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.

Mermade Magickal Arts / Dionysos, Icaro +

One of the things I’ve been noticing of late is that I can often have a Mermade incense in queue to review (the latest two are the fantastic Heart of the Sun and Honey (Amber Champa) incenses) and then they’re already gone by the time I make a move to writing about them. So it should be said that in general Mermade vintages are going out to higher demand, so it behooves oneself to move quick on these things, perhaps even quicker than waiting for our reviews as unfortunately we can’t get to everything in time as much as we’d like to. Olfactory Rescue Service is of course well pleased that more and more people are experiencing Mermade and Katlyn’s bountiful creations as I can’t imagine a time where we wouldn’t have good things to say about them. The latest creations could be gone by the time I get this posted and it would be a shame as both of these are comparatively unique to the roster and well worth checking out.

Another thing I’ve been noticing is how Mermade’s linking of myth and magick to the incenses give them a sort of power in their own right. Dionysos is one of these and the label immediately puts in mind the feral Greek wine God and his intoxicated entourage. When the first notes of the incense arise from the heater, the scent is grape, berry and wine all of some mysterious vintage. But woven through this central note is the wildness you’d associate with this God, an evergreen, balsamic and grassy mélange that speaks of remote pagan locations. Two of the incense’s notes are Greek Aleppo pine resin and Bay laurel leaves, both of which work with frankincense, myrrh and labdanum to give this scent a noticeably different feel to it. It’s a brave creation and has that touch of the weird to it that helps to get these images rolling.

Icaro moves across an ocean from frankincense and pine to copal blanco, elemi and Breu Claro, from European forests to the rainforests of Brazil. The comparison between these two incenses shows how different scents can be. It is something of a hot, dry incense especially in comparison to the liquid resin-like qualities of Dionysos but it’s also defined by an intense cactus-green scent that likely comes from the ground ayahuasca that is buried in the copal-heavy mix of ingredients. This combination speaks to the shamanic myths of the area and strangely enough I’m also reminded of how close to the word Icaro (defined at the Mermade link), the Greek figure Icaros sounds, and how both speak of long voyages and journeys. Once again, we’re seeing new directions being assayed by Mermade and this is a heady combination that has an impact similar to the Dream Snake of many years ago.

I was sent other current samples of Mermade works, including two variations of a stick version of Pan’s Earth, one an aloeswood version thereof. I had enough to know these were beautiful and heady blends that speak of how strong Mermade’s stick incense has been getting with new variations (and this goes for the Honey/Amber champa sticks to which I’m looking forward to more of after I rocketed through my tube of the amazing things). Mermade is also selling Styrax Benzoin, which comes looking like a fragile geode of dark crystals sparkling in part due to the added tincture/essential oils. This nurturing of the natural brings out a very gentle amber-benzoin scent on a heater, mild and unassuming and avoiding some of the harsher qualities of cheaper benzoin.

I also received a sample of small disc-like lozenges of Deep Earth, but when I opened the little package, I lost one of them as it shot out of the package into that same dimension lost socks go. The other landed on my heater where its familiar but variant scent reminded me of how much I love the lineage of this incense, I believe I still have samples going back at least five vintages.

In summary, it’s just always a joy to go through Katlyn’s latest work and share it, but don’t forget these incenses are getting more and more fleeting as people learn about this venerable company, so it doesn’t hurt to grab a vial or two right away. Also, next review I should have some incenses from a new entry into the nicely growing US field of incense artists, a “newer” company I have really been looking forward to talking about…

Runcato / Copal, Palo Santo

Runcato is a small Peruvian company who provide ethnic/multicultural arts and crafts, essential oils and a couple of incenses from the Amazonian rainforest and the Andean highlands of Peru. The company radiates with the spirit of ecological sustainability and the holistic earth-based spirituality that gave birth to it. In the United States this tends to be represented under shamanism and sold by companies with such an affinity, in fact you can not only purchase these incenses through Runcato’s main site, but also through sellers in the Amazon marketplace.

The Copal and Palo Santo incenses come in two forms, sticks and cones, these reviews are for the stick versions that the company provided samples of. These could be considered premium incenses of a sort, they’re created with a clean and natural mix of ingredients, with very thick sticks that burn for quite a while. Runcato’s Copal is actually one of the few stick Copal incenses you will find on the market. Copal varies widely in scent and style, so it must be stated that the copal in this incense is from the Amazonian rain forest and will differ slightly in scent from copal found in different geographic regions. Those who have sampled Fred Soll’s Copal incenses will know that there can be problems with using this resin in stick form, as the sheer stickiness of the resin can cause it to stick fast to its packaging. Runcato have sidestepped this problem by grounding the resin in a wood base, a style similar to a particular Shroff line (such as their Patchouli) where the main ingredient is mixed with a wood scent similar to the aftermath in a wood shop. The balance between base and the resin is nicely achieved, although obviously this will not be the same thing as copal resin on charcoal. The mix of the two main scents creates a cooling scent that isn’t overtly complex, but the combination does have a slight creamy note, not to mention a strong forest scent with a clarity and power that would make this good for clearing space. If you love the resin, this incense is well worth checking out.

The Palo Santo incense is similarly constructed, however this time the main ingredient is a wood itself rather than a resin and as such the combination of the two pushes this over into a much drier space. The wood base seems to be very similar to the one grounding the copal incense, with a wood powder scent that reminds me of a woodshop after a saw has been active for a while. Given that the Palo Santo is so much closer to the scent of the base, the individuality of the wood’s scent is a little more buried, but having sampled Palo Santo in other incenses, the main scent, which is unique and spicy in a way that’s difficult to capture in words, can definitely be sensed with little difficulty, which tells me that the main ingredient hasn’t been overdiluted by the base. And really if you’ve never tried Palo Santo at all, it’s worth checking out as it has a character and uniqueness that can’t really be compared to anything else.

Given that so much world incense comes from very familiar corners of the world, it’s good to have a couple entries from South America that bring forth the aura and sense of place in a way that is so respectful of its indigenous cultures and I can imagine anyone trying both of these will find them to come with a strong sense of personality and clarity.

Top 10 August 2010

This is, more or less, my top picks for the month. This does not mean that they are really in any kind of order (well OK, the Kyara Kokoh really is the top dog). There are also a lot more then ten incenses that I burn but we try and hold the line for the write up’s. I did find that as it got hotter in the Bay Area  my use of the Electric Incense Heater went up, as did my own blending for things to put on it. Great fun by the way!  -Ross

Kyara Kokoh by Baieido: I burn, maybe,  one plus sticks of this a month, in small “installments”. It is somewhat of an almost religious experience. Baieido says that this one is hand made by the owners using green oil Kyara that had been specially selected and I can believe it. It is pretty much beyond words and just gets better with each “installment”. Not inexpensive, but quite wonderful. Note to Baieido, if any of that green oil kyara is laying around ’cause it did not make the cut, I could find a use for it 🙂

Ogurayama Aloeswood from Baieido: Baieido is all about the woods. This one is from Vietnam and is considered a “sweet” scented Aloeswood. I love to put a small amount on the electric heater and let it gently infuse the room with it’s beautiful and very smooth scent. Trying to describe this is not easy, but basically it is about as pure of an Aloeswoods experience as you can get. If you like Aloeswoods then this is a great way to really start to understand them. Baieido’s Hakusui is another to try, actually any of them would work! At some point (when we get really brave) I think we might be doing some full reviews on the Baieido woods and possibly the Rikkoku (Six Countries) Set.

Saimei Koh from Gyokushodo: This is a wonderful Aloeswood and Sandalwood mix with a nice helping of spices, resins , herbs and  camphor. I do wish it packed a bit more “punch” and often find myself burning two sticks at once. It has a very classic “Old Japan” type scent. There are some similarities to a number of other makers scents but(at the moment) I think this one stands out.

Ranjatai or Kyara Seikan from Shunkohdo: Rajantai is one of my favorite scents; it pretty much has it all. Really good Aloeswoods combined with musk and resins. It’s deep, dark and wonderful, plus you get enough in the bundle to go on a real incense burning binge! Kyara Seikan adds Kyara to the mix and is also much smoother, it also cost more and is worth it (but not so “bingeable”) I ended up using both of these a lot during the Mystery of Musk series just to get a straight up scent logon for musk.

Honey Amber by Fred Soll: This is one of the very few incenses in the world to actually use Ambergris(beach caste). It has a really deep, yet clean amber note to it that the honey aspect adds an even deeper sweet note to. It is pretty strong so one stick can go for quite a few burns and still do up a room quite nicely. I think that Soll’s incenses are one of the best deals in the world and this one is right up there for me.

Copal Negro by Fred Soll: I would have to term this one as “heavy hitter” copal. It is smooth with a touch of sweetness in the background that kind of tempers everything together, but all that is riding on lots of deep dark copal. Wonderful stuff, great for grounding the environment of a room(or a person).

Japanese Musk from Koh Shi (Daihatsu): I am pretty sure that this does not use real musk, that being said it does really convey the idea of musk. It is  strong and has a nice, not too sweet, quality to it. It produces a wonderful scent to a room that also feels quite clean.

Swallows in Flight by Les Encens du Monde(Kunjudo): I had not used this a while and then “rediscovered” it last month. It is very complex, uses very good quality woods, resins, spices and maybe oils. Sometimes it almost seems a bit over the top in how much is going on here (another long learning curve)but having never been adverse to excessive excess, I just light another stick and go with it.

Deep Earth Premium – 2010 from Mermade Magical: This is something for the heater, to be gently warmed over a period of time. It has many musk like elements to it as well as resins and spices, It is a very deep, complex and meditative scent that really shows off Katlyn’s skills as well as the use of very high quality materials. It also takes quite awhile to make with a lot of ageing involved, which is reflected in the complexity of the scent. Beautiful.

Healing  from Mermade Magical: One of Mermades incense triangles, which is along the lines of a cone. This has a very clean and clear scent to it, I find it refreshing and uplifting; it seems especially good during the summer months. There is a great play between the resins and woods Somewhat unique and very nice.

Mermade Magickal Arts / Earth Church, Heart Beat, Dark Goddess, Babylon

These are new offerings from Mermade Magickal Arts. They all come in glass veils with cork stoppers sealed with beeswax. There is enough incense in them for  easily 10-12 large burnings( really, you will find you get more then this) except for the Earth Church which has six large “wands”. I am quite sure by this point that these people are very fanatical about the quality of the ingredients and how they are made and there is a lot of R & D involved i each scent. Plus the price for what you are getting is extremely good.

Earth Church
These are thick sticks, about a ¼ inch wide by 2 ½ long. They are composed of finally ground woods and plants that together produce a lot of fairly sweet smelling smoke. Given the thickness of the stick you can count on quite a long burning time. It’s prefect for setting the up the energy or vib in an environment for metaphysical work or perhaps just to clean up the scent in a room. I am reminded of very sweet smelling campfires or of walking into a wood shop where many different types of woods have recently been cut. It’s a very fresh clean scent.

Heart Beat
As the name suggests, this is a very upbeat, vibrant and spicy incense. It is a sort of brick or chunk of material and needs to be heated up slowly, either on coal or in a heater.
It has a whole lot of resins and such: Oman and Hougary Frankincense, Rain Forest Elemi , Copals , Benzoin, Juniper EO, Sweet Grass EO, Cedar EO and wild crafted tips, Opopanax and Pinon Pine resin. It is really very lively and rich and the scent tend to change up as different parts ignite. It is packaged in a glass vial with extra ingredients surrounding the bricks. What this means is that you can heat just the bricks, the extra powders or any combination thereof. It’s great fun to experiment with. All in all, this is a very uplifting and rich incense which I find myself using quite a lot, Also, when used in the heater it does not produce smoke, or very little, which opens up possibilities for more people to enjoy the scent.

Dark Goddess
Another loose incense for coals or heater. The woods in this mix really stand out at first with a fresh forest scent. Then all the resins kick in and the scent gets much deeper and earthy. There are a lot of different aspects to this incense that keep it interesting, a huge play of different smells interacting with each other as well as the environment you are in. One of its ingredients is Salupati which is supposed to have “psychoactive properties”. I have not noticed anything of this nature but experimentation is still in progress 🙂 . Again, like the Heart Beat mentioned above, not much smoke is generated on the heater but quite a lot of great scent is. A small amount ( ¼ teaspoon) will pretty much give a very nice scent to a standard bedroom. This one is woods and earth tones as opposed to the spices and resins in Heart Beat.

Babylon
A Bakhoor style incense, Quite possibly one of the, if not the best, rose incense ever. I kid you not. This stuff is a light, clean, uplifting rose scent that gets help from the Aloeswood and Sandalwoods in the mix. I believe they help to lift the scent up and give it some exotic overtones. I have not been a big fan of the florals but this one opened up whole new vista’s to me. There are none of the off or synthetic scents that so many of the floral scents seem to come with. Really, it’s just a huge pure river of rose scent that just keeps coming. Plus one bottle will last quite a while; it does not take very much and you will find yourself gravitating back to it for that floral hit. Well, at least I do and I am generally an Aloeswood kind of guy 🙂  !

If you do not yet have a heater you can put these next to a coal on a bit of foil and you are in business!

-Ross

Top 10 – June 2008

1. Tokusen Syukohkoku / BaieidoThe Aloeswood and spice combination of this mix just consistently has me lighting another stick. One of the truly great of the “Plum Blossom” style. There are no oils in this stick, it stands on just the woods, spices and awesome talents of the blender. I have blown though over a 100 sticks in the last two months. I may have a problem.

2. Kun Sho / BaieidoCambodian Aloeswood in all its glory. It’s sort of presented as a single note incense, but really the play between the Aloeswood and the very light touch of Borneol Camphor and some spices just make this a stand out. Its name “The Rising Scent” is very appropriate to how it reaches into the imagination, It’s an incense that I like to burn when I have the time to really enjoy it. There are so many levels to it but it is a very pleasurable learning curve.

3. Sho Ran Ko / KyukyodoThere’s not much more I can say that hasn’t been said already. It’s just a great classical, slightly floral, Japanese incense that is worth the investment (and really, it’s a deal considering the size of the bundle, it made me very happy when I first opened the box) I love this late at night before falling asleep, it’s so mellow and calming.

4. Ranjatai / ShunkohdoOne of my all time favorites. I find myself hoping one day to find a box of “extra thick sticks”. Just a great scent that has a very slight almost floral note , mixed with quality Aloeswood and musk, mesmerizing and tends to pull your attention right in. Beautiful.

5. Yoshino no haru – Long Box / ShunkodoI have what are called the “thick sticks” of this, which I really like. The scent is a wonderful, classical Japanese floral, somewhat sharp in nature yet with a gentle sweetness around the edges. The thick sticks put out quite a lot of scent. It is light, uplifting and just generally tends to brighten up the mood and energy of the room. There seem to be Essential Oils in this one but no synthetics so it’s a very clean smell, quite marvelous and each stick lasts for a long time.

6. Babylon / Mermade Magickal ArtsA Bakhoor style loose mix made for a heater or charcoals. Quite possibly the best rose scent I have yet found. The Aloes and Sandalwoods pieces in this give the rose scent a really nice boost. It’s not cloying or over blown, but it is very rich, smooth and elegant. If you are looking for a rose scent and have given up hope of finding something you might want to consider this. Really nice and the amount you get goes a long way.

7. Houshou / ShunkohdoThere are a lot of incenses from Shunkohdo in my list. They make really good incense at very good prices. Like this one! Aloeswood and spices. The overall impression I consistently get from this incense is chocolate ( and no, its not because I am hungry 🙂 )The scent can change up depending on what you had going before, but in general the chocolate comes through. This is a great one to use to introduce someone to incense. At around $20.00 for the roll it’s a great deal.

8. Ka Cho Fu Getsu / ShunkohdoThis is just a great all around incense at a very affordable price. Sort of Han style or Chinese herbs with Aloeswood. Lots of spices playing off the woods. Cassia, clove and a whole bunch more, At 200 sticks for around $32.00 it’s a really great deal and something you can burn at any time of the day. I really like it when I wake up, very refreshing and uplifting.

9. Deep Earth / Mermade Magickal ArtsThese are incense cakes, or little blocks/bricks of resins and woods made for an incense heater or placed nearby charcoal (not directly on top). This one is composed of Hogary Frankincense, Myrrh, Copal Negro, Aloeswood, Patchouli EO, Vetivert and dusted with powdered Aloeswood. It smells very clean and fresh and also very grounding. Not a bad thing to go with after coming home from work! These are pretty much hand made in small batches and smell as if they use very high quality materials.

10. Myo-ho / ShoyeidoI got the sampler pack of this five months ago. It blew me away then and still does now. In fact I lit this for some people in an incense class I was giving recently and watched them get, well, high 🙂 actually, just on the scent of the spices and Kyara. Pretty amazing. It’s not cheap, but it is really good and as someone said recently in the blog “I am glad I have had the pleasure of smelling it in this lifetime.” I think this is one of the masterpieces of the Art of Incense.