Mermade Magickal Arts – Dia de Los Muertos, Pachamama, Sweet Earth, Sandalwood Oud Antique, Ali’s Rare Incense Powder 2015, Kyphi 2016, Oud Kyphi

As mentioned in my New Year’s post, Mermade Magickal Arts incense goes fast these days, although many of their incenses come back as vintages. This, of course, is a credit to the venerable Nevada institution who never fail to keep improving their art form. In recent years we have seen all sorts of new directions from them, including a line of central/southern/meso-American incenses, forays into Japanese style oud and sandalwood mixes, hybrids of these with resin and oud ingredients, and even a successful jump into Tibetan incense. Personally this continual high level of excellence and creativity has me watching the site fairly often, which means that the reviews here can come from samples or purchases. Sometimes I can’t get to reviews fast enough before certain scents rocket out of the inventory. So it’s worth keeping an eye out whether at the site or especially on Facebook for the next creation. Anyway I hope to tackle some recent new incenses here. The last time I looked all of these were available for purchase but it’s worth acting fast these days. The two new Kyphi vintages just went up after the New Year!

The first two incenses on this list fall roughly in the central/southern/meso-American category and are somewhat superficially similar in that both are blends of white copal, black copal and palo santo. In Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead), the emphasis is on the two copals with the palo santo wood being a slight, although noticeable touch. Copal has been called the frankincense of the west for good reason, but when it comes to the really quality forms of it, copal really has a strong and powerful personality all of its own, a much denser, earthy undertone to it that only the darkest frankincense resins and myrrhs touch on. Mixing the white (blanco) and black (negro) copals tends to be a perfect match, just like frankincense and myrrh, chocolate and peanut butter, salt and pepper etc. It gives the overall aroma the bright, lemony-piney notes of the white copal with the more subdued and mysterious elements of the black copal. I really love how in the middle it’s all so foresty but in such a different, more temperate way than how we describe it when we think of something green. It’s worth noting that lower temperatures on a heater won’t volatize the copal quite so quickly and allows the scent to dreamily work its way to your attention.

Pachamama incense uses a similar list of ingredients but I believe the locations from where the copals come may be different and there is a much higher ratio of Palo Santo in the mix. The ingredients list Palo Santo resin and wood from a recent shipment of really extraordinary Palo Santo which almost revolutionized my opinion of the wood. This is a really powerful and aromatic, with some minty overtones I had never noticed from previous samples, and is certainly worth grabbing on its own. It has an immense presence in this mix and the results end up being quite a bit different from Dia de Los Muertos as a result. The copals here really share the scent rather than dominate and strangely enough, I’d say that this actually seems more resinous and less woody than the previous incense, with a really impressive amount of complexity given the short list. Pachamama whispers of shamanic ceremonies in deep rainforests, rays of sunlight through leaves and the rich fertilized earth of an unspoiled nature.

Sweet Earth seems to touch on a lot of the same aspects of Pachamama but with a totally different palette. While Palo Santo remains in the ingredients list, we’re back in the more familiar territory and base of a (honey) frankincense and myrrh mix. The incense is a marvel in terms of how the incense reflects the name, how the whole scent profile comes from such an earthy base, that sort of freshly tilled, post-harvest scent of leavened soil, loam and clay. There aren’t really the notes of more citrusy frankincenses which allows the mellower honey scent to merge with the liquidambar storax and create the sweetness of the name. The poplar buds/Balm of Gilead is a scent I’m not particularly aware of on its own, so there was a complexity in the incense I found to be quite evocative and fresh. In some ways this incense is about half familiar (I was reminded of the previous Dionysos in part) and half completely new and unique, yet it’s overall quite inventive and original, and most importantly quite addictive.

Moving across the Pacific, we have Mermade’s latest Japanese-Oud hybrid incense Sandalwood Oud Antique, perhaps a follow up to the previous Ensense Antique. These incenses fall in the premium category due to the list of rare and high level ingredients being used, in fact there seems to be quite a high level of agarwood going on here from several sources, always a treat. This underlies the high quality sandalwood in the mix which is mostly dominant but the real twist here is the use of two oud oils. These oils as a mix strike me as being rich, spicy yet not overpowering, a merger that is aimed to create an equality with the finer wood qualities. Like with previous styles, there’s a really nice Japanese, almost candy-like mix that reminds me of certain work from, say, Shoyeido. Towards the end of the heat, things get quite spicy. Overall it’s a very classy blend, very stately.

We’re also seeing vintages of old classics come through, which is always heartening. One of these classics is Gregg King’s Ali’s Rare Incense Powder. I have reviewed this venerable scent once or twice in the past (I seem to remember the first batch of it being a mix of “lozenges” and powder) and have never seen it as anything less than a mandatory incense treat. Be sure to look at the list of ingredients in the link to see just how many fine ingredients are here, what’s always been extraordinary is that not only do they all mix well, but none of them are buried in the overall scent. It makes it once of the deepest and most complex incenses on the market. The sandalwood is perhaps the most noticeable link among all the ingredients in its luxuriant and most resonant guise, but for me I really love the way the vanilla works in this incense. Vanilla in so many cheap incenses is just a headache waiting to happen, in Ali’s Rare Incense Powder it is a delectable treat. Anyway for further impressions on this blend, it might be worth digging for previous reviews as there’s never been a batch of this that didn’t impress and I’ve never felt the quality to waver in any way.

And as it’s the beginning of the year, it is also Kyphi time and the 2016 vintage is as good as you could possibly expect. In fact I think I would need a time machine back to ancient Egypt to find a market kyphi that’s better than this one. The problem on my end is as these vintages improve with every year I’m running out of superlatives to describe it (sifting back through previous Kyphi reviews is also recommended here, I would think all of them still apply). You would need the equivalent of a Wine Spectator expert who could sift through the many subtleties of such a complex incense to really describe this Kyphi, as in many ways it is the fine, aged wine of incense and actually shares the qualities of really good spirits in terms of power and quality. In fact this is an incense where so many ingredients come together and end up merging into one totality where it can be actually difficult to make any differentiation from one ingredient to another. What’s even more impressive is there’s a second blend called Oud Kyphi which is a form of the original with added oud and agarwood before the incense becomes cured. It’s just like when you don’t think the Kyphi could get any more stunning, along comes this upgrade. Surely this could be one of the finest boutique incenses ever devised, it’s certainly not the kind of scent you’d double task to even if you’re able to. It’s a virtual whirlwind of complexity and astonishment, the kind of scent that could only truly be approached by fine poetry.

As I finish this up I also want to mention I’ve really been enjoying the Labdanum resin from Crete. When you think of how many great incenses from Mermade are made from such excellent quality material, it behooves one to occasionally check out some of the material on its own. I’ve tried labdanum before, but some of it can come with some nasty off notes. No worry, there are none of those here, quite to the contrary. So don’t forget to check this out as well as the palo santo wood and some of the many fine frankincenses and copals Mermade carry. There are many treasures to uncover here.

Kyphi from The Scented Dijinn

Justine Crane is a perfumer of the old school, using natural essences and materials to produce luxury perfumes, body products and incense. I have tried two of her Kyphi blends and was impressed by both.
The Red Kyphi has all the deep qualities one might expect from a Kyphi blend, there are also many other layers in here, lots of study time and a good choice as a meditative scent. Overall, to my nose, there is an herbal scent as well as a resinated feel to it mixed in with a sort of animal note. Not in the sense of actual animal materials as much as a feeling or vibration. Think Primal scent. This is not the type of incense that is going to fill up a room if used on an electric heater (which is what I am using). It is more along the lines of wearing a very close perfume or cologne that is for your benefit(or someone you are close to).
The Pink Lotus Kyphi is stronger the Red and also has a very interesting progression of scents. The pink lotus aspect jumps right out, mixed in with some resins. Then it all settles down into what I can only describe as sultry, sumptuous, and very seductive. Just the thing for a romantic evening, maybe not so much for meditation 😮 .
I notice at her Esty store that there is also a Lavender Kyphi and if you go onto her blog you can read about the process, which is fascinating and quit informative. Kyphi is not something that one casually knocks out in a day or so; it is a long-term process with many steps and a lot of expensive ingredients. Making it takes passion, using it is a joy. Have fun. -Ross

Mermade Magickal Arts / Kyphi 2014

In the late 90s, I bought my first Kyphi incense from Mermade Magickal Arts, after seeing the recipe for it in Scott Cunninghams’s book The Complete Book of Incenses, Oils and Brews. Kyphi recipes are probably the most elaborate incense recipes available. They usually include raisins, wine, honey and multiple resins and spices and the incense takes multiple steps to complete including some aging and maturing. The recipes come from old Egyptian payprus records and vary in ingredients and steps depending on the recipe.

When I bought my first Mermade kyphi, it was loose and stored in a wonderfully designed glass tube like all of the incenses of the time. It was rich, indulgent and quite arresting, but in a way it was a mere shadow of what Mermade are now doing 15-20 years later. In recent years, Mermade has been creating yearly vintages of this fantastic, legendary incense and the years of experimentation and collaboration (I believe Katlyn Breene and Nathaniel Musselman have both been involved with the evolution of this style over the years) are paying off more and more as each new vintage reaches the market. Kyphi 2014 is absolutely not to be missed if you’re even remotely interested in incense, it is one of the finest scents that has ever reached this nose. And it’s not a loose powder in a glass tube anymore, but small cakes that are sold in both .5 and 1 oz sizes.

This kyphi could almost be a polyincense in that over the period of heating it actually shifts and morphs as the more volatile elements release. The base scent is a fine wine-like, berry-prune-raisin mix that grounds a kaleidoscopic range of subscents and spice notes. While most previous kyphi mixes have evinced the qualities of fine woods, I’m not sure any of them have been as perfect as the woods note in this one which mixes in nicely with some leather and turpentine hints. As the incense heats, it changes and shift, alternatively fruity, creamy, rich, delicate, intense, teasing, fruity and spicy. The complexity of it would be bewildering in different hands but here there is no obfuscation at all in the delivery; at all times you can sense both the separation and mingling of the fine ingredients involved.

This is truly the work of people who are deeply passionate about fine incense, a work that shows a level of professionalism and commitment that could be unmatched in this country. And better yet, there should be a Deep Earth 2014 to be released soon that is something of an offshoot of the kyphi, an incense no less impressive and complex. To this day, I’d be hard pressed to even think of a Mermade incense that isn’t at the apex of its craft, so to see the company continue to raise the bar on fine incense is something to be celebrated.