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THE BOOK OF KELLS

Iona

Prog Folk


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5 stars If possible I will keep this review brief, as I am known to gush over music that I am so passionate about!

Within the Iona discography that I own (Iona, The Book of Kells, Journey Into The Morn, Open Sky, Treasures), 'Kells' stands out as their most ambitious and operatic.

A concept album based on the 8th Century Illuminated Manuscripts of the Four Gospels, this album matches the beauty of the legend behind the music. Said to have been created by angels, the book was a showcase for artistic virtuosos wishing to use their gifts for a higher purpose. Iona's vision matches this theme flawlessly.

As far as musicianship goes, each member contributes more than his or her share. Amongst the group, Dave Bainbridge stands out for me - a multi-instrumentalist capable of lilting acoustic melodies and searing electric guitar solos, all fitting within the confines of the song's progressive structures.

As far as spiritually minded progressive rock, no one matches the truth and honesty that is Iona.

Other noteworthy artists in this vein: Neal Morse (of Spock's Beard and Transatlantic fame).

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Send comments to ScottAN (BETA) | Report this review (#16073)
Posted Friday, October 29, 2004 | Review Permalink
4 stars Contemplative music, with Celtic and prog influences. You really have to be in a certain mood to enjoy it. When I'm in the right mood, I like The Book of Kells a lot, but at other moments I find it a bit tedious. The most progressive song is the 11-minute epic: Matthew - The Man, which is one of the highlights. I also really like The River Flows and Kells. They share a sense of hope and continuity. Towards the end, the music starts to rely more on atmosphere than on melody. The atmospheric pieces do have a pleasant sound, but most of them are a bit boring.

The music Iona plays refuses to be in a hurry. The Book of Kells itself has been around for centuries and this album also wants to take it's time. It forces you to slow down if you want to enjoy it. If you take that time, you can be surprised by it's beauty and a spirituality that makes you feel connected with a faith that has lasted through the ages. But at times it is more of a spiritual than a musical journey. Musically there is not always enough going on, especially in the second half of the album, to warrant a rating of 5 stars. Sometimes Iona relies way too much on atmosphere, without enough musical ideas to back it up. Still The Book of Kells is quite good and if you're interested in Iona, you are certainly advised to buy this one. It is one of their best studio albums.

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Send comments to harm s. (BETA) | Report this review (#39314)
Posted Wednesday, July 13, 2005 | Review Permalink
5 stars I've been a fan of The Corrs for over a decade now. Their music has always been the greatest for me and for no apparent reason I had never had the patience to explore other folk options (it happens the same with metal, although fortunately I have recently discovered Dream Theater). I had listened things, even in my country, like Hevia (who, by the way I think would be an interesting addition to this site) or Mago de Oz (sorry, but I have never fancied this group much). But in general terms I have always been so infatuated with this band of siblings that other options were not something prioritary for me. However, now that this album has come into my hands, the thing might change. Here we can find a more serious work and musical harmonies that maybe a fairly mainstream group like The Corrs fail to offer sometimes.

Going more into this particular album, I think it is simply a masterpiece. Every single second of the fourteen songs we find on this record are a true musical experience, pure beauty, like few bands can truly achieve. One the good things that describe this band, at least on this album, and which is probably what makes them so good is that every musician of the band, beginning with Joanne with her truly angelical voice, continuing with Dave Bainbridge, with his good guitar solos and relaxing textures, David Fitzgerald, who is the one that puts most of the folk touch here and along with Troy Donockley, Teril Bryant, Frank Van Essen, etc, all of them providing sound from very diverse instruments like flutes, a variety of string instruments and, curiously, a strong and varied drum work.

It is quite impossible to put a song above of another because all of them are solid, beautiful and brilliantly performed. And finally, a curious thing here is that this band and this album are able to appeal both fans of mainstream music and prog fanatics, because their music is at the same time accesible and deep. A must, indeed.

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Send comments to shyman (BETA) | Report this review (#59428)
Posted Wednesday, December 07, 2005 | Review Permalink
Mellotron Storm
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars While their self titled debut album focused more on the Island of Iona and it's history, this release draws our attention to the "Book of Kells". As the band notes "The "Book of Kells" is an illuminated manuscript of the four gospels, written in Latin and dating back to the 8th century. It was created by the monks probably at the monastaries of Iona, off the west coast of Scotland, and Kells in County Meath, Ireland. Seen by many as the pinnacle of Celtic art, it stands as a testament to the faith and devotion to God of those who spent more than thirty years working on it. It's 680 hand written pages are beautifully illustrated with the most intricate detail...Natural sounds, such as those of the sea, wind and rain are used on the album as they are the sounds that would have been heard by the monks who began the book on the island of Iona....The actual "Book of Kells" is housed at Trinity College Library, Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland."

The band plays less of the traditional Celtic instruments than they did on the debut. I was surprised that this record is even more atmospheric than their debut,which really makes the vocal led songs sound even more dramatic when they arrive. I was actually reminded of "The Sky Moves Sideways" at times because of all the synth waves on this record, but that is where the similarities end. Sax, flute and guitar are the main supplements to the synth washes.

"Kells Opening Theme" is one of the best songs on the record. What a way to start ! It opens with waves of synths as the haunting and beautiful vocals of Joanne proudly appear. Some sparse Celtic instruments only add to the atmosphere. "Revelation" is a straight forward tune really with great vocals and guitar.The sax towards the end is a highlight. "Matthew-The Man" opens with a nice contrast between the tribal-like drums and the synth washes, that contrast continues until we get some acoustic sounds followed by synths.There is an explosion of sound before 8 minutes in as vocals come back and the tempo speeds up.This song is a ride ! Dave Bainbridge wrote " For me, this is one of the key pieces of the whole album as it combines all the elements that I believe are at the heart of the music of IONA.There are powerful rhythmic sections, atmospheric passages, the use of traditional acoustic instruments in conjunction with electronically created sounds, tightly arranged and also improvised sections and of course Joanne's haunting vocal and incredibly evocative lyrics." "Chi- Rho" is musically a triumph, with the beautiful acoustic guitar melodies and her perfect vocals. Drums come in 1 1/2 minutes and some fantastic sax follows. Amazing song about Jesus Christ and his sacrifice, while the chorus is inspired from Colossians 1:13- 23. "Mark-The Lion" has a strong drum rhythm from two drummers for a thunderous effect, while Bainbridge doubled his improvised guitar solo in the studio. "The River Flows" was inspired by the book of Revelation that describes a river running through the Holy city. This one has some uilleann pipes on it (the song not the city silly).

"Luke- The Calf" is surrounded by the sounds of the sea, as a beautiful flute melody is played. Nice. "Virgin And Child" is very atmospheric with a Celtic harp playing. Gorgeous. "Temptation" opens with a spacey soundscape before drums take over, then finishing with a souna which is a Chinese instrument. "The Arrest-Gethsemane" is Eastern sounding with sax and synths. "Trinity-Godhead" is a floating song with lots of atmosphere. Sax melodies after 3 minutes and it ends with the sound of rain and thunder. "John-The Eagle" features sax and synths, with a floating keyboard melody. "Kells" may be my favourite song. After so much atmosphere when the vocals come in they are so uplifting ! They sound fantastic ! I'll let the band describe the final track "Eternity-No Beginning,No End" "The end of the track was inspired by a passage from the Book of Revelation in the Bible:...Revelation 5:9-14. The aim was that the end of the track should sound like a glimpse into this scene,almost peering into the heavenly realm !...The sea of voices on the album was the response that came as David Fitzgerald and Dave Bainbridge came to the end of their performance of the piece and as people spontaneously began to worship God through the Spirit-a very emotional, humbling and joyous experience." Robert Fripp would play on their next studio release "Beyond These Shores", as well as on the live "Woven Cord".

As for this one ? 4.5 stars. Breathtaking !

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Send comments to Mellotron Storm (BETA) | Report this review (#126443)
Posted Thursday, June 21, 2007 | Review Permalink
Chicapah
PROG REVIEWER
5 stars If there are some out there who don't think that progressive music can be breathtakingly beautiful without becoming a tedious bore then I recommend that you give this album a spin. I was (and will probably continue to ever be) in search of a sound that would be different yet challenging, emotional while still maintaining a high level of integrity and thoroughly captivating in its profundity. After reading positive reviews of this CD I felt that "The Book of Kells" would be something I would enjoy immensely and I'm happy to say that I'm not disappointed in the least. I only hope my humble observations do it justice.

It's rare to find a female vocalist in the realm of prog but within seconds of starting "Kells Opening Theme" you find yourself walking into a spiritual world where a bonafide angel sings to you. Joanne Hogg's amazing voice is the first indication that you've found something unique with Iona and the cavernous depth of Dave Bainbridge's keyboards along with his skillful guitar work is the second. I really can't think of anything or anyone to compare them to. A wonderful acoustic guitar starts "Revelation," followed by the entrance of dynamic drums and Joanne's arresting vocal. It's an excellent, moving song and the lead section features what is either an instrument that I'm not familiar with or an exceptional guitar effect.

Next is almost 12 minutes of primo prog. "Matthew - The Man" creates the lofty sensation that you are bursting out of a cloud and flying into clear skies above the earth. When Hogg's immaculate voice comes in singing lines like "There is a place of peace/there is a sea of calm/where the spirit gently breathes/life into the soul of man" you believe her without question. Guest Troy Donockley's Uilleann Pipes are quite effective here before David Fitzgerald's tenor sax and Nick Beggs' fretless bass guide you to a majestic peak. Joanne sings the final verse, then the entire band erupts with the electric guitar and soprano sax leading the charge to the exciting climax. Multiple tracks of splendid acoustic guitars introduce you to the haunting melody of "Chi-Rho," then Terl Bryant's drums kick in with undiluted strength and confidence. Hogg's vocal is again strikingly pure, the harmonies are inventive and the tenor sax at the end is top notch in this well-written song.

"Mark - The Lion" is a stirring instrumental that begins with tribal-like drums leading you to an explosion of symphonic keyboards, sax and an impressive electric guitar solo for a finale. "The River Flows" is a relaxing tune with a smooth Latin/Indian feel to it that provides the listener a nice change of pace. Nick's exquisite bass work really shines on this tune and the reappearance of the Uilleann Pipes is a treat.

The heavenly "Luke - The Calf" is the first of six instrumental numbers in a row but none of them are as blissful and enrapturing as this one. Dave's resplendent keyboard tones blended with David's divine flute performance and the sound of ocean waves will transport you to another dimension. It's an amazing track. "Virgin and Child" starts with guest Fiona Davidson's Celtic Harp, then she is accompanied by Fitzgerald's fine flute and Bainbridge's spacious keyboards to weave a luxurious tapestry of sound. "Temptation" sets up a mysterious aura at first, then the group drops into an infectious, rhythmic groove where an unusual instrument of some kind (many are credited) injects a devilish dissonance into the flow.

A tragic, ominous undercurrent characterizes "The Arrest - Gethsemene" where David provides a seemingly free-form tenor sax solo over Dave's hypnotic, cascading synthesized orchestrations. "Trinity - The Godhead" follows and its cosmic beginning summons a sensation of approaching the enormous, omnipresent but unimaginable power source at the center of the universe. Chimes drift in, giving it an ethereal flavor and then Fitzgerald's sax and Beggs' bass intertwine in a spectacular dance. The restful sound of a rainstorm brings you gently back to terra firma. The last instrumental in this stretch, "John - The Eagle" is a combination of sax, symphonic keys and piano that is, in a word, gorgeous.

If you're thinking this is all just some kind of sleepy new age music, the bold and triumphant reprise of the main theme of "Kells" comes barging in to dispel that notion. Joanne's brilliant voice is a welcome return and Terl's driving, pounding drums will rouse you from your pensive daydreams. This is not lightweight pop at all. This song rocks. They end the album with another towering instrumental, the all-encompassing and descriptively titled "Eternity - No Beginning, No End" in which the keyboards, sax, drums and flute each get a moment in the sun before the congregation of Kensington Temple Church enter to create a celestial chorale of praise as they all float away into the soft glow of God's unwavering grace.

What a special pleasure in life it is to discover a band whose music engulfs me with satisfaction and pleasure like these gifted musicians have. If you are not enamored with thick, dense keyboard-generated soundscapes or female vocalizations then this isn't for you. (If the genre of Christian Prog sometimes offends, you'll be glad to know they only say the name of Jesus one time and they never, ever get preachy for a second.) However, if you are the type that loves to be carried away from your daily grind by your prog then this is perfect for you. This is without a doubt the best progressive folk I've ever heard. Bravo, Iona!

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Send comments to Chicapah (BETA) | Report this review (#128699)
Posted Sunday, July 15, 2007 | Review Permalink
2 stars I find this album a liitle tedious (specially some instrumentals), only recommended for some moments of relax or meditation. Nothing special for me, but good songs anyway. My favourite songs are -Kells-, -Revelation- and -The River Flows-, all of them granted with the powerfull and beautiful voice of Joanne Hogg. It remembers me vaguely to better groups like Forethingay or Trees, for example.

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Send comments to Chumaker1969 (BETA) | Report this review (#133821)
Posted Sunday, August 19, 2007 | Review Permalink
ZowieZiggy
PROG REVIEWER
2 stars This long album holds very few jewels. If it weren't for these sweet and melancholic vocals,from Joanne (which are scarce), there would be little to be remembered. It is funny that several folk-prog bands are featuring female vocals. Maybe to give this little extra kick.

Jewels aren't plentyful to say the least on this album but "The River Flows" is probably the weakest of all. I can hardly point out any particular songs here. Just a serie of average numbers with little feeling. Quiet and ambient music. At times, some inspired instrumental parts are holding the comparison with the very good vocals work. In this respect, I like "Luke The Calf" and its prog- wave-sound. Very much in the "Lands End" style. Peaceful, tranquil and relaxing. Nice to listen to on a Sunday afternoon (just as I am doing now).

Most of the album is leading into a sleeping mode. One just be awaken here and there with some more enjoyable music. But overall, I can't be overwhelmed with this work. Not that it is totally poor, but it is just flat and mostly boring. Some special folkish sounds and instruments during "Temptation" are more than welcome; but they do not sound as a constructed track. More as an improv type of music. Not bad though.

This album is almost instrumental (but that's not a new feature). As I have said in my review of their debut as well, this album sounds almost as a (weak) soundtrack for which no script is to be found. Hence the difficult job to detail this album which is just a cascade of individual short tracks all linked one to another but without any vital lead.

This album sounds very much more like a spacey item than a folk one. I'm trying hard to find any great outstanding number out of here; with no success. This album is just good as a background music when you invite some friends at home. But be sure that the conversation is interesting, otherwise the whole party will just fall asleep.

I like the good sax part from "Trinity", but I can't hardly talk about a highlight. Two stars for this work because in it is not bad per se. Just ordinary.

I really wonder where there is an inch of relation with "Yes" or "Genesis" in their music as it is said in their bio. This is completely misleading IMHHO. At least in my case. Don't bothe rwith this recording.

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Send comments to ZowieZiggy (BETA) | Report this review (#151619)
Posted Sunday, November 18, 2007 | Review Permalink
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

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Send comments to tszirmay (BETA) | Report this review (#249447)
Posted Monday, November 09, 2009 | Review Permalink
4 stars "The Book Of Kells" is quite a special album, following an interesting concept where the music and lyrics follow the theme throughout. It's more passionate than the first album, with more of the band's remarkable talent shining through. The music is hard to describe, there are crosses between Celtic folk and ambient music and Hogg's vocals are exquisite, especially on "The River Flows". Love the eerie pipes on that piece too. The following instrumentals "Luke the Calf" and "Virgin and Child" are tranquil ambient beauties that give way to some very moody New-Age soundscapes. This is definitely some of the most spiritual, ethereal music you're likely to hear. The kind of music here, although without vocals, speaks a voice by itself. Open your heart, sit back and listen. It's quite haunting at times but also rather beautiful. Four solid stars.

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Send comments to Frankie Flowers (BETA) | Report this review (#635014)
Posted Friday, February 17, 2012 | Review Permalink
Second Life Syndrome
COLLABORATOR
Post/Math Rock and Crossover Teams
4 stars Ethereal. Breath-taking. Soaring. These are three words that help describe Iona's "The Book of Kells". This prog folk band outdid themselves with this stunning tribute to Celtic history and the Bible.

This album contains a variety of songs that range from instrumental movements to folksy ballads that feature incredible female vox. The range of variety here is really great, and you never will feel bored as you join this spiritual journey.

I have to admit my interest was perked for this album because of my love for "The Secret of Kells", the best animated movie I've ever seen. This album digs into some of the same musically territory as we experience a true sense of spirituality through the emotive vocals and the wildly appropriate instrumentals for each of the Gospel authors. "Mark (the Lion)", for instance, is very regal and stout---rightfully so. This band knows how to compose for certain themes, and I immensely enjoyed this album.

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Send comments to Second Life Syndrome (BETA) | Report this review (#991439)
Posted Wednesday, July 03, 2013 | Review Permalink

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