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.

The Rising Phoenix Perfumery / Musk Rose Bakhoor, Resin Bakhoor, Ambergris Souked Sandalwood Powder

I’ve been really looking forward to writing about Rising Phoenix since I started corresponding with JK DeLapp some months back. It may not be known to all readers but there’s really an amazing community of incense artisans in the United States now and often even when it looks like I’m posting about a new company with new incenses, I’m actually posting about veteran work in the field. We’re talking about high quality incenses on the level of Katlyn Breene and Ross Urrere but with a distinctly individual direction and focus that is expressly JK’s. Two of three of these incenses are intended to be in the middle-eastern Bakhoor style and yet while they carry forward the qualities of this style of incense, they avoid all of the trappings of the cheaper stuff and instead move closer to what might be considered mid to high end Japanese incense quality. The other incense, while not a bakhoor, has a similar level of quality. All three are fabulous incenses made with numerous high quality aromatic ingredients covering multiple levels of activity whether one heats or uses them in charcoal and those who have enjoyed the work of other artisans we have featured here should immediately line up at Rising Phoenix Perfumery’s Etsy store before the incenses are gone.

The first of these incenses is called Musk Rose Bakhoor. Like all three incenses, this one comes in a 3.5g sized glass jar wrapped in Japanese Washi paper. The incense is a fine earthy powder that is immediately redolent of the finer materials in incense. I remember a day when you couldn’t buy a good rose incense, but even fresh from the jar you know you’re onto a good thing here. The ingredient list is impressive with the wood base combining sandalwood and four different kinds and origins of aloeswood. On top of this blend we have a mix of Russian Centifolia Rose (an attar I assume), Champa and an all natural and extremely fine Hina Musk. You would think almost any one of these top ingredients could suffice for a great incense, but all three of them together make for an exceedingly complex and heavenly blend of scents that deliver an aromatic epiphany over and over again. These are the types of fine scents whose descriptions couldn’t possibly live up to the billing, the kind of subtlety lost in cheap floral incenses. There is one caveat here though, this is the kind of aloeswood heavy incense that the Golden Lotus incense most of us use from Mermade Magickal Arts isn’t quite hot enough for even at maximum and so in order to fully experience the whole scent, I had to experiment with the blend on charcoal as well (good news though, I believe there will be new methods of heating on the way in the near future from MMA that should allow the woods to come out more). It is truly hard to encapsulate how much goodness is going on with this blend. The rose hits you first as any good rose scent does, but the finer ones have personalities that transcend the usual experience of walking through a rose garden and this one is a scent you could just fall into. The champa will bring back memories from the years when champa-based incenses were at their best, I had multiple hits of deja-vu with every use of this incense, I’m not sure any other word could describe it better than awesome. One wonders just how much the champa and musk ingredients modify the overall scent as I also seem to pick up more of it a bit later in the heat when the sandalwood starts to come out. I’ve always found it interesting as well how Sandalwood can work so cleverly in an aloeswood heavy mix, although this may have been the way it works with a low heat. Needless to say there’s so much going on this incense that it will take many uses to really explore all the directions its going. It’s quite simply a masterpiece.

Rising Phoenix’s Resin Bakhoor is something of a high-end take on frankincense and myrrh resin mixes.  I was charmed to learn that this incense actually started as an Abramelin incense because you can actually sense that this is the origin, particularly from the way aloeswood and frankincense are mixed. This has a similar type of base to the Musk Rose Bakhoor, although in this case even if the aloeswood mutes a bit at low heat it doesn’t affect the scent quite as much as the previous incense, simply because the resins here are really arresting. There’s a real melding of scents here to create something quite new and special, a real eye to how each ingredient modifies another. Frankincense and myrrh are kind of the peanut butter and chocolate of the incense world anyway, but I really like the way the limier aspects of the green frankincense meld with the good quality Ethiopian myrrh here, it’s as if they were one resin with multiple faces. Some of this is due to the benzoin and labdanum in the mix, both of which seem to intensify the overall fruitiness going on at the top. And what a fruitiness it is, not just the typical lemon or lime qualities you usually get with resin mixes, but a sense of age and subtlety as well, which is a nice trick that is enhanced when the method of burning or heating makes sure to bring out the deeper qualities of the aloeswood and sandalwood. It’s actually somewhat rare to see a resin blend formulated with such a wide array of fine materials and even rarer to find one where every ingredient counts in the mix.

Rising Phoenix also offer various types of aloeswood and sandalwood, and offer as an option with their Indian Sandalwood Powder, An Ambergris Souked Sandalwood Powder (scroll down). Those who have had the pleasure of trying Ross Urrere’s take on this theme will recognize the style, where the crystalline, high-end scent of fine, fresh sandalwood is modified by the salty and sublime scent of ambergris. However, Rising Phoenix’s version of this uses (Golden) Irish Ambergris, rather than the more common New Zealand sourced material, which makes me want to eventually compare the two. I find this style of incense to be simple in terms of getting a two-scent, highly clear aroma, which is a good thing as the materials being matched here contain enough complexity in their own right that they would be drowned out in a more complicated blend (ambergris in particular does not shout, it sings). And of course if you’re only familiar with sandalwood in stick incenses, then experiencing what fine powder is like is a must as its better qualities are always revealed in a heat. In fact I would even think this would work quite at well at lower temperatures as a little goes a long way.

It is good news to see these incenses on the market and better news to know that even more styles are planned! Those of us who await every new Mermade blend with that sense of pre-Christmas anticipation will likely start finding themselves doing the same thing with Rising Phoenix. But this company doesn’t just have us awaiting the next blend, it encourages people to learn about and create their own aromatic products. You can find informative videos at this link. To see more than the introductory video, all you have to do is sign up with your name and e-mail address. And with new methods of heating and burning on the way, there should be more informative videos to share with you all in the near future.

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…

Mermade Magickal Arts / Abramelin, Cyprian, Dark Forest, Dark Goddess

So just as I was wrapping up the previous Mermade review, another surprise batch of new creations showed up at the door. It’s funny but I’ve probably never mentioned what boxes from Katlyn look like, although customers are surely familiar, but even the presentation of the arrival has the same care everything else does. It should be noted of course that Katlyn’s talent at art matches the same talent involved in the incense creation, so part of the fun is seeing the labels and stationery that comes with each box. As someone who gravitates towards the motifs of western esoterica, I find the way each incense comes packaged to be a delight and in fact anyone who has been involved in the western mystery schools to some extent will be delighted at the symbolism just on the tiny jar of the first incense to be reviewed here and even the bag the jar sits in. There is an attention to detail that rewards the attentive.

For example, check out the amount of research and information provided by Mermade on their newly created version of the legendary Abramelin ceremonial incense blend. This is a historically documented incense associated with the occult work, “The Book of the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage,” a guide written to teach a student how to converse with their holy guardian angel and largely associated with Aleister Crowley’s philosophy of Thelema. Of course much has been written elsewhere on this subject and so we’ll stick to the incense itself. Katlyn has chosen to create this incense with one part green frankincense, a half part mix of myrrh and storax and a quarter part aloeswood powder. While this seems like a simple recipe the quality of ingredients can have a massive effect on what the final product will smell like and this is I’m sure the first of its kind used with the powerful and lime-like green frankincense. I know this isn’t Katlyn’s first attempt at such an incense and different attempts and styles can make them all quite different from another. This work has a maturity that has allowed for quite a bit of subtlety most of which seems to float around the beautiful and heady myrrh and storax combination in the middle. The frankincense is definitely powerful in this but once heating gets underway all of the parts merge very nicely together with the aloeswood providing a subtle and more fleeting sort of presence. I also love the color of this incense, it tends to a lovely golden like shade which reflects rather perfectly with the intent behind the incense. One wonders if the original creators behind the incense ever envisioned or formulated the incense with such fine ingredients.

Also a simple, lovely and almost overwhelming incense is the labadanum, rose and agarwood combination found in Mermade’s new Cyprian. This mix strikes me as quite different than a lot of the other Mermade incenses. It’s as if the ingredients are all adding up for something very spicy, alluring and somewhat vigorous. The rose scent in particular is beautifully calibrated and reminiscent of some of the old rose and resin mixes, somewhat veiled by the incense’s spiciness, but still very authentic and gorgeous. The labdanum and agarwood are all finely balanced and the whole thing works perhaps because of its simplicity as a combination, allowing the nature of each ingredient to bring life to the blend. Strangely there is a beguiling earth or clay tone in the mix, as a result of the incense’s combination and the fresh incense itself almost seems to have a complex level of hoppiness to it. I was quite taken away with this blend and highly recommend it as a deep intersection of floral, resin and wood.

I reviewed Wild Woods in the previous Mermade installment and Dark Forest is another in Katlyn’s long and distinguished line of forest and woods incenses. This one is definitely a bit closer to center than the ambery Wild Woods and has a very pungent foresty green presence that is practically unadulterated with any note that might move this off center. I’ve admitted my almost unconditional love for this kind of scent before and this one is no different. It’s not complex in a wider sense, but there is a lot of activity within the greenness, made possible by juniper, black spruce, cypress, fir and cedar with strong backing from the black frankincense. There’s a slight note of patchouli on this that fills in around the edges, not to mention and even more fleeting glimpse of vetiver, both elements that just give different kinds of greens to the whole. As always, there’s a bit of sweetness to the evergreen and resin combo. As always, these incenses are bullseyes and tend to be as user friendly as anything on the market.

Dark Goddess is a new vintage of a previously named incense with some similarities, but overall I think this new blend is quite a bit different in scent. For one thing, the patchouli was a big note in the previous incense, here it’s much more subtle and blends with greater balance. As someone who doesn’t mind a healthy bit of good patchouli, and by that I don’t mean the cheap stuff that can overwhelm a drum circle, I love both the old and new Dark Goddess, but certainly like all of Mermade’s work, the most recent vintage is always the mature work. This mix, which includes ingredients that tend to the polar opposite of the blends based in green frankincense, such as black Ethiopian resin and black frankincense, is a very complex incense where the parts interlock like pieces of a puzzle making it just that more difficult to pick out the single elements. All of the resinous material gives the incense hints of molasses, caramel but also something a bit more dry with the herbs, especially the vetivert, giving it all an earthly feel.

As always, these are just a segment of the wonderful work going on at Mermade and it’s always a distinct pleasure to be able to share my impressions. One thing I often notice is later on I tend to pick up new things as I use the incenses, further giving testament to the depth of the art at play here. And so once again I highly recommend newcomers to Olfactory Rescue Service to visit the site, grab a heater and try out some of the luxuries in the Mermade catalog, as they’re all limited editions and vintages that eventually give way to new ones.

Mermade Magickal Arts / Naga’s Nest, Wild Wood, Scentuality, Kamiwaza, Ensense Antique

Receiving a new Mermade batch is one of my favorite parts of running Olfactory Rescue Service, in fact I can’t really think of too many other companies where I would be hard pressed to come up with a blend they created that I didn’t love. The whole spirit of the operation from the incense to the artwork to Katlyn Breene’s generosity and support makes reviewing the incenses a total joy and as the years go by, the sheer art and experimentation involved, now stretching into actual Japanese and Tibetan style incenses, never fails to elate. If you read this site and have not had the pleasure of checking the Mermade operation out, I’d consider it one of the first stops an incense lover should make. Everything created here is managed to the last detail and the ingredients used are top quality, only to be worked into something of even higher quality. Every chance I get to dish out the hyperbole I relish it greatly and with no reservation. And to see the line incorporate newer incense creators like Gregg King or our very own Ross Urrere only underlines the spirit behind the incense underground. Once I thought that high quality incense could only be found on the other side of the planet, now I know it’s made here too.

Mermade’s Naga’s Nest is a true original. One of the things you’ll notice about Tibetan incenses, particularly the ones sourced from Nepal or India, is that so many of the aromas you’ll find are embedded in very inexpensive woods, often the kind that smell like burning tires and make your eyes water. So imagine if you were to take a Tibetan rhododendron or lawudo incense, strip away all of the cheaper ingredients so that all is left is the aroma itself, and mix those ingredients with good resins and sandalwood adding just the right foresty touch so that the rhododendron ingredient isn’t suffocating anymore. What you have left is a gentle and unique scent floating like a mirage on the top of a good base. The scent is then recognizable from Tibetan incenses but allowed to flourish, and that it does in this blend, which lasted for hours when I put it on the heater. There really is no other incense like this in any market, in fact even the occasional powder incenses don’t sing like this one does. One only hopes Mermade will try their hand at some of the other Tibetan ingredients in a similar fashion.

Wild Wood, on the other hand, is another in the long lineage of Mermade’s forest blends. It’s probably no secret by now that I’m a huge fan of Katlyn’s work in this area, she knows how to craft them in a way where the aroma always tends to be perfectly green, just like you’d smell if you were walking in a forest. This art of using evergreen ingredients and using resins to intensify the scent always makes these a rare treat, and an incense style that might even crossover to friends that can’t abide by strong Indian incenses or heavy woods. Wild Wood is something of an evergreen mix with amber floating in the background, but like all of Mermade’s forest incenses, the green is still up to 11 on this one, with lots of fruity citrus from the combination of two frankincenses, the copal blanco and the pinon resin. The amber subscent acts to give what could be similar to a lot of resin blends a nice richness, and I’m assuming some of this comes from the two balsams in play. Naturally this also comes highly recommended and if you have never tried one of Mermade’s wild nature blends, there’s no better place to start.

The last three incenses here turn over to Japanese styles, with one slight exception. All three of these incenses start with a base of high quality sandalwood and agarwood, but the third element sends all of these to unique destinations. Readers may remember Gregg King’s fantastic Ali’s Roadside Lozenges. The newest variation of it is Ali’s Rare Incense Powder. I have not had the chance to try the latest blend on its own, but recognize its scent from the lozenges, it is an incense created from a staggering number of high quality materials.

Katlyn has managed to take some of this powder and create a meta-incense with it by combining it with the aforementioned base as Scentuality. This blend takes a while to get going on a heater, but when it does, it gets more impressive as it goes and lasts several hours. The mix of ingredients doesn’t tilt in any particular direction, which to my nose creates a kind of bewitching merging, particularly where the spicy and deep qualities of the agarwood intertwine with the complexity of the Ali’s. This creates a lot of rich and wonderful subscents that remind me of the kind of sweet, quasi-kyara candy scents you can find in some of the good Shoyeido wood and pressed incenses. The early scent is powdery and gentle before the agarwood really kicks in. Overall, it’s a fairly mellow incense, more akin to where a Baieido incense might sit and it’s a tribute to both Mermade and King that they’ve created a Japanese style incense of very high quality and complexity with all of the similar grace and subtlety you’d expect. It’s an excellent example of how incense circles and collaborations are improving the work year after year. And for just under $20 it’s quite price conscious and better than a lot of Japanese incenses in that range.

Kamiwaza is an incense in the same family as Scentuality, starting with the same or similar base but using clove, cinnamon, patchouli and borneol from Japanese sources as the “third element” in the incense. These ingredients have deeper aromatic qualities than you would normally find if you were to source them elsewhere and they merge with the base in a rich and spicy way that is a complete delight. The agarwood really pops in this blend, balancing all of the multiple sweetness and spiceness with a solid resin note. If you have ever tried any of Shoyeido’s speciality incenses whether wood chip mixes or pressed incenses you will recognize notes like a fresh roll of Sweet Tarts or a spice tea mix. But like with Scentuality this will likely be at a much more affordable price point and it all works without the use of perfumes and oils. One tip, however, the balance of the scents is probably best achieved by turning the heater a bit lower so the aromatics don’t volatize too quickly, particularly as the woods will go for quite a while.

Ensense Antique also uses a sandalwood/agarwood base, but the third ingredient here is an oud oil called “Encense Angkor.” As such, I would suggest, like with Kamiwaza, to apply gentle heat to this incense in order to not burn off much of the oud oil too fast. This oud oil is of the rich and spicy variety and it melds quite perfectly with the woods and it often seems like the scent dances somewhere in between them. It reminds me slightly of Ross Urrere’s sandalwood and ambergris or souked aloeswood in that the general aroma is woody dry, while having some very complex top notes resulting from the ingredients being very high quality. In particular the sandalwood comes through nicely on this one. All of these blends, as usual, come with the highest recommendation and it has been so much fun to see how Mermade is working in all sorts of incense world traditions, all of the blends created with such a deft and careful touch. And of course all of them are graced with Katyln’s terrific artwork, spirit and presentation, it never feels like any stone is unturned in reaching the final released work. And good news, there are even more blends in queue for review, including a carefully recreated Abramelin incense, an agar/rose/labdanum mix called Cyprian that absolutely wowed me last night, Mermade’s newest forest blend Dark Forest and a new “earthy blend” called Dark Goddess (I’m excited about this one in particular as the description references the old Mermade blend Hecate, an incense I still miss). Stay tuned!

Apothecary’s Garden

Apothecary’s Garden is in Canada and has a number of interesting and “off the beaten track” incense materials, as well as tinctures at his Etsy store. The owner does much of the materials collecting all over the world , which you can read about in his blog.

I have tried the Frankincense Rivae, Papyrifera and Neglecta which are nice a a bit different then Omani Greens or the Somalia. I am experimenting with some of the wild collected sap’s for new blends. Nice Etsy shop and a very informative blog.  I will add the links onto the left hand side of our blog under suppliers and blogs. -Ross

Mermade Magickal Arts/Gaia Tree

When I first started getting into blended incense, I was fascinated with church and forest blends, in fact over the years I’ve gathered more of them than I know what to do with. Many who have spent some time in Catholic churches know the basic scent of frankincense and some of these blends could be quite fine, having that amazing citrus scent as a base. The forest blends often went deeper than this and I’ve run across several whose fruitiness tends towards the scent of green apple mixed with pine, spruce, fir and other evergreen scents. In fact while around here we talk a lot about the wonders of aloeswood and sandalwood, I’ve always really prized the much cheaper and easily accessible forest blends, they’re a great way to scent your space.

Katlyn Breen is turning out to be a master of the art of earthy, foresty scents, in fact I’d probably have to do a bit of research to create a list of all the wonderful blends that have come out of Mermade over the last decade in this vein. And these blends are in many ways much more carefully crafter and deep than the average forest resin blend and many of them go in all sorts of neat and interesting directions. Gaia Tree is one of her newest, listing black frankincense, storax benzoin, arbor vitae, green cedar tips, black spruce, green myrtle, fir, and benzoin and tolu balsam essential oils as ingredients. This is a very rich and powerful forest scent, starting with the citrus of the frankincense base, moving towards the evergreen and apple mix I mentioned earlier, adding a touch of spice that is reminiscent of Mermade’s amazing Mahjoun incense, an almost confectionary level of sweetness and a really strong touch of amber that comes from the essential oils, in fact it’s one of the most wonderful amber notes I’ve experienced in an incense. This is all well rounded with a distinct greenness that comes from the spruce and fir tips, highlighting the name of the incense itself. While so many forest blends tend to scent fairly clean, there is a rich, creaminess to this one that gives it a wonderfully decadent note.

As always if you haven’t made your way over to Mermade, it should be one of your top incense stops. The Golden Lotus incense heater is an absolute must for blended incense and Gaia Tree couldn’t work more beautifully on it.

A few incense notes

It has been a really long time since I posted anything, so I figured I’d drop in and say hello. Life has kinda moved me away from blogging and writing in the past year or two and although I’ve had some sample review inquiries, not much has shown up and with a few exceptions I haven’t had a chance to try a lot of new things, but I figured I’d do a ramble and see what I remember.

First of all, it’s difficult to write about good incenses at all without mentioning Mermade Magickal Arts. Among Katlyn Breene’s many talents, one in particular always stands out to me and that’s the way she can bring evergreens and forest scents out in her incenses, absolutely nobody does it better. As someone whose very first incense experiences as a teenager were pine incense sticks from Cost Plus incense, the scent of woods and fresh evergreen resins are always a huge draw for me, so to sample Mermade’s incense pastilles, especially right around the holidays, was a real treat.

These pastilles look like the little candies they were named after and it seems to me that all three have a wonderfully foresty and frankincense-heavy base that is slightly modified by the title scent. With the Labdanum Incense Pastilles, there are three frankincenses in the mix and a touch of benzoin to go along with the labdanum scent. Just like if you were to open a little tin of citrus pastille candies, the smell from these pastilles is full of the gorgeous lemon and orange hints you get from great frankincense, at time’s the scent is as strong as fruit juice. The Spruce Incense Pastilles are a similar scent but the effects here are less like candy or fruit juice, with the spruce moving the whole thing to a less sweeter place. I would have guessed that this would have been strongly evergreen but in the end it’s really a note, it drifts to being a bit more earthy as it melts on a heater. The Sweet Myrrh Incense Pastilles seem to have a stronger presence with the “title” note and is the most complex of the three. The myrrh, as it always does, balances and modifies the frankincense scents that also moves it away from the citrus notes. Myrrh has always struck me as being a bit “thicker” than frankincense and thus it works to excellent contrast here. As always with Mermade’s work there is a real clarity to the scents and subscents that portray years of experience in creating fine incense and it just always seems that new offerings from Mermade get better and better. I also tried a sample of Mermade’s Majoun Encens which just makes my ability to keep describing these new fantastic blends more and more difficult – I don’t think there’s ever been anything quite like it on the market, a bewildering mix of a base kyphi incense with all sorts of new and mysterious ingredients that just pop with energy, like a mix of spices, cola, various food hints and something just a bit more subversive. It’s an absolute essential purchase in my opinion. And of course if you haven’t checked out Mermade’s heaters yet, you simply must.

I’ve revisited some Shroff incenses of late and I’ve found that the initial semi-dry masala series that came in the yellow boxes has slightly changed. I’ve heard reports of big changes with Jungle Prince. Pearl is definitely a lot coarser and less subtle than it used to be while essentially pitching the same aroma, and Little Woods has changed but fortunately is still excellent. However, the group that came with Sugandha Mantri seems to be holding strong, in fact this group is still one of my favorites. With Dhuni gone, many Shroff incenses are about the best on the market right now.

I tried several of the Nandita scents. These incenses are all essentially perfume based, but they’re all blends that don’t go instantly reminding you of other incenses. Mantra Meditation, Wood Spice, Dehn Al Oudh, and Royal Attar all show up as decent variations on a given thing, but many of these aren’t easy to describe due to the fairly complex oils at work. They’re all extremely affordable but I’d be hesitant to pick one or two of these as a favorite as they’re all pretty close.

Anyway that’s about it. Feel free to use the comments section and let us know what your current favorites are!

Ali’s Roadside Lozenges

Gregg’s* sable-colored lozenges are packed in a warm, golden-ochre powder smelling of vanilla, orris, labdanum and benzoin Siam. The scent of the powder reminds me of sweet Indian amber attars- thick and caramelized. However Ali’s Lozenges themselves are far more intriguing and complex than any amber blend I’ve tried. They are a mixture of spices, herbs and resins that unveil themselves slowly and seductively. Every time I think I know what I’m smelling another facet appears and draws me farther into the tapestry. Gregg recommends a setting of 5-8 on an electric burner. I started at 5, thinking the more volatile components would slowly vaporize, after which the slightly higher setting would show off the woods to their best advantage.

Subtle animalic notes of musk and ambergris are the first to greet me. These are two of my favorite notes in incense. Their primal rawness and power is provocative and wild. I’ve always lived in a very urban area; when I smell these lusty notes I access something elemental that isn’t normally a part of my ever day experience- something that makes my heart beat just a little faster. The scent of henna adds overtones of sweet tobacco and moist plums and spikenard rounds out the subtle earthy nuances . I’m sure that every so often I catch a whiff of chili- a spicy twist that’s as surprising as it is exciting! Soon gothic frankincense starts to sing- images of swinging censers and Omani souks come to mind. As my imagination starts to climb to the belfry warm notes of vanilla and bittersweet cocoa pull me back to earth. And what is more comforting than a mug of cinnamon-laced hot cocoa or a too big slice of vanilla poundcake? At this stage the incense is sweet and delectable- creamy, smooth and caramelized. Sandalwood and agarwood complete the picture adding a rich groundedness and wavy hum. Now all the notes seem to have fused together and I’m feeling very relaxed and calm. I’m not sure if the adventure has ended or just begun but it doesn’t really matter. I feel good and the incense continues to unfold. It’s time to stop analyzing it and to just enjoy the sweet languor. Mine’s been burning for 4 hours and shows no sign of quitting!

The finest ingredients have been used in the composition of this incense, including vintage Burmese agarwood from 1998, a Mysore sandalwood oil that is more than 10 years old, antique clove oil, cinnamon from Saigon , top flight Tahitian Vanilla and more.

* (yes! “our” Gregg)

The incense will be available soon exclusively at
Mermade Magikal Arts http://www.mermadearts.com/

myInsens / myJoy, myMantra, mySensuality, mySerenity, mySpark

myInsens is a new company in the US offering natural and premium Indian incense. The owner, Kaivan Dave, contacted me last year about the project and after samples of the incense, I’ve been pretty excited for a while to announce the company’s presence, their web site went live not too long ago.

One of the things you start to notice with Indian incense over time is the distribution structure. It is quite possible to think of several incense companies having separate product, but often certain incense companies in India market incenses outside the country and so, for example, the Madhavadas family provide incenses for Primo, Pure Incense and others.  I mention this because myInsens is definitely providing a new scent profile with their first six incenses, one that will be similar to other Indian incense companies, but with variations that make them well worth checking out on their own. Kaivan has struck me as very careful in the quality and styles he is releasing first and as such all of the incenses in the line have done nothing but open up since I started using them.

But not only are the incenses good, the packaging and presentation is particularly notable. The first thing I thought of when I got my first samples and box was simply why hasn’t anyone thought of this before? Because the box the incenses come in is wonderfully crafted for travel, a hinged box with a compartment for an incense holder. Even if you’re the Japanese incense type, I can imagine you’d love a box like this, with just a little bit of arrangement you can load the case for travel and not really have to worry about broken sticks. The only downside to any of this is that $19.99 for 24 sticks of incense and the box might be considered too steep for some, and I might agree if we weren’t dealing with what is essentially a connoisseur level of Indian incense. But I’d still maintain it’s almost worth it for the box alone, it’s that cool.

myJoy is the first of two reddish colored sticks, both essentially florals. I’m often the first person to complain about how poor some Indian florals can be, so I’m also going to rave about them when they’re great. And in many ways what myInsens has done with the floral incense is one of their selling points. myJoy is the type of floral that many companies attempt and few get right, and it is a real credit to myInsens that this is so beautifully balanced, because a hair outside of this balance can really hurt a floral. In the description, we’re given crushed rose petals and olive oil, the latter perhaps being the first time I’ve heard of the ingredient in an incense. The perfume that centers the stick is just incredibly well conceived, with almost real essential oil quality definition. The beauty of walking through a garden is the subtletly of scent, not some sort of perfume drowning session, so it’s so easy to recommend this, its powdery and feminine sweetness has a true delicacy and sense of nature in it. Pure Incense’s Pink Sayli is perhaps roughly in the same style, but I’m not sure anyone’s done it better than this.

The ingredients given for myMantra are ground patchouli leaves and frankincense powder. I also notice a strong sandalwood presence as a base, and the patchouli holding the center. The patchouli tends to the sweet, I’d guess due to the frankincense powder which gives the overall scent a fruitiness you don’t tend to find in most patchouli incenses. Due to so many elements at play the overall bouquet has hints of vanilla and orange in the mix, which remind me of spicier teas as well as certain colognes. But like all the incenses in this line the effects are quite gentle and always subtle and you never forget their are organics at work, all of which wonderfully unfold duing the burn.

While the whole line is good, if there was a standout in it it would have to be the absolutely world class mySensuality. Talk about raising a rose (and, as the description unveils, raspberry) incense to a new bar. How the company managed to get a rosy incense this authentic at a reasonable price is quite frankly almost miraculous territory. Like with myJoy this has floral definition that you usually only see in the high end Japanese lines (like Shoyeido Floral World). While other incenses in the line have a bit more halmaddi, this is still essentially something of a champa style, balanced to the point that criticisms fall away. The rose/raspberry mix is a real triumph for the company, so rich it almost has wine-like notes. Make sure this one’s in your first sample pack.

mySerenity moves back to familiar territory. This is definitely a champa incense, with what seems like a very nice halmaddi and honey mix. We’re given both lavender and vanilla as ingredients, although the former is certainly not very loud, which I generally think is a good move. The style is quite similar in many ways to Satya Natural, Honey Dust and others and thus is perhaps a bit on the generic side as a scent while still nailing the quality end of it. In fact if there’s any criticism to be made, any stick this thick with gum can be slightly problematic on lighting, but once it’s going it should be fine. The ingredients are nice and fresh and this is essentially a vanilla/balsamic mix, quite old school at heart.

mySpark nearly combines the spicyness of myMantra and the ambery subnotes of  myJoy with the champa qualities of mySerenity and indeed the ingredients given are patchouli oil, halmaddi and sandalwood. Like myMantra, this is something of a spicy, somewhat cologne-like masculine scent. Once again the perfume/oils being used in this stick are nicely defined, including a light touch of sweetness, in fact the way the florals and woods mix is lightly reminiscent of a good oud. This is the kind of champa I tend to gravitate to on a personal level and found this stick quite bracing and enjoyable.

When I got to writing notes on myZen, I realized I had gotten some aromatic fatigue, particularly because it is the lightest and airiest incense in the catalog. It was one of those moments where I was struck by how careful the incense making is here. In fact this seems to be almost the perfect meditation incense, not so loud it will distract you. The ingredients are sandalwood, halmaddi champa flower, the sandalwood the most pronounced ingredient in the middle with the champa flower playing lightly around the edges (my first impression was violet). Of all the scents in the catalog, this seems to be the least oil heavy.

Perhaps the best news about myInsens is they’re already looking forward to new scents, in fact I believe I was told there were four more on the way. This is all excellent news, because the combination of quality incense with an intelligent and modern style of packaging is all too rare in the field today. Also it should be mentioned that if you sign up for their newsletter you can get 10% off on your order. I highly recommend any incense lover who likes to share to give a sampler a try, I find it worth it for the box/holder combination alone. That it comes with extremely good incense makes it a perfect package.

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