“A salve against, or a product of, seasonal affective disorder during the Norwegian winter… light years away from later works”: White Willow’s Ex Tenebris puts their roots on display

Remaster of their 1997 second album – which began life as a Jacob Holm-Lupo solo work – includes vinyl edition for the first time

White Willow - Ex Tenebris
(Image: © Karisma)

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First released in 1997, Ex Tenebris began life as a solo album by White Willow’s guitarist and composer-in-chief Jacob Holm-Lupo. The line-up which made the band’s 1995 debut Ignus Fatuus had already disbanded, but as Ex Tenebris took shape Holm-Lupo realised it had enough prog pedigree to stand as a resurrected White Willow’s second album.

Now comes this re-release of a cult favourite. Not as lushly arranged than its predecessor, it was recorded on a shoestring, and benefits from Holm-Lupo’s new remaster.

Highlights include A Strange Procession – which sounds a bit like the Mastermind theme tune reworked to soundtrack some unimaginably chilling pagan rite – and spacious, contemplative opener Leaving The House Of Thanatos, all bone-dry guitar arpeggios, Mellotron and woody analogue synth.

There’s a gorgeous, lonely old church feel to Soteriology, too, with singer Sylvia Erichsen’s beautifully enunciated vocals evoking Sally Oldfield’s performance on Steve Hackett’s Shadow Of The Hierophant.

Though Ex Tenebris is today billed as White Willow’s “first step towards something more original than their first album’s retro-styled psych-folk,” something of Ignus Fatuus’s sound and mood remains.

But as the bucolic flute on second track The Book Of Love underlines, this is very much a good thing. Elsewhere, Holm-Lupo’s creamy, treble-rolled-off guitar lead on Helen & Simon Magus is unshowy, but effective.

Ex Tenebris translates from the Latin as ‘from darkness,’ and there’s no mistaking the dark Scandinavian energy. It’s a moody, mellow, sometimes melancholic record that sounds like some kind of salve against – or in places, a product of –seasonal affective disorder during the long Norwegian winter. 

Sonically, it’s light years away from later works – not least their unlikely 2015 cover of hard rock icons the Scorpions’ Animal Magnetism – but White Willow’s roots are well worth exploring.

Ex Tenebris is on sale now in multiple formats.

James McNair

James McNair grew up in East Kilbride, Scotland, lived and worked in London for 30 years, and now resides in Whitley Bay, where life is less glamorous, but also cheaper and more breathable. He has written for Classic Rock, Prog, Mojo, Q, Planet Rock, The Independent, The Idler, The Times, and The Telegraph, among other outlets. His first foray into print was a review of Yum Yum Thai restaurant in Stoke Newington, and in many ways it’s been downhill ever since. His favourite Prog bands are Focus and Pavlov’s Dog and he only ever sits down to write atop a Persian rug gifted to him by a former ELP roadie.