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Ian Anderson - Divinities - Twelve Dances With God CD (album) cover


Ian Anderson


Prog Folk

3.62 | 123 ratings

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3 stars I came across this disc at my local public library, filed under the ‘Classical Music’ section. It struck me that there are certainly very few musicians around today that can claim the distinction of being associated with both a classical recording, and with winning a Grammy Award for Heavy Metal Band of the Year (see Crest of a Knave).

Of course, Jethro Tull’s Grammy was one of the greatest faux pas’ of the 20th century, as Ian Anderson himself points out with great humor in the liner notes of the remastered ‘Crest’ in 2005. In the case of Divinities however, I don’t think the ‘classical’ moniker is too far off the mark.

This CD was released on the Angel label of EMI Records, the label whose most noted composers are old dead guys (aka – classical music), but they’ve also been known to take big risks with crossover experiments like Rick Wakeman’s Return to the Centre of the Earth (with the London Symphony), Steve Hackett’s Watcher of the Skies (Royal Philharmonic), and the Scorpions (Berlin Philharmonic), so I suppose someone like Ian Anderson, who undoubtedly owns a tuxedo or two and at least plays a proper orchestral instrument isn’t that much of a leap after all.

Anderson has said he was reluctant to do the album, which was commissioned by EMI in 1994, but decided a cultural religious theme would be of interest once he committed to the project. The result is interesting at least, but certainly far outside the comfort zone of the majority of progressive music enthusiasts, and certainly nearly all Tull fans.

This is an entirely instrumental album, and is for the most part Ian Anderson playing flute with synthesizer backing by then band-mate Andrew Giddings, and a handful of other musicians on flute, clarinet, oboe, violin, cello, harp, French horn, and trumpet. Each work is meant to represent some specific world religious or cultural theme.

The opening track “In a Stone Circle” is supposed to represent a Celtic sound, so one should probably have visions of Druids or the Mother Warrior goddess or something. There’s also some synthetic bird sounds that flit about, and a few passages that sound like they might be meant to represent battles or perhaps hunting. Use your imagination.

Next up is “In the Sight of the Minaret”, which for some reason strikes me as Moroccan (you know, sort of Arabic but sort of Spanish or Portuguese too), but maybe that’s just a result of watching too many stereotypical western movies. I’m sure a European could figure this out a lot more easily. I’m not sure if the minaret reference is meant to suggest an Arab theme by itself, or some culture in the near vicinity of an Arab culture, but the tone strikes me as more Occidental than Arab.

“In a Black Box” has a really easy flow to it, and is one of the few songs with some robust drums (although these may in fact be looping tracks and not the real thing). My take on this one is that it is actually just some light filler, but again one can’t usually be sure with instrumentals.

I read a review of one of the live performances of this album, and apparently Anderson claimed “In the Grip of the Stronger Stuff” was a song about booze, perhaps an acknowledgement of the impact that devil’s piss has had on so many cultures. This is a short, somewhat hesitant work that doesn’t sound all that different than some of the 70s Tull albums (except without Martin Barre’s guitars and Anderson’s vocals).

“In Maternal Grace” has an eastern sound, with bells, piano, and a really different, hollow flute sound. The liner notes say there is some wooden flute on the album, and this is one place where it was probably used. Also there’s some sort of string picking here that reinforces the oriental feel, perhaps representing the mythological Chinese Queen Mother.

I don’t know if “In the Moneylender’s Temple” is supposed to be Hebrew, but the title would at least suggest that. If so, the sound doesn’t lean that way for me. There is some heavy organ, cello, and piano.

“In Defense of Faith” is clearly Anglican, and in fact I had a strong sense of familiarity with the tune the first time I heard it. This sounds very much like some of the ancient hymnal tunes I’ve heard in old Lutheran churches here in the States. The sound is melodic enough, but quite rigid and angular in tone. I can picture the players with high, tight, buttoned-up collars while playing it.

“At the Father’s Knee” does sound Hebrew, like a very slow and mellow version of some of the better klezmer I’ve heard before. This one also works its way into an rigid, almost militant tone towards the middle, but mellows out again by the end.

“En Afrique” is obviously African-influenced, with rich drum sounds and lots of exotic percussion, again with the flute that sounds reedy (and is probably wooden), and an irregular timing. This is a nice little mood tune and my favorite on the album.

The tone on “In the Olive Garden” is very even, very melodic, and quite nice. This also has quite a bit of picked strings, although here again they are probably digital representations.

“In the Pay of Spain” has almost a baroque feel, majestic with plenty of cello, metallic percussion, and a choppy and deemphasized flute. Not sure what this represents, but it is in stark contrast to the final song, “In the Times of India”. Despite the obvious title and strongly Indian percussion and wood instruments, here again I rely on the review of this song played in concert for an explanation. Apparently the newspapers in India (at least back then) printed messages from subscribers to loved ones on Valentine’s Day, and this is what the song is in reference to. I wouldn’t have gotten that without help. This is also the longest song on the album, presumably because it ends the work on a light and high note.

This is not typical progressive music by any means, and will probably not appeal to the majority of folks who have an interest in symphonic, art, or folk music. It may be of interest to some who lean towards jazz, world music, contemporary classical, and possibly even experimental music. All told, this is a very well-composed and orchestrated work, but is more than likely limited by its very narrow appeal.

Three stars with an emphasis on the disclaimers above.


ClemofNazareth | 3/5 |


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