they had sucked me in and I fairly rocketed through all of my initial packages before I could even put words down on paper. So then I ended up restocking them again a few months ago and was a bit more careful and methodical with them. By then there was a new blend called Silver Blossom and some of the original soft masalas were starting to change in recipe. One of these is here, the new version of Shroff’s classic Little Woods.
While Shroff don’t tag these as wet masalas, it’s kind of difficult to really tell what the difference is between the two categories, except, perhaps, that the wets are a bit stronger in terms of perfume content. There’s perfume in these as well but they are much quieter in terms of how much the scent comes out of the boxes when you open them. Think of Darshan or Saffron and how potent they are, these are something of a step down from those. But most of this group is also different than the original group that Little Woods came in, and what they tend to smell like on the burn is quite a bit different from what they smell like in the box. But in all of these incenses’ cases, the more you get to burn them, the more you come to love them and some of these I’d find difficult to do without, especially with all the changes and bad news on the market at the moment. With Dhuni closing up shop, Shroff are now the predominant incense in the Indian export field and the reason why they are is part to do with the subtlety and quality of the last couple of groups.
Apsara lists balsam, jasmine and musk as part of its ingredient list and you’ll see musk pop up at least a couple more times in this group. In particular this is a really crystally perfume musk that really works well with these incenses. With Apsara it’s married to a really sublime and gorgeous floral champa scent with a terrific spicy finish. It’s somewhat reminiscent of pink or even royal amber incenses at times and the mix of what seems like cinnamon (but is probably partially the balsam) and the champa base is perfectly done. As such, it is fleetingly similar to some of the better Japanese florals with a high quality perfume scent at heart. Gentle and seductive, like nearly incense in this liine, this has a subtle quality that always keeps me coming back to it.
With lavender, sandal, and palmarosa in the description, Exotic Petals is a mix of lemon and citrus with a floral and fruity type of center. This is the type of scent I always find reminiscent of air freshener or furniture polish, it’s bright, intense and almost impossible not to get the huge palmarosa hit in front. But don’t let comparisons to these household products scare you off, this is much more well done than a synthetic fragrance, and it has a unique atmosphere that is well worth checking out, particularly for those into “desert flower” type mixes. It has a bit of sandalwood in the mix that grounds it nicely and it has a really cleansing vibe that is good for lifting the atmosphere of your burning area. In fact this one seems quite perfect for summer.
Little Woods has been reviewed here before and has shown up in previous monthly top tens for me, I’ve always stood behind it as one of the best incenses India has to offer. So I was a little tentative to realize that the group it came in has rumored to have changed in scent. The new version is definitely different but the good news in this case is that it’s at least as good as the old version. When I originally reviewed this, I found it slightly reminiscent of the incense known as Woods that started out brilliant and then really took a dive with the recipe changes. However, I’d say the new version might even be closer to that original classic and this seems to be less perfumed in some ways and more evergreen or resinous in scent. As a result it doesn’t feel like we’ve lost another old favorite so much as gained a new one (even if the perfumed version was brilliant). Little Woods is still an evergreen and evocative wonder.
Orange Blossom lists orange and ylang as ingredients. Like an orange cream soda or popsicle, this fruity-citrus champa is one of the best and most unique of its type. It’s not only that it gets its scent right (too many bad memories of off orangey incenses makes me hesitant to approach these), but it does so and manages to be subtle as well. The blossom part, if you will, is nicely defined and gives the scent a lot of sunshine, it’s still distinctively gummy and balsamic at the same time with a touch of the powdery. The combination of elements makes this one perfect overall, but do note these are thicker sticks than the rest of the line and thus the stick count will be a little lower.
Pride sticks out of this group quite a bit by moving away from obvious floral scents and using sandal, aloes and musk as its ingredients. It’s probably the driest in the bunch, stick and scentwise and reminds me a little of Shoyeido’s Haku-Un, a woody blend with a nice touch of aloeswood in the mix. It’s quite different for a champa or soft masala, with peppery hot notes mixed in with the woody/spicy blend. At the risk of repetition, it has a great balance like all of this line. The whole scent has a spicy richness that makes this an earthy classic and could easily be used as a temple incense. Don’t expect this to have any sort of whopping Japanese style aloeswood note in it, but you can tell the ingredient is part of the mix nonetheless.
Raj Yoga is an earthy champa of a different type, and lists rosemary, olibanum and oakmoss among its ingredients. It’s very close to what I’d call a patchouli champa variant with a green, herbaceous character (the oakmoss I’m sure) that is reminiscent of vetivert as well. The middle seems sandalwood heavy and there’s a touch of spice/floral to give it some individual character. It’s all extraordinarily fresh and original, and a great example of why these are all such impressive hybrids, incenses that only work because all the moving parts are in their right places. It’s tough to pick a favorite in this group, but for sure this would be in the running.
Silver Bouquet is one of Shroff’s very recent blends and is a really excellent entry that reminds me of the older champa days. It’s not so much that it reminds me of one scent in particular as it evokes a combination of older notes in a newer blend. Hints of Maharaja or Incense from India’s Silver Temple, a touch of Lotus, a bit of Incense from India’s African Violet fill the mix as well as a bit of nuttiness and a thread of spice permeate. It hits the kind of sultry end you want with a “silver,” with the perfume revealing some cool subtleties through the burn. Amazing, like a quality spiced tea.
When I restocked Suganda Mantri, it was the one incense in the group I bought two boxes of. It’s one of this line’s brilliant pieces of art, a rich, sultry Eastern perfume in champa form. The scent is quite woody (musk and sandalwood are listed) and the subtleties are many and difficult to list. There’s a bit of chocolate, some earthiness, some sensuous florals, especially rose. It has a depth to it all the best Indian masalas have, where the plurality of ingredients come together in all sorts of sublime ways. It may be the best of several examples of why this batch of Shroffs is so good. Perhaps a bit similar to desert flower blends but if so the most superior version of that scent on record.
If there’s one incense in this group that I might have slipped a little bit with, it’s the musk, sandalwood and amber blend Tapasya. It’s a bracing, fruity blend with the usual sandal, orange peel and spices, in fact this could be considered something of an alternate version of the old Maharaj scent. The main issue with it is that either the bamboo stick or part of the aroma cuts through with a slightly rough woody scent that gives it some bitterness. It gives an abrasive note to the scent that prevents it from working properly. Like Pride, it’s quite dry, but not in a good way. In fact as I took notes down on this I went through several sticks just to try and capture why it wasn’t working as well for me anymore and mostly it just doesn’t pop like the rest of them.
Yatra, a mix of jasmine, sandal and musk, is an excellent blend of fruity and floral with a really powerful and crystally musk presence, this is really what this line does well, balancing several ingredients in an unusual and clever fusion. The wood and champa base sits in the middle and they seem to ground both the jasmine and musk so that both are distinct in the bouquet. Sometimes jasmine can be overwhelming, but like with Apsara it is placed rather perfectly in the scent. Very nicely done, fresh with a touch of evergreen in the mix.
Finally we have Yogi Bouquet which lists citrus, musk and balsam. Like Yatra, it has a distinct and noticeable musky quality, although where it’s more crystalline and perfume-like in Yatra, it shows up a bit more sultry here, meshing perfectly with the balsam. The citrus is nicely mixed in and doesn’t kill the incense like it often can when the essential oils are over accentuated. There’s a bit of sawdust in the mix as well and it’s perhaps a touch rough, but the combination makes it quite worthwhile.
This article more or less catches up with the Shroff line to date, although after trying the new Little Woods, I’m curious to revisit some of the other incenses in the group that have probably changed. I tried Pearl again but it’s close enough to the old version to be redundant and reports elsewhere on the site evince that Jungle Prince might not be up to the standards it used to have. Another big change is that Shroffs are now being packaged in 50g packages, which seem a good balance between not having enough and having too much. Let us know in the comments section what your current favorites are in this thread and if you’ve noticed any changes, any observations will be highly worthwhile to our readers.
Pure Incense / Absolute / Black Sandalwood, Sandalwood and Lavender, Sandalwood and Rose, Patchouli, Patchouli and Rose
This is the sixth installment of the Pure Incense range, for previous reviews please refer to the Pure Incense link on the left (categorized under Indian incenses). In this installment I’m going to cover a small handful of sandalwood and patchouli incenses.
It’s probably worth reminding everyone that Pure Incense is an English company offering incenses made by the Madhavadas family which is also the source for Primo incense. There’s definitely some overlap between the two companies, so it’s a good idea to check what you have first. However, not only does Primo not offer the hybrids Pure Incense does, but Primo seems to stick to the inexpensive, so you’re far more likely to find quality incense via the Pure Incense route. But what all the Madhavadas incenses have in common is a sort of vanilla, charcoal and sandalwood base and in particular the former ingredient is quite noticeable in almost all of the line’s incenses, a trait that doesn’t always work out.
Black Sandalwood presents an alternative to the line’s regular Sandalwood, which can be found in both Connoisseur and Absolute ranges, however this variant is only found in the latter. The differences between this and the Absolute Sandalwood, however, are far more subtle than noteworthy. Like with the other sandalwood, the vanilla aspect of the base comes through quite strongly and changes the contour of the wood. The level of oil seems more matched by other elements that aren’t part of the Absolute Sandalwood, with a touch of mellow spice in the mix that tends to give the Black Sandalwood more breadth where perhaps the Absolute Sandalwood had more depth. Be sure you love the Absolute Sandalwood a lot before grabbing this one as the two incenses are very close.
While the fresh Sandalwood and Lavender stick allows one to sense both the sandalwood and lavender oils in the mix separately, like with many other Pure Incense “duos,” the two ingredients merge into something more hybrid-like while burning, and in this case the results are quite spectacular. For one thing, while you can smell the lavender oil on the fresh stick, the oil itself is more submerged in the burn allowing the lavender’s best aspects to rise to the top. It also helps to keep the ubiquitous vanilla scent a bit lower in the mix. The play of elements on top is particularly fascinating as the merging strengthens its floral characteristics. This is a good example of a scent being much more than a sum of its parts.
While the previous two scents are masala types, Sandalwood and Rose is a definite black charcoal-based stick, which is a style I’ll probably never fully embrace as the charcoal subscents always get in the way due to the sheer amount of smoke produced. While the oils are quite good, the vanilla is probably a bit too strong to work well and thus there seems to be as much charcoal and vanilla scent as there is the rose oil and a vague sense of sandalwood in the background. I expect the shelf life, like other charcoals, isn’t high and I’m wondering if the sample I was provided had already lost some of its power. Needless to say be sure you like strong charcoal scents before taking a chance on this.
Pure Incense’s Absolute Patchouli is quite a bit different from the Primo version although it’s similar in its green color. The oils are much richer on this one and in many ways this actually removes the scent from the more typical patchouli scent in the Primo. There’s a bit of lime hint in the mix (slightly similar to the Vrindavan Flower) that mixes with a soft almost uncharacteristic patchouli oil and the base’s usual vanilla and sandalwood mix. It all makes for a pleasant and unique patchouli variation.
The Absolute Patchouli stick can be detected almost as a subscent in the Patchouli and Rose and although the rose oil is strong, it mixes in quite nicely with the previously mentioned lime note. As with several of the (non-charcoal) hybrids, the blend of the two ingredients creates something new as a result. The oil mix does remind me of furniture polish to some extent, due to the rose somehow increasing the citrus-like qualities of the patchouli variation, but don’t take that to mean this isn’t a friendly incense. Like the Absolute Patchouli this is quite unique and it makes you wonder what other combinations would work well with the company’s patchouli.
This installment is not the final one in this series, but is the last of the samples I have at present and I’d like to thank both Pure Incense and Essence of the Ages for providing me with enough samples to be able to review the line. Since I received them, there have been several new additions to the line including Frankincense and Rose, Night Queen, Rhus Khus, Rose and Lavender, and Yellow Rose, so I hope to eventually get to try those out in the future.
Pure Incense / Absolute / Cedarwood, Cedarwood & Lavender, Cedarwood & Rose, Cedarwood & Sandalwood, Saffron, Vanilla
This is the fifth installment of the large Pure Incense catalog and as it has been a while since the last one, I’d suggest clicking on the Pure Incense tag on the left to see the others as this is a mighty fine series of incenses with a diversity that probably won’t be self evident just from this particular subsection. Here I’ll be discussing several cedarwood blends, the Absolute Sandalwood and what perhaps could be considered the line’s most basic incense in the Absolute Vanilla. You may have guessed that these are all part of the line’s standard series, although in the case of many of these incenses they are the highest quality versions of their particular aroma.
As the Madhavadas family is the source of these incenses, it’s no surprise that their Absolute Cedarwood is more or less the exact same incense you’ll find in many lines such as Primo and Triloka, if not very similar to those from Incense from India and Mystic Temple. It’s a sweet and perfumed cedar, perhaps even more obviously so after trying Shroff’s most recent version, which is completely different. I’ve always had a fondness for this scent and consider it unique in comparison to other cedarwood scents, which often have little depth and are closer to, say, pencils than aromatic wood. No doubt this is due to an oil, but I’d guess its sweetness is also due to the line’s ubiquitous vanilla-enhanced base. I’d consider this the place to start before moving on to the hybrids as you’ll then be able to see how brilliantly a second ingredient tends to transmute the cedar aroma.
The first hybrid is the Absolute Cedarwood & Lavender whose added lavender perfume changes the entire contour of the cedarwood and as a result ends up in a very different lavender as well. The overall scent has definitely changed to the floral and just as the charcoal, vanilla and sandalwood base changes based on what is being laid over, the cedarwood also seems to go chameleon. It’s not even a combination I probably would have thought of and the result is something almost entirely new with neither main ingredient resembling what they do on their own. In fact you’d think this might be sweeter than it is, but it almost seems like those elements are cancelled out in the new equation.
The stick is a bit darker with the Absolute Cedarwood & Rose perhaps implying an adjustment of some sort to the base. To my nose the oil Madhavadas used on this stick strikes me as being a bit more “authentic” than the lavender and thus find this a very successful incense, the combination bringing out the darker and more mysterious aspects of both ingredients. It adds up to one of the more heavier rose incenses, but unlike many that are rough, this one has a pleasant roundedness. When I originally tried it as a sample, I ended up ordered a full 50g package. It’s only weakness is a slight ammoniac presence common to the occasional perfumed Indian stick.
Perhaps a more obvious pairing is the Absolute Cedarwood & Sandalwood and it’s probably not a surprise that the aroma is tilted more in the favor of the former ingredients and much closer to the base than the previous two mixes. The sandalwood does help to make this a much drier incense and as such it will be seen as an improvement for those whose tastes lie that way. It actually ends up with some rather unique combo notes, with the sandal presence taking the place of the cedar oil on the very top. There even seems to be a little patchouli in the mix, although I’m not sure if this is due to the combo or not. It’s actually quite an unpredictable scent in some ways.
Like the Cedarwood, I find the Absolute Saffron to be a fairly prevalent scent in Indian incense, although I’m not sure they’re all exactly the same given the possibility of diversity in such a scent. This version may not have the classic saffron scent per se, in fact it reminds me more of what I’ve occasionally seen classed as a saffron sandalwood, and that may very well be part of the base playing here. It’s an extremely dry incense, with a bit of spice in the middle as well as the usual vanilla subscent so common to this line of incenses. And there are even hints of some resins in the mix, or at least that’s what I’d guess is giving the incense its intensity and pungency. Quite nice and somewhat complex as well.
For those who have sampled many Pure Incense incenses, the Absolute Vanilla will probably strike you as the very base of the style, in that it really IS the Madhavadas Vanilla. For one thing, it’s relatively less powerful, as if the other oils have been subtracted. On the other hand it’s almost as if you can pick out the vanilla in most of the other incenses before you can with this one, where it’s very dry, as if the rest of the base is less disguised, such as the charcoal and sandalwood. Personally I find vanilla a rough thing in incense (perhaps my favorites are the Shroff Vanilla and Vanilla Balsam, neither of which is particularly comparable here), very difficult to get right and I’m not sure this one is particularly close, unless you have the predeliction for drier masalas.
Next installment will cover some patchouli and sandalwood variations and hybrids and beyond that I think there are a few newer scents I’ve not managed to try out yet, so still more to come.
These are new to the US market and so far the only place I know of that has them is Kohshi in San Francisco. They are geared for scenting a room with a particular scent, in this case floral’s or woods. The sticks burn for around 10-12 minutes and there are about 150 per box, there are also cones. You can them out here.
Lavender Tanka: This has a spicy back round note intermixed with a sort of powdery scent. The lavender/floral notes ride across all of this. In this particular case it is more spicy floral then lavender. This is a fairly strongly scented incense in keeping with the concept of a “Room Incense”. The scent is also going to last awhile within the room.
Rose Tanka: Much like the lavender above the are a lot of spicy notes underneath a distinct rose scent. This reminds me of more a wild rose then one that has been overly cultivated. I find this to be refreshing as so many rose scented incenses can be (to me at least) overly done and cloying. Not the case here. Again the scent is strong but the spiciness tends to balance things out. Nicely done and a great way to add a rose scent to a room with out over doing it.
Cypress Tanka: Similar base notes in this woody scented stick. This does seem to capture the feeling of Cypress trees as well as a forest in general. It is not overly “green” in scent more a mix of woods tempered with a green note. Probably my favorite out of the group, enough so that I bought a box.
Very different then Sandalwoods or Aloeswoods. Again this is a long lasting scent and very good at putting a mellow and relaxing scent through out a room. – Ross
August 31, 2010 at 10:54 am (Amber, Balsam, Benzoin, Cedar, Champa, Citrus, Evergreen/Forest, Floral, Fruit, Halmaddi / Mattipal, Incense, Jasmine, Kewda / Kewra / Pandanus / Screwpine, Lavender, Mike, Mother's India Fragrances, Nagarmotha, Oakmoss, Orris, Patchouli, Resins, Rose, Sage, Sandalwood, Spice (Cinnamon Clove Nutmeg etc.), Tuberose, Vanilla, Vetivert / Khus, Woods, Ylang Ylang)
Since the last installment on the newly released Mother’s Fragrances Nagchampa incenses, the company kindly sent me what I’m dubbing the “Nag Champa Construction Set,” which is a series of ingredients that go into making their fantastic bases. One thing I learned fairly early about incense is that information from the east on these treasures has actually been remarkably sparse and so I’m extremely thankful to have received a further education from the creators. Not only has the set helped to show me where the sandalwood works into the base, but in particular having a sample of halmaddi resin has really helped to narrow down just where this works into these incenses. And overall my already high respect for the creator of these incenses has grown when I consider what the base smells like compared to the finished product. These are just works of art on every level.
So I wanted to say a few words about halmaddi resin before getting to the “back seven” nagchampas. This ingredient is particularly interesting in that the actually fresh smell of the resin itself (almost like a combination of chocolate and turpentine elements) is completely different from the smell while it’s burning, which is floral (likely that element similar to the champaka flower), slightly bitter and very balsamic. Not only is this obvious from the resin, but also from the base stick. Even on its own this a pleasant scent but what struck me is how much of a chameleon halmaddi must be since the oils that go into the incense change the nature of the relationship. Also, the Mother’s bases, while soft, aren’t gooey like the resin or many of the incenses I used to burn 15 years ago and as I intuit from the oils, there’s a really impressive level of balance and restraint here.
I wouldn’t have even recognized the base stick in the Arjava Nagchampa, which is the first of four incenses in this group that was not part of the original 12 incense sampler I received months ago. If there is a slight wildness to the halmaddi, you wouldn’t find it in this incense, which has a level of gentleness that is quite surprising. Where the descriptions of many of the other incenses list as many as 5 or 6 ingredients, there is only one specific listed here: rose. It’s interesting in that this is one of the new 14 that really stands out as being quite different, there’s an unusual herbal note at the top that is quite exotic and unique. The central scent is almost akin to some of the herbal-rose combinations found elsewhere and this all lies on a wood level that has been turned up a notch, while remaining pillowy soft. While it could be said that this is another wonderful contrast of spice and floral elements, the results aren’t quite so piquant as they are in the other scents, leading to a very sublime finish. Particularly because when I burn this I feel like I’m always trying to reach a description of the end, one that’s essentially elusive and mysterious. Like all great incenses the final notes end up as part of one’s memories.
Hansa Nagchampa is similar to the Arjava only in that it also has a fairly noticeable woodiness in the mix, but essentially this is a scent that returns to the floral/spice mix of many of these incenses. A lot of the main players in the whole line are in this one, including kewra, vetivert and lavender, but as always the addition of other ingredients modify the aromatic contour substantially. In fact, of the entire line this is perhaps the incense I find the most difficult to describe as the ingredient combos seem familiar, but the overall scent has been changed enough to be completely unique. Perhaps part of this is the golden champa scent in what I’d describe as the fourth fifth from top to bottom. The amber here isn’t as strong as it is in the Om Nagchampa but it definitely flirts with the attention around all the floral notes and in many ways actually accentuates these notes so one feels that the florals are dominant to the spice mix in the background. And overall it’s the Kewra and Lavender that make, incrementally, the boldest statements in the mix. But in the end it’s puzzling because perhaps the best word to describe this incense is kaleidoscopic, because at any different time it’s possible to see new interactions among the ingredients. Which means in the end any static description won’t do this justice, as the base and the vetivert that tie it all together are really the only constants.
Lavanya Nagchampa really clicked with me after a couple sticks when it became obvious that the central part of the incense is very evergreen and spicy. I’ve discussed some of the incenses that contrast florals with a spice that could be roughly described in the cinnamon/clove/hot area, but this seems to get part of its spice from the use of resins as well as cedar, so that the spice note feels more green than red. Users of resin blends may have come across those that are resonantly foresty and that would be the comparison here. But it’s only a beginning and a platform because what dances on top is the jasmine and ylang ylang, and like the Arjava the results are just so delicate. It constantly strikes me that among Indian incenses, many of which can be incredibly strong and aromatic, that these are among the most refined and gentle, something only a master perfumer could gauge so perfectly. In the end it’s almost as if your aromatic senses try to convince you of its floral nature as the bewitching, rich evergreen and liqueur like background bubbles underneath, creating an almost yin/yang like paradox.
In fact as you use these incenses it’s really hard to separate one masterpiece from another, but there’s something in the Om Nagchampa that has made it my fastest used incense in the whole line, I literally have trouble trying to keep from burning my stock up in a couple days. It basically presents a triangle of amber, vanilla and cassia that is simply breathtaking and close to my sense of aromatic nirvana. My idea of the perfect incense is something that manages to be dry and rich at the same time, hinting at sweetness without being cloying. The cassia in this incense is just so perfectly placed that it’s a sheer delight and the amber notes are virtually flawless. As this scent burns it becomes so sublime by the end of the stick that it manages to represent the concept of Om in a way that might evoke ain ineffable response in the user. In fact it’s even difficult to want to burn another incense after this as it leaves such a powerful energy in the air after the last elements go up in smoke. By a long shot my top incense of August and it could be a reigning favorite for a while now.
Purusha Nagchampa is another of the dominantly lavender incenses in the line, which follows the absolute success of the Ganesh Nagchampa. Mother’s uses a number of different lavenders, however, and in this case we’re seeing an English lavender at the front, a note that is probably the most dominant lavender scent in any of these incenses. But while sitting on the top, the ingredients from the base up do a lot to modify the scent. For one thing this is one of the few, if not the only incense that has a sage note, an ingredient that seems to be far more common in American incenses (specifically southeast or Native American blends). Here it’s used to modify the lavender, and the results seem to bring out some of the wilder, herbier elements the two ingredients have in common. I’m not as familiar with orris, but I suspect this has a great deal to do with the more unfamiliar middle subscents that help to give this incense its individual personality. Closer to the base, the patchouli blends with the balsamic nature of the halmaddi to help make sure the top notes don’t go overboard. In the end this is definitely on the sweeter side of the Mother’s range, but it’s got just that touch of wildness to rein it all in.
Sandalwood is a main ingredient in all these incenses but it perhaps makes its presence most known in the Sattwa Nagchampa. With kewra, lavender tuberose and vetivert in the mix, this is definitely something of a cousin to the Atma and Hansa blends, if you can imagine the biggest change to be an increase in the amount of woodiness used. The vetivert here also seems to be turned up enough to give the scent a pleasant and sharp subnote and adding this to the woods and halmaddi base helps to balance the florals without reducing the richness of the scent. Overall this is a very pretty incense with a lot of activity in the mix and it’s among the bolder scents in the line. And like its cousins, the mix seems gauged to reveal its complexity slowly over time, something a review really can’t account for without an excessively lengthy preparation period.
Continuing a number of incenses with a strong lavender element is the spicy Yajna Nagchampa. However, if some of the Mother’s scents tilt more to a floral side, this is a decidedly spicy incense with woody notes, nagarmotha oil, patchouli and oakmoss all combining to imply a spice that also reminds me of cinnamon toast. This is also a very woody incense, however the type of wood scent it reminds me most of is akin (but far superior to) Satya’s Patchouli Forest scent, with that sense of crystalline, green resin that that incense evokes. Not only is the Yajna spicy, but it’s also devilishly complex in that there seems to be a lot of elements that make up this level of the incense. The oak moss is particularly noticeable here, almost more than a subnote at times, and with the patchouli it grounds the scent as something far more earthy the fire-like. In the end as you notice all this spicy, grounded activity it makes the presence of the lavender on top such a surprise and delight.
I’ll have to admit nearly every incense in this line is at a level of intricacy that they’re very hard to do justice to in words. So many of them are like a puzzle, because I feel that in a lot of other incense lines you wouldn’t expect some of these ingredients to work together like they do and in the end appraising them is like looking at a beautiful painting and switching between the singular elements and the composite final work. I may have mentioned strongly how much I love the Om, but over time I have no doubt that I’ll switch from favorite to favorite because in the case of complex aromas like found in the Hansa or Yajna, you get the feeling that it will take at least 10 sticks to feel that you’ve got a full grip on what’s going on here. And in the end I think this is the real joy in the use of incense, that what you have has the potential to continue to surprise and elate you as changing circumstances provide the varying viewpoints to smell new facets of complex bouquets. Because in the end with this line of Mother’s Nagchampas, all 19 exquisite treasures, you have some of the finest incenses available, particularly at an affordability that is quite astonishing. And please do check out the previous article for buying options, as I suspect in less than a month’s time they should be widely available to most of our readers.
August 19, 2010 at 4:06 pm (Ambrette Seeds, Balsam, Benzoin, Cedar, Champa, Floral, Geranium, Honey, India, Kewda / Kewra / Pandanus / Screwpine, Lavender, Lily, Mike, Mother's India Fragrances, Musk, Myrrh, Neroli / Orange Blossom, Oakmoss, Patchouli, Resins, Rose, Saffron, Spice (Cinnamon Clove Nutmeg etc.), Tuberose, Vetivert / Khus)
After being introduced to and living with Mother’s India Fragrances’ original five Nagchampas, I can’t imagine anyone wouldn’t have asked the question “How come there aren’t more of them?” After all the originals are a phenomenal quintet of nagchampas in an era where the form has mostly degenerated. Where so many companies have either eliminated or reduced the content of halmaddi in their products, often creating inferior recipes that only resemble the incenses they used to create, Mother’s have managed to continue a line that not only still contains the ingredient (also called mattipal) but considerably expands the art form.
That is, when nagchampas were made 15 years ago or earlier, the incenses were so full of the gum that the sticks remained so wet you could easily pull them apart. The Mother’s Nagchampas don’t aim for a similar effect and while the incenses are still quite damp, often visibly through the inner packagaing, they all have a uniform consistency that follows the original five scents to what is an incredible 14 new scents. And for those of you already well familiar with the original five, these are going to surprise and elate you as in most cases they have brought the form up to a new level of complexity. Almost all of these incenses have as many as five or six different oil or material sources not even counting the halmaddi/mattipal and honey base. The results are so impressive that it’s difficult to feel that even after sampling several sticks of them that the full story has been told.
I’d like to thank both the home company of Mother’s India Fragrances and their Dutch distribution company Wierook for not only making Olfactory Rescue Service aware of them, but by providing a bounty of gifts and samples in time for me to get some reviews out just before the products come to the United States (not to mention one of the most informative and descriptive English language documents I’ve ever seen for a line of incenses, something that strongly assisted my reviews). Where it was difficult to label only five incenses as the finest Nagchampa line available, now that the total is up to 19, there’s really no question that this is the top line of its format, with a fascinating and aromatically superior range that doesn’t stop to recreate any old recipes and instead uses superior essential oils and absolutes to create a wide range of impressive and intricate scents. This installment will cover the first half of these 14 new incenses with the second half to follow shortly.
The first of these incenses is Agni Nagchampa. Perhaps the most simple description is that this is more or less a musk nagchampa, but it’s far more complex than that. It’s essentially a French Musk sort of scent, which bears some comparison to Shroff’s incense of that name or even the old Blue Pearl Musk Champa, however we know from the description that the central musk scent is created from ambrette seeds. My experience with musks created this way is that they usually aren’t quite this sweet, so one has to look to the other ingredients to see how the bouquet is formed. Obviously the halmaddi and honey anchor this quite nicely at the base as they do for all of the incenses here, so it’s really the middle of the aroma where the magic is. The pivotal ingredient here is neroli or orange blossom oil, an aspect which is the first of many through these incenses that show an incredibly clever perfumery at work because it’s a scent that is mellow and doesn’t overpower while anchoring the musk to the base. The cedar seems to bring out the balsamic aspects to the scent more which both balances the neroli and ensures the fragrance doesn’t go over the top on its way out. Make no mistake, this is still a decadently rich and sweet incenses as any sweet musk would be, but you can almost feel the restraint nonetheless.
As rich and sweet as the Agni is, the cinnamon-laden Amrita Nagchampa is almost a study in contrasts. Even with the amazing halmaddi and honey base, the results are very dry and of this seven, this could be the most direct incense. The cinnamon is very beautifully drawn, in fact the description the company uses is “edible,” something easily understood with a sample. However the cinnamon does have its supporting actors, including patchouli, cedar and some unnamed woods and resins. There are some elements in this that remind me of Nippon Kodo’s Silk Road incense except with a much more genuine feel) but the comparison hints at an exotic subnote that really helps to transmute the base to support the overall dryness.
The Atma Nagchampa is also a restrained piece of work, but in this case it doesn’t transmit a single essence like the previous scent did, instead it portrays a balancing act with a number of different notes at work. What’s amazing about it is that even with so many players the composite aroma remains gentle and subtle. On top we have the dominant floral oils at work, some lavender and what seems like a closer mix of geranium and kewra (pandanus or screwpine) notes. But like several incenses among the new aromas, Mother’s have chosen to contrast these floral elements with a spicy backdrop (including clove), something the company is clearly adept at. The results are actually akin to a standard (if exceptional in quality) nag champa with a soft floral in touch. What it loses without a particularly aggressive bouquet, it gains with a gentle aura and since everything seems to work on such a subtle level, it’s one of the most difficult in this group to get a hang on. But by the last stick I had out it was really starting to get under my skin.
Bhakti Nagchampa is something of an instant classic. As mentioned with the previous incense, Bhakti goes for a floral spice mix that is extraordinary in that it seems possible to pick out the individual elements as they interact with each other. The rose/tuberose/geranium mix on the top could be the best among a number of incredible floral elements across all these incenses and this is perhaps because they not only have strong definition but they’re contrasted perfectly with the patchouli and cedar base. In fact the only question I have is whether a scent like this might lose some of this fantastic definition with aging, because the balance here is like a highwire act with all the base elements a stage for the florals to dance lightly over.
Jyoti Nagchampa has some similarities to the cinnamon heavy Amrita, but here the scent is less monochromatic and more of a tangier multi-spice blend. In fact, it seems likely some of its spicier attributes come from the mix of myrrh, vertivert and patchouli, a group of ingredients that all have great transmutational qualities in different blends. In fact any time Mother’s uses a larger amount of resins in its incenses, it seems to trigger the more balsamic and sometimes evergreen qualities of the base. The mix definitely leaves me very curious about the quality of benzoin used in the ingredients as I recognize none of the usual subnotes and a quality that is truly exquisite. Again this mosaic (which also pulls in kewra to a slight degree) really hits a great balance with a vanilla and spice presence that is just perfect.
Lila Nagchampa is a patchouli heavy incense whose other ingredients really shift the whole tonal balance you normally associate with the herb in new and fascinating ways. For one, this is an incense as sweet as the Agni or Moksha blends, something particularly unusual for something so prevalent with patchouli. Sharing the stage with the patchouli on the top is tuberose, which has already shown its effectiveness in the Bhakti, but where that incense contrasted the floral and spicy, the Lila goes for the composite approach, like a rainbow color chart changing from one end of the spectrum to the other. Undoubtedly the vetivert changes the patchouli element some, always a great partnering, but perhaps where the benzoin and oakmoss lies is where the true transmutation occurs as it falls into the sweet base. The informational material also calls chocolate as a note as a result of the benzoin and you indeed find a powdery cocoa-like subnote in the mix of all this interaction. Like so many of these beautiful scents this seems like one that will have a learning curve as long as the best incenses because it’s not at all what you’d expect in the long run. It’s better.
Moksha Nagchampa …. well if you think it couldn’t get any better than what I’ve already run through then we’d have to at least call this a gamechanger. Champa users may be familiar with a lot of the intersections between style and addition, but the incredibly lily of the valley scent (muguet) that crowns the Moksha is positively ecstatic. And Mother’s doesn’t shy from the contrasts here either, setting off on a trail of oriental woods and saffron notes that end up creating a very rich depth before giving one a floral shock that starts with the rose notes, part of which are described as “citrusy rose petals” which seem to be what I’m picking up as a slight melon-like fruitiness. It all results in the most incredible, kaleidoscopic aroma that has the feminine, floral notes of so many modern perfumes but with the depth of the traditional. I’ve had a few incenses with lily of the valley in them, but none quite so stunning as this one.
One thing you’d expect from a great company is that in expanding what was a really impressive quintet, Mother’s haven’t sat on their laurels and tried to spin similar variations off of an already established success, they’ve possibly surpassed them, or if not, they’ve added such an incredible amount of variation to their line that it breathes new life into the whole line and makes you want to go back to the original quintet for reevaluation. With each stick I became far more deeply involved with each one to the point that picking a favorite is very difficult, there’s really not a blend here I wouldn’t want consistent stock on. There’s just no question that this is the crowning line of the modern nagchampa and I’m fortunate to be able to bring seven more to your attention in the next installment.
Shoyeido’s Xiang-Do series is created by what the company calls their exclusive pressed incense process, a process that for most of us on the outside will be somewhat obscure. What we can tell from the product is that these incenses concentrate the aromatics to a degree rarely found in the natural world and, most importantly, do so very successfully. To my nose, Shoyeido is responsible for many of the best modern incense styles on the planet and their pressed incense is generally extraordinary.
Like Shoyeido’s LISN series, one is aware by the numbers on the boxes that we only see a small part of this line here, what would amount to 16 incenses, with three of them labelled as Xiang-Do Fresh (Green Tea, Tea, Coffee). Xiang-Do not only provides a small sampler for the Fresh trio, but a 12 stick/12 aroma sampler as well. It looks like the larger 30 stick/10 aroma sampler has been deleted at the Shoyeido site, but may be available for a little while longer if you look around. The price of the 20 stick boxes is rather close to $15 and with the short 2 3/4 inch length, these incenses can generally be considered pricy, as is all of the incenses that use the pressed incense process (I know I’d like to see bigger (60 stick) boxes). I’ll be covering half of the line in this article, the other half will be forthcoming (including my two favorites in the entire line – Forest and Peppermint).
Xiang Do’s Rose is easily one of the better Rose incenses I’ve been able to sample, perhaps not quite at the level of the Floral World/Royal Rose, but certainly more affordable. Like all of the line’s incenses the floral oil is very concentrated, starting with a sweet garden-like rose aroma and ending in a surprisingly dry finish. Rose incenses aren’t generally my favorite, but the style and rich base make this quite attractive.
Palo Santo comes from an Andean tree and while it’s a rather extraordinary scent whether natural or in this pressed style, it’s one you rarely see in Japanese incense, which makes this somewhat unusual. I think of it as a somewhat orangey aromatic wood, with hints of mango and apricot and a bit of talcum. Quite pleasant and definitely unique, it’s likely to be friendly to most noses.
Vanilla is about what you’d expect, although the intensity of the aroma brings out sides to the scent rather uncommon to most vanilla incenses. It’s both slightly sweet and spicy, but not at all like vanilla in the ice cream or confectionary sense, a little closer to the tonka bean sort of aroma, almost as if it had fruitlike qualities. This is one I’ve slowly grown to over time and I’d probably put it in the second tier after Forest and Peppermint.
Mixed Fruits never strikes me as a good idea for incense, and while this is decent the overall mix of apple, citrus, banana and grape kind of renders the overall aroma somewhat banal. I can imagine specific fruits would probably work better under such a style and can imagine the Japanese line must have them. Here there’s a surprising lack of aromatic concentration and distinction. However fruit incense lovers might see this a bit different.
Citrus has similar issues, although in many ways this is fairly close to Forest and Peppermint in style. The previously mentioned 30 stick sampler was displayed sort of like a rainbow of colors and while it does help to make it look like a pretty box, there may also be some similarities in style with scents similar in color. The end note on this one has a grapefruit-like citrus aroma that for my nose doesn’t finish quite so well.
Marine is another one that may seem bizarre to the western nose. It’s that attempt to capture the aromas of being at sea or on a beach. Nippon Kodo have an incense called Aqua that captures that sort of wet/watery sort of scent. Marine itself is more of a saltwater vibe, a bit of brine that doesn’t seem to work so well with the general base of this incense. Fortunately it’s dry, but this will be one you’d want to try in a sampler first.
The last two are probably my favorite in this specific group. Lavender surprised me in not being very typical of incenses with French lavender oil, which is a good thing given their prevalence. The aromatics are intense enough to give the incense an almost liquor-like lavender scent, dense, perfumed and sweltery. It does have similarities to the lavender you might find in hair products, however the Xiang-Do base helps to balance this proclivity and keep it a little on the sweeter side.
Violet‘s my favorite of the Xiang-Do floral scents, not terribly far from the natural aroma, although the base adds sweetness and balance to the oil. I got a little purple valentine candy in there as well, it’s a really delightful scent, one of the few florals I can really get behind.
Other than the Fresh trio I mentioned earlier, the remaining Xiang Do incenses (exported to the US) are Forest, Peppermint, Sandalwood, Frankincense and Agarwood, all of which I hope to cover in the future once I managed to “complete the series.” Despite that I’ve been fairly critical on this first eight, I’d still recommend giving the sampler a try as depending on one’s personal tastes you might well find that you enjoy certain blends more than I do. I tend to find Shoyeido pressed incenses to be among the finest treats in incense and very complimentary to woody, spicy and more natural styles.
SAMPLER NOTES: Kunjudo / Japanese Gardens (Tea Garden, Fruits Garden, Bonsai Garden, Moss Garden, Stone Garden); Less Smoke (Plum, Cherry Blossom, Lavender, Rose, Lily of the Valley)
These two Kunjudo ranges, all of which are exported directly to the US rather than via Encens du Monde, feature some of the company’s lowest end incenses and as such could be comparable to similar Shoyeido or Nippon Kodo lines. In fact the Japanese Gardens line does have some similarities to Shoyeido’s Daily series, while the Less Smoke incenses remind me quite a bit of Nippon Kodo’s Morning Star line. The former, in general, strike me as traditional or natural scents, while the others definitely have synthetic qualities that often seem to come into less smoke incenses. And it should be said that while these do have less smoke, they are not smokeless.
Tea Garden is the line’s green tea incense. I thought this one smelled almost identical to the Green Tea incense in Kunjudo’s Three Scents packaging, enough where I did a side by side. I don’t think they’re identical, with Tea Garden’s green tea oil not quite so intense, but they’re definitely close enough where you’d need one or the other. Having tested out a few Green Tea incenses recently, this one might be the one I liked the most in that it does have a noticeable element of leaf or oil in it.
It’s going to be up to the user whether or not Fruits Garden is to their tastes, as I can’t think of too many fruity incenses that would appeal to me. This bouquet is kind of like a mix of apple, pear and cherry and as such has a fruit bowl smell, which tends to be less distinctive than if they went for one particular scent. While it does have some synthetic notes to it, the sandalwood base (and this is true for all this line) carries it past those notes for the most part. I can imagine this could be considered quite nice for those going for this sort of scent.
Bonsai Garden is well named, a spicy evergreen scent with hints of cypress and conifers. It’s not really a pure pine or evergreen incense because of the spice and it finishes with a bit of sweet perfume. Overall this is why I’ve written this as sampler notes, as I wasn’t anywhere close to getting a bead on the overall scent and thought this could be quite nice.
Moss Garden‘s a bit indistinct and it’s certainly nothing like the Shoyeido incense of the same name. I remember the aroma here being kind of muted and soft with hints of wet moss and a slight, lifting oil in the back. There’s a bit of fruit or lavender in there somewhere as well.
Stone Garden goes for a really spicy scent, with a strong cinnamon and floral content. I didn’t have enough of a sample to decide on whether it was distinct enough from other similar blends, but this kind of thing is generally to my liking.
Overall I thought the Garden series was rather nice for daily incenses and if I hadn’t already bought the Three Scents package, I’d probably want at least Tea Garden, even if it’s possible I wouldn’t use it much. On the other hand, the Less Smoke blends aren’t really quite to my tastes (it should be taken as a given that smokeless incenses aren’t generally my bag), the leftover whiter ash implies a certain method of creation that’s more synthetic than natural and in these cases it becomes fairly obvious. Recently I went through a Daihatsu line with very similar scents, except in those cases there was perfumery art to them that really lifted the scents (and, of course, they weren’t less smoke/smokeless.)
The obvious comparison from the music world would be the difference between 70s analog and 80s digital technology. The former’s generally fuller and more natural sounding, where the latter, before technology caught up, provided thin and inaccurate samples that were photographs to the analog’s reality. This incense range is similar. The Plum struck me as being thin, almost like an approximation of other plum blossom incenses, and I suppose it suffers from me being on a Kobunboku trip recently. The Cherry Blossom is similar, but doesn’t have the Plum’s slight bitter notes making it a little friendlier. But like most of the line this is more in the vein of sprays and home deoderizers than traditional incense, and thus less to my liking than something like Shoyeido’s Daily version. The Lavender, in particular, reminded me of a Nippon Kodo Morning Star blend, with an aroma that’s obviously synthetic and only remotely like its original oil or herb, but I did like this one more than the prior two, maybe even BECAUSE it’s not like lavender oil, something that doesn’t vary all that much when its pure. Both the Rose and the Lily of the Valley are scents I generally have a bit of trouble with in the first place, so I think my opinion can be extrapolated from the rest of the line without needing to keep firing away.
As I mentioned earlier it’s important to compare your own aesthetics to my own in these cases as I tend to prefer traditional scents and many of these are quite floral. That is while I felt fairly comfortable talking about the Gardens line, the Less Smoke line isn’t something I’d necessarily seek out on their own and was mostly curious about how good they’d be considering so many of the high line Kunjudos are so good.
Mermade Magickal Arts / Serpent Flame, Pan’s Earth, Wings of Air, Mermade Moon, Sacred Spirit, Salome, Wilderness
May 6, 2008 at 10:17 am (Aloeswood, Balsam, Benzoin, Cones, Dragon's Blood, Elemi, Evergreen/Forest, Floral, Frankincense, Hougary/Premium, Incense, Jasmine, Juniper, Labdanum, Lavender, Mastic, Mermade Magickal Arts, Mike, Myrrh, Sandalwood, Spice (Cinnamon Clove Nutmeg etc.), Sweetgrass, United States)
[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.