Close your eyes and imagine a ghost town in the Old West. It lies at the base of rocky mountains dotted with pine trees and as dusty as the Hindu Kush. The desert looms just beyond. From it, a dry wind blows large, desiccated tumbleweeds that roll past the old, abandoned wood buildings and the crumbling adobe huts. The sky is dark with smoke from a wild-fire that licks the mountain trees, making them shed pine needles and a sweet, aromatic sap. A sweet, musky, ambered warmth hovers in the air, vying against the dust and desert dryness. In the center of town, a man dressed in cracked black leather leans against the ruins of the old church whose wood still bears strong traces of the incense that once filled the air, traces which continue to weave their way around the town, the desert, the baked red earth beneath his feet, the smoke from the camp fire he just lit, and the leather on his back. This is the town and world of Andy Tauer’s Incense Flash.
Incense Flash is an evocative new eau de parfum that is far woodier and leathery than its name had led me to anticipate. It is the latest release from Tauerville, Andy Tauer’s secondary brand. On his blog, Mr. Tauer once explained that he started Tauerville in order to let him play more creatively. The fragrances are also meant to be approachable and affordable scents, which is why they are released in a small, practical 30 ml size. (The 10 ml roller-ball, however, no longer seems to be offered for sale.)
On his Tauerville website, Mr. Tauer describes Incense Flash and its notes very simply:
Dry incense, woody leather and this mysterious churchy touch.
For all incense lovers, featuring leather, musky woods, amber gris, and a natural Boswellia serrata frankincense extract.
As a side note, in case you’re curious, Boswellia serrata is generally the Indian variety of olibanum, not the Somali sort which is called Boswellia carteri or sacra and is the type which the Vatican reportedly buys en masse for its ceremonies.
Incense Flash opens on my skin with woody incense that is layered with the deliciously nutty overtones of sweet myrrh, then cradled in a musky haze of golden warmth from a caramel-nuanced ambergris. The whole thing is lightly sprinkled with a fine veil of abstract spiciness, then placed on a base that I can only describe as a mix between a rocky, high-altitude, dusty desert and something mountainous. It’s a dryness that is filled with aromatic pine needles and coniferous, resinous trees, but there is also a quiet streak of earthiness that is more like baked earth, the sort of scent you might find in adobe huts in America’s Southwestern desert.
All these elements quickly blanket the incense which is extremely woody, slightly resinous, and quietly dusty. It is never truly liturgical, spiritual incense with its musty, fusty, or soapy aromas. Rather than visions of High Mass in a Catholic church, the overwhelming image I have is the story that I described at the start of this review. It makes Incense Flash feel, in a nutshell, as though it merged the olfactory essence of Santa Fe and the Hindu Kush, while also giving a nod to the Moroccan desert of L’Air du Desert Marocain (“LDDM”). To be clear, Incense Flash is nowhere as spicy on my skin as the latter, but LDDM feels like a strong connective tissue through the sandy, dusty desert at Incense Flash’ feet.
What I really love about Incense Flash’s opening is the perfectly balanced and very naturalistic sweetness. Sweet myrrh (opoponax) has strong undertones of toasted nuts and subtler ones of honey and beeswax, while ambergris has musky, marshy caramel nuances. Both serve here to counterbalance the smoky, dry darkness of the signature Tauerade accords in the base, not to mention the whiffs of an arid, woody aroma-chemical that is woven into the sticky, balsamic resins.
The sweeter ambergris and opoponax accords also work well against the dry, cracked leather that slowly emerges after 10 minutes. It’s a rough leather suffused with the piney, outdoorsy, singed wood and campfire smoke aromas of cade, rather than the more typical birch tar which, to me, is less woody, aromatic, fresh, and resinous. (Cade is one of the ways through which the “leather” note is recreated in perfumery.)
In fact, Incense Flash wafts significantly more campfire (cade) smoke on my skin than incense. I have to admit, I prefer it this way. I really struggle with High Church liturgical fragrances, so the spicy, woody, golden, and leathered treatment here is far more appealing. Best of all, it’s not soapy and doesn’t feel as though the dust of ages has been unearthed from some ancient crypt or catacomb.
I also really like the strong streak of deciduous pine in Incense Flash. It feels as though fresh pine needles blanket the rocky, sandy ground and have been crushed under your boot to release a coney, green, foresty aroma laced with the sticky sweetness of fresh sap. The latter works so well with the sweet myrrh’s honeyed and nutty facets.
The one thing I’m not so keen on are the growing ripples of a smoky, woody aromachemical in the base. It feels raspy, and there is also a sooty tarriness underlying it that makes me wonder if Andy Tauer has returned to the creosote that he seems to use so frequently in his woodier or darker fragrances. In a nutshell, creosote is a sort of black goo that is derived from coal-tar distillation or from the smoky remnants of burnt wood, like the thick black coating you’d find in the inside of a chimney. It is used to coat railroad ties, or to preserve wood. Whatever the specific source of the scratchy, arid, tarry sootiness here in Incense Flash, I’m not enthused, particularly when it grows even more pronounced in the drydown.
As a whole, Incense Flash is always a very rustic interpretation of “incense” centered on musky, leathery, ambered and campfire smoked woods that are threaded with fluctuating amounts of equally woody, dusty incense and nutty sweet myrrh, then sprinkled lightly with crushed pine needles before being placed atop a dry, earthy, and resinous base. The fragrance doesn’t change substantially from that focus. All that happens is that the various secondary notes wax and wane in prominence, often rearranging themselves in the order of prominence.
There are a few points when the changes are greatest or most noticeable. The first occurs roughly 2.5 hours into Incense Flash’s development. The fragrance turns drier as the leather becomes a major player, blasting a tarry, rawhide quality blanketed with cade campfire smoke. The ambergris gives way before its darkness, hiding behind it and also losing most of its caramel undertones. At the same time, both the sap and the subtle spiciness fade away, while the sweet myrrh’s nutty side retreats to the background. The crushed pine needles and the more aromatic facet to the woods weave in and out to varying degrees. Sometimes, it feels as though they are about to vanish but, at other times, they are as noticeable as ever. It’s the same story with the baked adobe earthiness in the base.
What’s odd, though, is how Incense Flash always smells differently from afar than it does up close. When I sniff my arm closely, both the leather and the raspy, tarry, very desiccated smoky aromachemical are extremely strong but, from a distance or on the scent trail in the air, the main bouquet is almost entirely a musky, sweet, golden, outdoorsy, singed woodiness layered with softer, merely “rugged” leather and just barely smudged with churchy incense.
Near the end of the 4th hour, about 3.5 hours in, Incense Flash’s middle phase begins, and it’s very pretty on my skin. It’s as though the campfires had melted the resins because the sweet myrrh has oozed into a creamy beeswax, while the ambergris surges back in strength, feeling warmer and softer. Together, they coat the leather, tempering its tarry, sooty roughness, and also filtering out the desert’s dusty, sandy rocks. Once in a while, there are glimmers of something that really resembles a dark, woody tobacco in the base, even though there is no tobacco listed in the fragrance. Up top, the pine needles fall away, but the mix of church incense and outdoorsy campfire smoke remains.
From afar, Incense Flash is primarily a musky, semi-sweet, semi-dry, wood and leather scent that is cocooned in ambered warmth and laced with only the lightest touch of church incense. Up close, the leather dominates the scent much more with its tarry and smoky facets. The resinous darkness, heavily scorched woods, campfire smoke, and creamy beeswax are also more apparent and stronger. So, too, are the tenacious tendrils of tarry, raspy sootiness in the base. However, the scratchy aromachemical is never so excessive or unbalanced as to be a problem unless I apply only the lightest, smallest quantity of fragrance (a few dabs equaling 1 spray or less). I think the warmth and softening effects of the ambergris are partially responsible in keeping the raspy chemical in check, but I’ve also noticed that many of the Tauer creations waft stronger aromachemicals on my skin when I apply small quantities, while larger amounts seem to bring out the ameliorating, softening influences of the richer notes.
One thing I really appreciate with Incense Flash is how beautifully it is blended. Each layer flows seamlessly into the next but is still individually distinct and clear when I sniff my arm up close. I think the blending is also responsible for the constant waxing and waning in the notes that occurs from the start almost to Incense Flash’s very end. For example, from the 6th hour onwards, sometimes the scent seems to be woody-amber in focus but, at other times, it’s amber-woody. The actual frankincense lags far behind, taking turns to switch with the leather for 3rd, 4th or even 5th place.
It is only in Incense Flash’s last few hours that the titular note finally becomes a major player on my skin. Up to that point, the smoky, charred woods always dominated center stage, though the raw leather joined them for quite a while during the middle stage. But, finally, 10.5 hours in, Incense Flash becomes an equal-parts blend of wood, incense, and amber. The latter is now abstract and is mostly just a simple, hazy warmth. Incense Flash is still slightly musky, but there is no longer any caramel-laced sweetness or distinct ambergris. There is also no sweet myrrh or beeswax creaminess. The pine needles have vanished, while the smoky, woody aromachemical has fully risen to the top, turning the scent extremely dry in nature and emitting a dark sharpness when I smell my arm up close. Incense Flash continues on this path until its final moments when all that is left is a wisp of dry woodiness.
Incense Flash had good longevity, while both the projection and sillage were initially moderate before turning soft. Using 2 large smears equal to roughly 2 good sprays from a bottle, Incense Flash opened with 3 inches of projection and about 5 to 6 inches of scent trail. The fragrance felt very soft in weight and body, but was strong in scent up close, probably because my skin amplifies any fragrance with aromachemicals (and the Tauerade signature base typically includes a few). The projection dropped to about 2 inches after only 30 minutes, then to about 1 inch above the skin after 2.5 hours, and to roughly 0.5 inches after 3.75 hours. The sillage was very discreet. However, Incense Flash only became a proper skin scent after 7 hours, though it was still easy to detect up close when I brought my nose to my arm. All in all, it lasted a little over 12.5 hours. With the equivalent of 1 spray, Incense Flash actually had the same opening projection and sillage numbers, but it became a skin scent after 5.5 hours and the longevity was just a hair over 10 hours. As always, I have to emphasize that my skin holds onto and also projects fragrances with strong aromachemicals for much longer than most. On Fragrantica, the early votes for Longevity are split between “Moderate” (3-6 hours) and “Long Lasting” (7-12 hours) at this time.
There are only two reviews for Incense Flash on Fragrantica at this time. “Rickyrebarco” seemed to have an up-and-down time of it, enjoying some parts but not others. She wasn’t enthused by the “dirty and smoky” opening, but the real issue was the excessively heavy leather of the heart phase. Her review reads in full as follows:
Incense Flash opens dirty and smoky to my nose, not pleasant at first sniff . But, like all Tauers, you have to wait to see what develops. The fragrance warms up and in the first half hour it literally smells ‘hot’ like incense and wood on a little brazier in someone’s home. I like the scent at this point. It’s still deep, dark, spicy and smoky, but it smells purifying now, no longer dirty. I find myself drawn to it more and more. It’s like carrying a smoking censer in a religious service.
In the midphase heavy leather comes into the mix. It’s too dry and leathery for me at this point. It’s like the blessing and censing of the cavalry before battle with lots of leather boots, bridles and saddles in the mix. In the dry down the leather softens a bit and I smell myrrh and ambergris. I am not a huge myrrh fan, it’s too dry and often bitter for me. All in all a very good, well balanced strong incense and leather scent. If you like bitter, smoky and leathery this is for you. Well done but too much myrrh and leather for me to wear until it becomes a skin scent after a few hours.
The second review is from “SweetnSpicey.” She thought that Incense Flash began with strong similarities to L’Air du Desert Marocain, before gradually turning into such a leather-dominated fragrance that she momentarily felt as though she were wearing “Leather Flash” instead. Like me, she found the scent had a definite desert quality, as well as some underlying creaminess later on, though she experienced far more spices than I did. Her review reads, in small part, as follows:
As soon as I hit the trigger, I smell the cult favorite L’Air du Desert Marocain, or something so similar as to fool my nose for a few seconds. […][¶] Very quickly, as in 1-2 minutes, a prominent note of leather comes in, so you know this is not L’Air du Desert Marocain. We are still very much in the desert sands, but rather than than the scent of sand baking under the scorching sun, Incense Flash is more like Arabian riders on their horses […][¶]
Black leather dominates the heart of the perfume, so much so that I forget this is supposed to be called Incense Flash, not Leather Flash.
The base is where I detect a prominent note of Boswellia (frankincense), reminding us that the Arabian desert is an ancient land with ancient traditions and rituals of worship. The leather begins to take on a subtle creaminess that is really nice. I like the top and the drydown best.
I think that lovers of L’Air du Desert Marocain who also love leather are going to swoon over this release. I think the main point to take away is that while L’Air du Desert Marocain dries down into sweet amber and woods, Incense Flash dries down into leather and bitter frankincense.
Incense Flash has no Basenotes entry page at this time, but there is one description for the scent in a Basenotes discussion thread. There, “Du57in” writes in large part:
To me Incense Flash feels more like a gooey, wet and resinous incense at first. It’s almost too loud and messy in the opening, but once it dries down a bit the wood, smoke and nuances of the incense comes out. I get a lot of natural smelling frankincense and smoke in the heart which almost reminds me of Unum’s Lavs. It’s not as complex or liturgical, but it’s darker and raw.
The details of all these reviews may differ, but one thing is common to them all: Incense Flash is not one of those liturgical, churchy fragrances. This is a scent that I think has far more in common with L’Air du Desert Marocain combined with the dry, outdoorsy campfire smoke and leathery woods of Naomi Goodsir‘s Bois d’Ascece than with the High Church/Sunday Mass stylings of CDG‘s Avignon or UNUM’s Lavs.
What most of these reviews should also make clear is that the smoky leather is going to be a noticeable factor on your skin, as well as the dusty dryness. While my experience was obviously more woody, piney, and resinous in focus than the two Fragrantica accounts, the leather did surge in strength in the middle phase on my skin, too. You better like it raw, musky, tarry, and a bit sooty in nature. If you struggle with dry woody-amber or smoky aromachemicals, I don’t know if you will enjoy Incense Flash. For what it’s worth, I’m notoriously sensitive to such things, and I liked it the fragrance quite a bit, at least at a higher dosage that brought out the ambergris’ caramel undertones, the opoponax’s nutty and sweet sides, and the pine sap. I also really loved the evocative nature of Incense Flash, its desert ramblings, the baked earthiness, the crushed pine needles, and the absence of soapiness in the incense. That said, the aromachemicals were still too noticeable for me personally to buy the scent for myself, but I thoroughly enjoyed where it took me, as well as the scent from afar.
I really recommend trying Incense Flash if you are looking for a woody, leathery, musky, campfire and desert twist on incense, so long as you don’t have a huge sensitivity to aromachemicals. Plus, it is very reasonably priced at $63 for 30 ml. In general, the Tauerville fragrances are only sold in American stores and in Switzerland, but several Tauer retailers ship worldwide. They also sell samples so you can test it for yourself. All in all, I think it’s nicely done, and it will be a popular scent with those who love LDDM and leathery campfire smoke fragrances like Bois d’Ascece.