The Opium Cartel: Ardor

Classy pop alter-ego for Norwegian progsters White Willow.

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On The Opium Cartel’s second album, Norwegian prog pioneer and White Willow leader Jacob Holm-Lupo is assisted by an Anglo-Scandinavian affiliation that boasts members of Änglagård, Henry Fool, Wobbler and more. Like their leader, these kindred souls are prone to a bit of well-crafted pop.

The kind of 80s veneer and squidgy synthtones loved by A-ha and Berlin are well represented throughout. Fundamentalist progheads are sure to scream “But it’s not prog!”. It’s unlikely Holm-Lupo and company will give a fig for such musical myopia, and when the end results are this accomplished, nor should they.

Alexander Stenerud’s vocals channel late-period John Wetton – it’s easy to imagine When We Dream as Asia in air-punching stadium-rock mode. Silence Instead oozes the moody finesse of a sullen, introspective art-house movie with a typically haunted vocal from that king of regret-drenched small hours ennui, Tim Bowness.

Equally cinematic is Blue Öyster Cult cover Then Came The Last Days Of May, with a fine turn from pop star Venke Knutson. Mariner, Come In provides a sombre, an unexpectedly menacing closer. Intoxicating and addictive.