Into the woods.

Today's trio of fragrances all share a common family tree, so to speak-- genus Aquilaria, also known as agarwood, aloeswood, eaglewood, lignum aquila (Latin), aguru (Hindi), gaharu (Malay), sashi (Assam), mai kritsana (Thai), chén-xīang (Chinese),  jinkoh (Japanese), trầm hương (Vietnamese), arbazhig (Tibetan),  and last but not least, oud (Arabic).

Oud 27 (Le Labo)
Crazysexycardboard! All right, I'm sure more is required here than a made-up word. But Oud 27 IS crazy (morphing madly by the minute, from cedar to frankincense to black pepper to freshly-washed, still-damp hair) and sexy (never has "steamy wet animal" offered so much unexpected appeal). And it most certainly does smell like cardboard -- really well-kept, antique, archival-quality cardboard -- before, during, and after you set it on fire. Then Oud 27 spends the better part of a day sending up a red Hephaestean glow from your pulse points, making all around you wonder where you get your smouldering appeal. Why, from a bottle, naturally!

Scent Elements: Oud, cedar atlas, incense, patchouli, black pepper, saffron, guaiac wood

Oud Cuir d'Arabie (Montale)
It would be hard to articulate the exact shade of disappointment I feel about this fragrance. The closest I can come would be to imagine paying to see an Indiana Jones film only to find that the Professor never once leaves his classroom. I forked over my hard-earned cash to see him gunbelted and whip-bedecked, leaping across impossible chasms in his dusty Army Air Corp trousers, the collar of his linen shirt opened to reveal an expanse of tanned throat. Instead I get him looking pale and serious, buttoned up tight in a fusty flannel suit, his glasses visibly pinching his nose. Respected critics hasten to assure me that Oud Cuir d'Arabie is the epitome of ouds-- and with no fewer than two dozen oud fragrances on the market, I expect Montale to shake the very foundations of the earth with this one. Instead, Oud Cuir d'Arabie strikes me as little that isn't already offered by LUSH's Breath of God-- at half the price, half the pretension, and ten times the accessibility. (But Breath of God doesn't have oud in it, you say. Does your oud collection have some teeny gap in it which keeps you awake at night?  Mine doesn't.)

Scent Elements: Leather, oud, tobacco, burnt wood notes

Black Aoud (Montale)
Now, this is more like it... yet at the same time, it still isn't enough. I agree that oud and rose are destined for each other; clearly they share a certain edge as sharp and silvery as a knife's blade, here honed to razor keenness against which Black Aoud's feminine qualities flower in lush, extravagant contrast.  On skin, the collaboration between suede-like petals and raw wood grain plays out more enjoyably than the smoky vagaries of Oud Cuir d'Arabie.  But again I ask:  is this all there is?  When this sample's gone, will painful yearnings drive me to obtain more?  Only time will tell.  Whereas my dwindling supply of Montale's Boisé Vanillé is already making me bite my knuckles in the dark of my room at midnight...

Scent Elements: Oud, rose, labdanum, musk, patchouli, mandarin