Mortel proves there’s a reason why incense has been burned in churches for thousands of years: it just smells darned good. Yes, incense is used to purify the air and to rid places of worship of bad spirits. But the truth of the matter is that the scent of frankincense, labdanum, myrrh, and benzoin is almost universally pleasing. The question then becomes how to build an incense fragrance in a way that it stands out from countless others in the genre. Some use room-filling synthetics to lift the resins, some are dense and airless, and some are airy, bright ? almost soapy.
Mortel is a bone-dry, monastic take on the theme, differing from other entries in the field by being both wearable (in a casual, everyday sense) and supremely natural in feel. It skips entirely the lime-peel brightness of the topnotes of frankincense, plunging instead directly towards a heart of dark, waxy, smoked-out resin, with a vein of sizzling black pepper. The structure stacks churchy resins around a core of extremely dry labdanum, which here completely lacks the friendlier caramelic tones of its usual presentation. Myrrh, licorice-like and earthy, is particularly prominent, its dark oiliness underlined by a generous helping of nutmeg, pimento, and pepper. The toasty tones of Virginia cedar form a bridge between the dusty cistus in the heart to the powdery benzoin in the far dry-down. But, although Mortel is undeniably dry and austere, its dryness is organic, like the natural dustiness of soot or charcoal. Calming and meditative, it is an incense that will elevate the spirit without grinding the wearer down. Believe us, that’s a hard balance to strike, and in our opinion, Mortel nails it.