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Iona - Another Realm CD (album) cover




Prog Folk

3.73 | 81 ratings

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4 stars "Holy Spirit come"

There was a time when I was easily irritated (to put it mildly) by Christian lyrical themes and I would avoid such bands. My heart has changed much in the last years for reasons from personal grief to discovering the beauty of the Tridentine Mass and sacred music. Now I can embrace messages like Iona's "Another Realm" and they help to buffer the horror of watching the world burn in the hands of our current, disastrous leadership. Unlike some fellow reviewers who bristled at it, I came to Iona's latest work with a hope to hear more of their positive message rather than have it simply hinted at. I was not disappointed.

While I've been aware of Iona I'm pretty much a noob in terms of checking them out. I resisted the urge to go back and start at the beginning of a discog because I read about the inspirations behind "Another Realm" and was fascinated. I wanted to hear this album now. After their previous album the band had a period of contemplation about their future no doubt catalyzed by some personal struggles, and it was possible that it could have ended. Both Bainbridge and Hogg tell compelling stories of prophecy and inspiration that birthed this album. The band felt alive with renewed purpose and it affected the writing and recording process very much.

"...a man I'd never met before prophesied an incredible word over me concerning my future and in particular the future of the band. At the time I accepted it and made sure I had a written copy to consider, but couldn't see how it could possibly come to pass with the band, as I'd almost come to the point of laying Iona down and moving on. However God, it seems, had other plans! Looking back now I can see just how accurate this prophetic word has been already..." -Dave Bainbridge, to Derek Walker of The Phantom Tollbooth webzine

The calling they felt to create this long, elaborate album seems to have found its way to me as a listener too. While researching Iona and going through my listening phase I craved returning to this one, something that is not always a given. In fact the whole Celtic New Agey vibe is not typically my thing, I usually like much heavier and aggressive music. But these songs speak to me, they vary in many interesting ways, and they are engaging. Whereas the last couple of Iona albums seemed more passive with longer instrumental passages and less emphasis on vocals, here there seems to be an urgency for a human connection, for intimacy and celebration from a band with renewed purpose.

Sprawling over two CDs I was never bored with "Another Realm." There are nice little touches like related intros and outtros and a longer epic track that anchors each disc. The first CD's epic track is a 3-part suite called "An Atmosphere of Miracles" which for me was very much the highlight of the entire album. So much color and space, a wide open palette that is not rushed--quite gentle in mood but profound in impact! Like several tracks on Realm and much more than in their past, the band used "inspired improvisation" to coax truly special performances. Essentially bringing themselves to heightened spiritual awareness before rolling the tape and seeing where things went. For both the musicians and Joanne's vocals this was so fruitful. During the vocal on this track she let herself go and was said to be in tears at the end of it. (The Phantom Tollbooth has an interview where this process is discussed, if you wish to google it and read more.)

The rich musical treasures continue on disc two's opener "Ruach", a stunning violin/keyboard improvisation of immense beauty. The side builds up to the second long track which is called "White Horse." Bass/drums/guitar just tear it up in this song proving that Iona is capable at any moment to switch from relaxing to rocking. Joanne employed another tactic on Realm that changed her performance. She let go of the worry of performance expectation or of hitting a high note perfectly and instead sang for the Lord alone, if I understand correctly. This meditation if that's the right word, gave her a new freedom and daringness in her vocal that you can hear. By relieving her anxieties about being perfect, by letting go, the result was even more power and creativity. She sounds amazing on this album, they all do.

"Another Realm" is engaging and dynamic despite its beauty, it relaxes but also rocks, it has floating keyboard but also grand guitar solos and animated, energetic drumming, bass, and pipes. Several songs even carry pop sensibilities and catchiness. I'm not sure how prevalent that has been before. So you have a mixture here of Iona folk-symph instrumental jamming, sort of the traditional Iona feel but here infused with a bit more songs-based pop-rocking and earnest lyrics. There is no coasting on the laurels of past successes with this album, they sound like a band putting out a long labored-over debut. For people well into midlife they sound like young hearts again, ripe with enthusiasm. I hope they can continue to chase their muse while staying more toward the progressive rock musically, and not shift too much to safer songs-based territory. I think the mix feels about right here.

Without question this Iona is a different Iona, a refocused band looking for the passion of their early days with an eye on spiritual futures. For that reason some longtime fans feel let down by some of the results of their new mission. For me as a new listener without expectations forged of long associations with their other albums, the embrace of "Another Realm" was an unexpected and immediate pleasure. Quite frankly I was blown away by a band I didn't expect to dig very much. And I got a healthy dose of age-old positive Christian messages to help blunt the daily assault of this shitty modern world we are trapped in. That their faith is a bit different than my own was not a problem.

"Realm" seems to be a wide ranging expression of spirituality covering much ground. Life is much more than what we see around us despite the naysayers. It may not be an easy message but it is presented here with such joy that you can't help but be touched by the embrace of Iona.

Finnforest | 4/5 |


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