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Iona - The Book of Kells  CD (album) cover

THE BOOK OF KELLS

Iona

 

Prog Folk

3.73 | 55 ratings

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tszirmay
Special Collaborator
Crossover Team
4 stars I am not afraid of humbly anointing Iona as one of my favorite groups all-time. There is something about their music that leaves me wordless (not an easy task, I assure you), an overpowering sense of fulfilled strength that has nothing to do with fiery guitars, buzzing keys and frenetic bass and drums (though I enjoy those immensely). It's just that Joanna Hogg has a voice that rustles my soul, a deeply emotional, crisp, serene and dynamic delivery. For many fans this was the first salvo in a distinguished career, yet for me, I arrived at it just now and I remain intensely aware of their now apparent progression. The best way to describe this recording is to underline the profound spirituality, the sense of historic pride, age old traditions and deep felt customs that permeates the grooves. Yes, the content is quite Christian in intent but it does not come across as preachy and formulaic. In fact, the strong Celtic instrumental undercurrents make the words personal as opposed to communal, thus elevating the music beyond substance. The imperial "Opening Theme" and equally lush "Revelation" are enchanting digressions into the misty realms of Northern European folklore , the epic qualities really shine through the clouds on "Matthew-the Man" , an 11 minute + adventure where the bass, polyrhythmic beats and dense mellotron unite to rekindle the spirit of one of the apostles, a cinematographic historical documentary where guitarist/keyboardist Dave Bainbridge gets to display his implausible talent, a master of shadow and filigree, nimble acoustic guitars and that angelic voice that IMHO is miles ahead of any other female singer including Annie Haslam. The various pipes, saxes and flutes only add more dramatics to the core, a majestic symphonic torrent that streams fluidly, supremely held together by the fabulous Stick man Nick Beggs (of Kajagoogoo infamy) and former Peter Murphy drummer Terl Bryant. Funny about great musicians, they know where to improve their craft! Anyway, this is mindless symphonic beauty. "Chi-Rho" remains a perennial concert darling as the groove really swoons mightily, soft and pastoral at first for the ethereal vocal to develop, a true tour de force. When the beat kicks in, the entire object takes form, a concisely artful expression of Celtic folk balladry, bouncy and carefree featuring a sensational sax solo that will churn your innards. "Mark-the Lion" is a percussion-fueled cruise with twirling synth fluffs, suddenly evolving into a massive wall of sound, sax afire and booming drum fills and a Holdsworthian guitar blast that keeps everything in perspective. "The River Flows" has an aquatic cadence that flutters gently, an eternal medieval breeze of past intricacies and inspirations that is pure restraint and perhaps closer to folk than anything up to now. "Luke- the Calf" is a ponderous piece where the opaque atmospherics rule supreme, billowing clouds and crashing waves caress the ears and thus the soul. "Virgin and the Child" is an obvious religious theme and yet the music stays out of the moralizing norms, beatific flute and mandolin coalesce with ease and utter peaceful intent. "Temptation" wishes to show a darker side at first, a bruising maelstrom of sonics restraining the impending charge, led by a smooth guitar sizzle, Arabic horns and some solidly placed Middle Eastern beats, evidently evocative of the Holy Land. Very refreshing stuff! "The Arrest" is more disturbing emotionally; some very powerfully felt underlying pains that are aptly expressed by deep synthesized colorations and a haunting sax explosion. The gentle "Trinity" is another whopping slice of dense prog- folk, an ambient scape that little by little builds into a shimmering cloudburst with another cascading sax solo and some nimble fretless excursions. The sea again careens into the foreground on "John- the Eagle" with David Fitzgerald's expansive horn blowing a sorrowful lament, certainly a sax fiend's delight, intertwined between some superb piano delicacies. The tremendous "The Kells" has a more military backbone, pulsed by marching drums, rattling guitars and a glistening Hogg vocal that scours the heavens, remaining patriotically reflective even as the axe rages history's pain. The grand finale is "Eternity" a title that does not surprise in view of the themes expressed on the entire recording and a fitting farewell to a harrowing recital. Again very ambient and vaporous, I can understand some who may find Iona too reflective but powerful emotions is not always the realm of crunching speed guitars and thunderous double bass drum rolls. Though not religious, I play this on Sundays for my Christian friends who look at me in bewilderment. For you newbies get Open Sky first or even better the Live in London DVD+CD . 4.5 resting leprechauns
tszirmay | 4/5 |

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