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.

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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.

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/

Huitong / Cure Disease, Taizhen, Solemn, Golden Light, Plum Blossom, Sky Dragon, Yun Hui Incense Powder

While we do see a lot of incenses coming in from the Tibetan region within the political boundaries of China, Huitong is the first Chinese incense company we’ve been in contact with. In many ways Huitong might be considered the Chinese analog of Baieido in that all of their incenses seem to be made without the use of perfumes and oils, using only ecologically sound ingredients. What this means is that it’s been very difficult to do their incenses justice as to even pick up on their subtleties means you have to approach them like you do with Baieidos and “listen” to them.

This is essentially sort of a hybrid style, using extruded Japanese-like sticks to format what are essentially very Tibetan-like scents. So the most obvious comparison would be to Bosen’s Tibetan traditionals or even some of the Korean incenses, except as already mentioned that Huitong doesn’t use oils as Bosen does and the scents will be friendlier to Western noses than many of the Korean incenses. But one thing most of the scents have in common is they all have multiple ingredients and thus often don’t have the dominant sandalwood or aloeswood notes that tend to make categorizing Japanese incenses a little easier.

Cure Disease is described as a “kind of historic incense, which is mainly used for cure disease and health preserving. It was originated from Song Dynasty (960-1279 A.D.) and recorded in ancient books that burning this incense regularly could help to strengthen us both emotionally and physically.” The ingredients are listen as figwort root, spikenard, cypress seed, rhubarb, aloeswood, storax and clove.  As such, this type of mix reminds me a lot of some of the sweeter TDHF Tibetan ropes with a bit of fruitiness  in a much more refined format. Like with most mainland incenses, the aloeswood is quiet and mixed in but it works quite well to give the incense some heft. The results are quite pleasant, especially as the scent builds, almost like a mix of woods and grape.

Taizhen incense is the second of three Huitong incenses packaged in beautiful cardboard rolls. The incense “originated from Imperial Consort Yang of Tang Dynasty (618-907 A.D.) Consort Yang known briefly by the Taoist nun name Taizhen, was one of the four beauties of ancient China, she was the beloved consort of Emperor Xuanzong for many years. According to legend, Consort Yang treasured this incense very much and named it by her own Taoist nun name. Taizhen Incense is made from various famous and precious Chinese traditional materials according to the ancient spice formula.” The ingredients listed are sandalwood, Chinese eaglewood (aloeswood), saffron, cloves, jave amonum fruit, saussurea involucrata, rue, cogongrass etc. In this case the sandalwood is noticeably up front in a sort of freshly cut wood way. The other ingredients sweeten this base scent up in the same way they do in wood powder heavy Tibetan ropes. The Chinese Eaglewood gives the aroma a bit of roundedness and the front has a fruitiness not dissimilar to the Cure Disease, In some ways it’s like a nice, smooth low wned aloeswood crossed with Tibetan-style spices.

Solemn Incense is one of the previous Buddhist incense. It was originated from Tang Dynasty (618-907 A.D.) when Buddhism was popular in the society. According to legend, when burning this incense, all the gods will pray to Buddha all together. It is usually used for practice Buddhism or reading at the home.” Like the previous two incenses, this is packaged in a cardboard roll. It contains sandalwood, aloeswood, mastiche, galbanum, and saruma henryi among other ingredients. It’s a very light sandalwood and aloeswood blend, with a slight fruitiness akin to the Taizhen (one wonder if this roll series might have some thematic similarities). It’s quite pleasant, again largely due to the fresh wood powder scent at the center. It seems like the galbanum might give the scent the fruity subnote. Like all good meditation incenses, it also has a slight ineffable quality about it. Solemn may not be as rich as the previous two incenses but in a way it’s the most successful.

Golden Light moves the packaging format to boxes and presents another tradional Buddhist formula from the Tang Dynasty, its name originating from the Golden Light Sutra. The ingredients are given as sandalwood, frankincense, basil and cypress seed and the incense definitely smells like a variation on a combination of those first two ingredients. As such it’s not terribly far from, say, a less refined Kyukyodo Yumemachi as if it was done as a Tibetan stick. This puts the incense in the general catgeory of the “daily incense” in that the ingredients here have less luster than in the other sticks. For the most part this is a woodshop sort of scent and as such it is also similar to the Incienso de Santa Fe bricks.

I’m about 95% sure the next incense I’m reviewing is Huitong’s Plum Blossom. Although the box wasn’t clearly labelled, the graphics seem to match the story which goes like this. “Plum Blossom Incense was created by Princess Shouyang, the daughter of Emperor Wu in the Nan Dynasty’s Song Era. Princess Shouyang was a plum blossom lover, according to the legend, one day when she slept beneath a tree, a plum blossom fell on her forehead, leaving a floral imprint. With the imprint, she looked much more beautiful. Soon, all the ladies followed her to paste plum blossom shaped ornaments on their foreheads. It was then called Plum Blossom Makeup. Hence, Princess Shouyang was crowned Goddess of Plum Blossom and this incense was also name Plum Blossom incense.” Plum Blossom is a coil incense (the coils are the same shape and size as many mainland aloeswood coils) and is made from spikenard, aloeswood, radix angelicae dahuricae, cortex moutan, clove bark and sandalwood. It’s interesting to see spikenard listed first as I didn’t sense it taking up a lot of the scent. Instead you seem to have the mainland take on something like Baieido Kobunboku done Tibetan style. That is the incense itself is centrally woody but it supports a sort of light floral mix that creates the plum blossom aroma and does so without the off scents one would expect with inexpensive perfume. It’s not spectacular so much as understated and like all the Huitongs, nicely done given the boundaries.

“Sky Dragon is a kind of precious Chinese traditional incense. It was originated from Tang Dynasty (618-907 A.D.) when Buddhism was popular in the society. According to traditional recipes, the incense requires several days of cellaring during production process.” Sky Dragon has a huge list of ingredients: rosewood heartwood, cloves, sandalwood, valeriana jatamansi, cogongrass, rue, frankincense, benzoin, ageratum, galangal root and cypress powder. The rosewood appears to be the central ingredient and the mix gives this stick a very different bent from the previous incenses which all have a substantive sandalwood component. It makes for a nice change, slightly anyway, because the rosewood doesn’t have quite the depth to carry it completely. Even the spices mixed in the other scents are missing here, leaving this one with a sort of campfire scent.

I didn’t receive any information with the last incense here, Yun Hui incense powder. This seems to be the deluxe item in the batch, as the powder has an intense richness that none of the sticks quite approach. Even fresh out of the box the spicy, fruity blend pops out of its small ceramic interior container. And maybe it starts with that container but it makes the whole incense reminiscent of Japanese kneaded incenses mixed in with the woody and powdery elements of Tibetan powders and ropes. This scent seems highest in good aloeswood content with subnotes of tea, caramel and butter on the heater. In order to get this review up in even a remotely reasonable time, I had to forego a sample of it on a charcoal burner but I may come back and add that. Needless to say, this is very good powder, reminiscent to some of the better Tibetan powders and I’m hoping to be able to get to know it better.

We’ll have some more Huitong incenses up for review somewhere down the line. Overall what reviewing these did for me, is really question the idea of what effects perfumes and oils have on an incense’s immediacy, because without them one’s work is a lot more difficult in trying to describe a scent as all of these, with perhaps the exception of the powder, are very quiet and gentle scents which will make you stretch to understand. Which is not at all a bad thing in my book. I’m actually overall very impressed with the sheer class and visual impression of Huitong. However, there’s one disclaimer and that these incenses aren’t easy to get at the moment, at least in the US and as I finish this up I realize I don’t have a URL. So I’m going to first direct you to Frankie’s blog where I assume one can leave a comment if you’re interested in purchasing, and I should be back in a few days with something a bit more direct.