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Iona - Another Realm CD (album) cover




Prog Folk

3.58 | 64 ratings

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3 stars I am unashamed to proudly announce that Iona's Christian message has no bearing whatsoever on my ability to review and critique their music. Why you ask? Because I have lived long enough to have learned that religion is like language, different vehicles of expression for the same darn message. One just has to see the outright lifts from ancient Judaism, Hinduism and Taoism to see that Religion is just like Rock n Roll, variations of the same stolen riff, with little tweaks and twists to make it appear fresh and current. All this to state that I just pay attention to the music and less to whatever the message may be. I still giggle with glee at the memory of those young, well-dressed boys ring my doorbell, unaware of the impending shock to their system my "return of service" preaching can be. Ah, for another day, I guess?in a different forum (with no voracious lions).

I am a colossal Iona fan, principally due to their Open Sky masterpiece as well as their Live in London DVD. My PA reviews speak for themselves as I have not changed one Iota (cool wordplay, no?) of my feelings towards Iona's craft. Guitarist Dave Bainbridge's solo Veil of Gossamer perhaps remains the proggiest of all their recordings and a progressive rock MONUMENT. So, I have waited patiently to get my hands on this 2 CD release, straight from the band's website, undeterred from the rather negative reception here and elsewhere. This massive work is a different kettle of fish though and probably confused may a reviewer by its scope, length and demeanor. All the usual suspects are in place, except for the departed Troy Donockley (a titanic loss IMHO) and they all contribute to the experience. As my colleague Conor Fynes correctly stated, it's not a conventional piece of Iona work, with torrents of slippery Holdsworth-like axe phrasings, pummeling Phil Barker bass weaving between massive Frank Van Essen beats but more like an atmospheric travail that transcends the usual norm of Celtic expression. In fact, Van Essen lets his violins do a lot of the talking and the walking while Bainbridge and Martin Nolan on pipes stay a bit more in the background. Hogg is a wondrous vocalist who can do no wrong. This work requires, no demands a closer (or multiple) audition than your usual cursory spin through. So let's look closer at the musical sermons offered up by this unique group.

CD 1- It has been said by others that this disc is "Iona Lite", a comment I personally do see but would rather explain it as more rudimentary folk that has waved away the lush symphonics of yore in favor a more heteroclite sensation, almost new-agey but not quite, its kinda hard to put in words, almost more spiritually inclined with lots of sonics . "As it was" is a swooning vocal Ouverture that settles this immediate impression. "The Ancient Wells" is a perfect case in point, very traditional sounding, no boisterous dynamics that characterized previous recent albums, replaced by well-played Martin Nolan parts somehow lacking in magic (something Troy Donockley had in spades) , saved by Van Essen's magic violin. The piece just doesn't propel itself into the depths of heaven; even Bainbridge's solo is somewhat sappy. The title track perpetuates the sensation of the missing spark, well executed but missing fire (a whopping axe solo would have been nice!) "Clouds" is actually a lovely piece, Hogg's voice drenched in atmospherics (the word will return again many times in this essay) that are linear instead of spiraling or dare I say "messianic" (read= inspiring). But the swooshing synth heavy orchestrations are totally new to these Iona ears, providing little enigma to the short and unspectacular guitar service. Wow, I am really stumped! Perhaps it's a deliberate focus away from the virtuoso musical performances and aimed at the sacred message. Funny that on recent studio albums, I never had the impression of listening to Enya on steroids but here, I got to say, hmmmmmm. On "An Atmosphere of Miracles " (there's that word I promised!) , Iona finally embark on 15 minute+ journey that starts off incredibly ambient (quiet pretty) , Joanna's voice becomes an instrument of brittle splendor , quite relaxing and ultimately reverie inducing to the point of detachment (the "Intimacy" section could have rivaled "Soon" section on Gates of Delirium but it has , alas no such dynamic). The third section now has drum rolls to feed on but again, its ultra sedate, even when Dave finally lets one rip for the Ages (Allelujah!) but this eargasm doesn't last long with the pleading 'Our King!' chorus taking firmly over. "Let Your Glory Fall" is a prime example of the sermon-style message that bothers some. It does start off with an all-too brief guitar sizzle but veers into a Celtic version of Sade, without the loungy sensuous jazz vibe, the main axe solo is great yet predictable! In strange way, it remains the best track on CD1 by far. Frankly, lads, this was not up to snuff, perhaps 3 stars and I'm a fan.

CD 2- This is feeling is no different on this disc, with a fabulous atmospheric violin/synth wash duo and opener "Ruach" that is almost classical music. "Speak to Me" has Chief Dan George lyrics (a fascinating spirit, extremely evocative) and a beseeching Hogg delivery but again missing once proud dynamics. "And the Angels Dance" is just disjointed and fluffy, neat little pillows that incite introspection (not necessarily a bad thing) but without the passion that generally ignites the sheets. Nolan does an admirable job on the pipes though, arranging a traditional Irish piece from the Galtree Rangers. "Foreign Soil" is bare bones folk, amalgamating voice, piano, tin whistles, acoustic guitar with some violin (no symphonics at all), this style of puerile folk has never been my cup of tea. Now contrast that with "Let the Waters Flow" we have a totally opposite effect . This is more like it, a rollicking tempo that evoke cascading rivers, playful Irish lilt and a livelier montage , an ultra-cool Bainbridge exercise showing why he is so darn amazing as a guitar technician, all is there to applaud : emotion, dexterity and passion (FINALLY!), Great song! "Saviour" is, well a difficult listen, just very pious, rapt acknowledgement but no devout fire, skip to "The Fearless Ones" another stunning piece of sonic experimentation featuring shofars (ram horns used by rabbis at Hebrew rites such as Yom Kippur and Passover) and glorious sense of power. The epic 11 minute "White Horse" is quite compelling and offers up another slice of a memorable composition that has elegance and staying power, ebb and flow, loaded up with contrasts. You can actually hear Barker's bass rumbling, Van Essen bashes away nicely and Dave lets his fingers roam over the fretboard. Yeah, baby! This is what makes Iona so intrinsically interesting. The concluding "As It Shall be " is the verso of the very opener "As It Was".

The booklet, cover art and general presentation is top-notch and gorgeous. Yes, perhaps a shorter album would a have been more of a success, I personally find this work nowhere near the heights achieved on Open Sky , which remains a classic prog album. Mind you, I find it difficult to surpass it anyway, as music is not a competition. I know the Iona philosophy, as I mentioned in a previous review best encapsulated by the words SOFT POWER. Where is the power here? 4-5 good songs over 2 CDs ? Having studied and followed both Christianity, Judaism and lately interested by Buddhism, I can easily include Iona's discography as ideal Sunday morning chill music. After all, if it brings me peace and respect of life, then who cares what uniform I choose to wear, its only prog and roll to me. I am sticking with Open Sky, the Circling Hour and the DVD for now, thank you.

Their classic Iona sound has changed and I for one regret Bainbridge's "guitarded" exuberance as well as Troy's inimitable piped passion.

Oh oh!

3.5 extra dominions

tszirmay | 3/5 |


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