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.

Sid Smith

Sid's feature articles and reviews have appeared in numerous publications including Prog, Classic Rock, Record Collector, Q, Mojo and Uncut. A full-time freelance writer with hundreds of sleevenotes and essays for both indie and major record labels to his credit, his book, In The Court Of King Crimson, an acclaimed biography of King Crimson, was substantially revised and expanded in 2019 to coincide with the band’s 50th Anniversary. Alongside appearances on radio and TV, he has lectured on jazz and progressive music in the UK and Europe.  

A resident of Whitley Bay in north-east England, he spends far too much time posting photographs of LPs he's listening to on Twitter and Facebook.