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I am glad you all are here with me today. Here, at the end of all things. Ok, ok, no need for Mount Doom melodrama; it’s only the last monthly gathering of perfumes for 2023! If you missed any of the previous 150 fragrance reviews over the past year, you can find them here: November + October // September // August // July // June // May // April // March // February // January

A sizable portion of these (64, I believe!) were fragrances from Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab. You can find a few individual scents mentioned from month to month, but if you are looking for reviews of their major seasonal releases, you can find them here: 2023 Lupers // 2023 Weenies // 2023 Yules

Dirty Amber from Heretic is a warrior queen’s anthem, a grit-kissed growl of bergamot and juniper, teeth bared against the dawn. Geranium, wild and bruised, clings to cracked leather armor, frankincense, a smoldering altar to forgotten gods, hangs heavy, the acrid bite of cassia bark a whispered curse upon her foes. Tonka’s honeyed siren song of stolen pleasures is cloaked by a bitter, swirling fog of labdanum and myrrh. Cypress and patchouli, the musk of untamed forests, bind her to the earth, roots digging deep into forgotten bones of empires. And then, the heart of the storm erupts: fossilized amber, a guttural roar, a scourge of scorched starlight trapped in the golden opulence of sun-baked tears. The fragrance of a lineage steeped in fire, a war cry echoing through ages, of monsters fallen and kingdoms claimed. Dirty Amber is the scent of a Frazetta goddess, eyes blazing with the wild light of a thousand moons, a blade poised at the throat of destiny. This is beauty that bleeds, stains your skin, marks your bones, and etches its story into the air you breathe.

Corpalium from Marlou is the chilled earthen blooms of a sunless, subterranean iris, wrapped in a velvety feathered cloak of woodsy musk and honeyed, balsamic smoke. It’s a dark bird of myth, a single ebony plume plucked from flame, an unblinking amethyst eye, crystalline and plum dark under the cobweb veil of the pale winter sun’s sweetness. This is heart-stoppingly stunning, and I don’t think I have anything in my fragrance wardrobe quite like it.

Tom Ford’s Ébène Fumé with its incandescent glowing cacophony of sunset woods majesty, spider-pronged and prickly tines of moody-fiery black pepper, and the mystical ambiguity of palo santo’s piney/licorice/camphor vibe is a brazenly beautiful scent, perilously intense, and all-consuming. Smoky, regal, and fearsome, a tiger queen who set her kingdom on fire rather than see it fall, the incense burned on an altar of protection, invoking darksome saints with flaming swords. Desperate, dangerous prayers granted in gorgeous and terrible ways.

 Harvest Mouse from Zoologist, and I think this is one of the most fantastical fragrance transitions I have ever experienced. Right out of the bottle, it is a charming chamomile cutie, like a honeyed hay Hamtaro, but then it immediately shows you its big brave, beautiful heart, formidable and fabulous, a heady vanilla resin benzoin, swoony forested balsam and mystical oakmoss owl-masked creature by Lily Seika Jones.

 

 

Mad et Len Noir Encens POV: you are a brooding pencil, prone to bouts of melancholia, that only scribbles at midnight and has only ever been used to draft architectural sketches of gargoyle-adorned gothic cathedrals and crumbling medieval monasteries and Baudelairian poetry and you listen to a lot of Cold Cave and Chelsea Wolfe.

Spirit Lamp by DS& Durga (currently unavailable as a perfume, though you can purchase the candle) is a fragrance that evokes a forgotten corner of a botanical garden where a baleful spirit of untamed wilderness thrives unchecked. The initial impression is a thick, oily green, not of manicured lawns, but of some swampy primordial reed, the smell of an extinct past that’s closer than we often care to think, its roots tangled in the earth, its leaves exuding an acrid herbal musk. This greenness isn’t fresh and invigorating; it’s greasy, thick, and almost suffocating. As the scent unfolds, a metallic tang emerges, the scent of rust or singed copper wire, a chilling counterpoint to the verdantly depraved heart. It’s a perfume that evokes images of forbidden rituals and forgotten practices, a potent concoction brewed in the cauldron of nature’s darkest corners.

While the notes listed for Mad et Len’s Apocalypstick, violet, rose, mint, (I thought I saw macadamia listed somewhere?) sound like a pleasant enough combination, what the perfume smells like to me is a village of small children infected with a vast malevolence of pure evil. This cloying candied floral doesn’t just tiptoe on the precipice of sweetness and decay; it’s not just a playful saccharine innocence masking a sinister undercurrent of rot. It is an immediate and overwhelming assault of viciously poisoned sugarplums stuffed with razorblades served to you by sticky fingers and pale faces with sharp teeth. It lingers, sickening on the skin like a toxic premonition, like a perpetual stain, an indelible mark of repulsion.

I’m thinking about how Bramble from Herbcraft embodies a sentiment that profoundly resonated with me from the very moment I heard it, even though the person who brought it to my attention was one of the worst people I’ve ever known. Poet Katherine Mansfield wrote: “The mind I love must have wild places, a tangled orchard where dark damsons drop in the heavy grass, an overgrown little wood, the chance of a snake or two, a pool that nobody’s fathomed the depth of, and paths threaded with flowers planted by the mind.” Bramble is a striking example of how that mystery, that unknowing, may well be your undoing. Its initial whispers weave a narrative that mirrors Mansfield’s words, with the emergence of a subtle green element reminiscent of a somewhat ineffectual hedge. A verdant barrier to deter trespassers, it’s a feeble guardrail that ultimately fails to conceal the allure of what lies beyond—a little wood gone to seed, a snarled and shaggy thicket beyond which fallen leaves whisper deathly secrets, and the air hums with a mordant mockery of life. At its heart is a rose steeped in shadows, kissed by the nightmares of midnight berries, each crimson petal undead and undying. Every step closer in an attempt to inhale its fragrant aroma feels like tempting a fate more terrible than you can comprehend, and yet your feet move forward unwaveringly.

“THE YEAR WAS 2081, and everybody was finally equal. They weren’t only equal before God and the law. They were equal every which way. Nobody was smarter than anybody else. Nobody was better looking than anybody else. Nobody was stronger or quicker than anybody else.” What perfume were they wearing? Kurt Vonnegut Jr. never really got into that in his satirical dystopian science-fiction short story “Harrison Bergeron,” but I suspect it was Them, by Neandertal, a fragrance distilled to its most minimal, stripped-down DNA. A radical exercise in simplicity, a deliberate erasure of complexity. It’s very essence, a complete and total absence. A void, a vacuum, a nothingness. Olfactory egalitarianism in a bottle, where no note dominates, not a single note is even discernable. Wear it not to make a statement, but to embrace the scent of unadorned equilibrium—a radical olfactory utopia where no note rises above the others, and every aromatic expression is rendered equally silent.

P.S. now is probably a good time to remind you that I have a Patreon where I talk about perfume-related things that you might not see here (including the snarkier stuff, heh!) There are also giveaway opportunities and a monthly scented missive in your mailbox from yours truly!

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