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4 stars This latest release from Iona is special. Whilst Iona have been around for 30 years they have found it hard to get noticed outside the noticeably insular Christian music scene. This is strange since their Christianity is not 'in your face' in the way that one finds with Neil Morse's releases such as Testimony. Of courser Neil was 'famous' first with Spocks Beard to perhaps its not surprising that he has a higher profile amongst progressive music fans ......

........Which brings me to my main point here - this is an album that deserves to be heard by a wider audience. For those that don't know this music that is progressive utilizing the expected instrumentation together with more traditional Scottish and Irish instruments such as uilleann pipes, low whistles and tin whistles. Together they offer a broad pallet from which Iona paint a delicate yet very powerful soundscape.

All of their releases are finely crafted affairs; but this one stands out as the bright jewel in the crown. Fans of symphonic prog will not be disappointed. And in case you were wondering, these are incredibly accomplished musicians playing at a level up their with the very best. I realize I haven't really described the music.... it's full of light and shade ethereal, delicate, powerful, bombastic, meditative, passionate, ..... OK, I think you get the idea ...just get the album and you can do the track by track review yourself.

Iona has been overlooked by the prog community - if it's because of their faith.... well, like I said they don't bash you over the head with it - I can't say that I'm aware of it listening to this album (or their earlier records). I think this album may only be available from the band's website - if so it deserves a wider release! This is a band that should be heard by a wider audience

Report this review (#506659)
Posted Sunday, August 21, 2011 | Review Permalink
2 stars It was exciting news when Iona announced their new album. It was to be a double album and they wanted to go back to their roots. Well, something to look forward to!

Having listened to the album for a couple of times I have very mixed feelings. The music is indeed again very Iona, with weird breaks, absolutely stunning instrumental passages, beautiful singing (as always!) by Joanna Hogg and diverse atmospheres. So there seems to be little to complain about. Yet there is and it spoiled my enthusiasm enormously. As we all know Iona is a Christian band and it suits me fine because they were not so overtly Christian as, let's say, Neal Morse. But they break with that tradition on this record. Really all lyrics are drenched in Christianity and that irritates me deeply, especially since the lyrics are in fact quite poor. Therefore it is quite difficult to listen to these discs instead of an enjoyment. And therefore it is a deep disappointment for me which was even more deepened by their live show in Holland this spring. I was witnessing a Christian service instead of a musical event. I really don't mind when lyrics are based on Christianity or whatever religion as religions are part of life (at least for many people). But this is far too much for me.

Hopefully their next effort, which will take some time as this wonderful band is not very prolific, will show music and lyrics more in balance.

Report this review (#544700)
Posted Friday, October 7, 2011 | Review Permalink
Jazz-Rock / Fusion / Canterbury Team
3 stars I have to admit, as excited as I was about the coming and arrival of this album, I am ultimately disappointed. Though Joanna Hogg's voice has never been better and the recording and production are outstanding, much of the music seems to never really pack a punch or to say anything new--especially on the first CD--which may be my main complaint: Disc 2 is full of GREAT music and beautiful melodies and playing while Disc 1 is full of . . . blah (aside from it's stunningly beautiful opening song, "As it Was"). The real IONA doesn't really show up until Disc 2!

My other complaint is that, for the very first time in listening to this group's output, I am saddened at the in-your-face Christian messages in the rather bland and straightforward lyrics (though, granted, mostly on Disc 1). No other IONA album in my recollection contains such a preponderance of church-like lyrics. The band has before excelled at 'hiding' its message in its poetic imagery and metaphor. Only Disc 2 seems to have this kind of magic. "Speak to Me," "Let the Waters Flow," "The Fearless Ones," and "White Horse" do the best at reminding one of the 'mystical' IONA of old. Disc 1 might as well be mainstream Christian rock. The songs on the second CD are by far 'prettier' and more powerful than those of the first, though still not as 'proggy' as one might hope.

5 Star songs: "As it Was," "Ruach," "Speak to Me," "Let the Waters Flow," "Saviour," "The Fearless Ones," "White Horse," "As it Shall Be" 4 star songs: "Clouds," "An Atmosphere of Miracles," "Let Your Glory Fall," "And the Angels Dance"

IMO, the best IONA CD released in 2011 is an album called "Ghosts..." by a German group called FREQUENCY DRIFT. Disc 2 of Another Realm comes in close second. Disc 2 earns a 4 star rating from me; Disc one 3 stars. I'm reminded of the quandary I found myself in while trying to rate Harmonium's "L'heptade" Mature, quality songwriting from mature, seasoned performers all performing at high levels to put together a very polished, very long album of songs which . . . has . . . something missing. Or something too much of. The collective effort, I'm afraid--as much as I love IONA and this music--can only muster 3 stars: Good, but not essential--unless you can just get Disc 2--which is highly recommended.

Report this review (#561913)
Posted Thursday, November 3, 2011 | Review Permalink
Conor Fynes
4 stars 'Another Realm' - Iona (7/10)

Perhaps moreso than any medium of art, it is difficult to give a proper numerical 'rating' to music. Sure, some music is generally agreed upon to be 'better' than other music, but when it comes down to it, a rating can depend greatly not only on a listener's taste, but the way they are feeling. Had I listened to Iona's 'Another Realm' with a more volatile mindset, I may have dismissed it, or brushed it off as sounding aimless, or even flat. Fortunately for me, Iona's music has come to me on a night where I have been looking for something to calm my nerves, and 'Another Realm' accomplishes this quite well. From its cinematic length to consistently calming atmosphere, 'Another Realm' will not connect with a great deal of progressive rock listeners. Although the band miscalculates some aspects of their work here, 'Another Realm' is a soothing wander through Celtic ambiance.

Although it may surprise progressive rock listeners, the closest thing to compare Iona to would be the new age work of Enya. Like Enya's music, Iona is focused on lush waves of pleasant sound, and soft female vocals lilting and soaring above. There are few conventions of prog here; there may be a handful of longer compositions, but don't expect epics of a 'Supper's Ready' nature. The songwriting is not concise on 'Another Realm', but neither is it complex. For the most part, the music here will drift to the background of a listener's attention, providing a warm back track to whatever they are doing, even if that is simply resting. Take that as you will; Iona aims their music towards a more gentle echelon than I am used to from music, but it works in their favour.

Joanne Hogg's vocals are likely what will strike listeners first, her voice is charming and gentle, yet surprisingly technically adept, considering the sort of music. Although the melodies can be virtually taken for granted, she adds a certain amount of stylistic flair to the sound, adding notes where they are not necessary, but compliment the beauty that Iona creates. The lyrics revolve largely around Christianity and religious salvation; it does not personally appeal to me as a lyrical topic, and I trust many will feel the same way about it. Regardless, I think Iona's greatest strength here is their ability to make such soft instrumentation interesting and enjoyable. Frank van Essen's cinematic strings work ranks as the highlight of this journey. As far as its weaknesses go, it should not have to be mentioned that the hundred minute length of the album goes long past its welcome, and could have said just as much with half the time. Of course, 'Another Realm' is an album for moods where you're not going to be worried about effective use of time. It's a piece of music for quieter nights, and for what it is, it's a success.

Report this review (#599267)
Posted Friday, December 30, 2011 | Review Permalink
Crossover Team
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

Report this review (#608657)
Posted Friday, January 13, 2012 | Review Permalink
kev rowland
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars This is the latest album from Iona, coming out in 2011 and comes in a wonderful double CD digipak. Like their music, the artwork is immediately evocative and takes the observer to a different time and place. For those who are unaware, the band name is taken from a small island in the Inner Hebrides off the western coast of Scotland. It was a centre of Irish monasticism for four centuries and is today renowned for its tranquility and natural beauty. Although I have never visited the island itself, it is an area that I know fairly well as my grandfather was District Officer Coastguard for the Western Isles, and my father was brought up in (and has now retired to) a tiny village next to the Mull of Kintyre, called Southend. St Columba (one of the twelve apostles of Ireland) first landed at Southend (where his footsteps can still be seen) before moving to Iona and whenever I listen to their music I find myself transported to a land where the weather and scenery are rugged, the people incredibly friendly, and while life is hard there is a real feeling of mysticism and a closeness to religion. This is also very true of the very Christian nature of the band's songs, yet even if you view yourself as a non-believer this is never in your face enough to cause offence.

Thanks to their musical style, combined with Joanne Hogg's vocals, these guys will always find themselves compared to Enya and Kate Bush but in many ways that is unfair as they don't really sound like the latter and there is way more complexity and layers than the former. The current line-up is Joanne Hogg (vocals, vocal loops, piano, keyboard, beer shaker), Dave Bainbridge (electric & acoustic guitars, bouzouki, piano, keyboards, autoharp, beer shakers), Frank van Essen (drums, percussion, violins, violas, electric violin, vocal, glockenspiel, keyboard), Phil Barker (bass guitar, electric upright bass) and Martin Nolan (uilleann pipes, low whistles, tin whistles, vocals). Together they produce music that is timeless, folk and prog coming together to wrap around the listener and create a world that in many ways is far away from the present day.

If ever there was music that should only be played on headphones this is it, as to get the full benefit one needs to play this without distraction, preferably at night with a glass of Springbank Malt in hand, just sitting looking at the stars and drift away into their world.

Report this review (#878977)
Posted Wednesday, December 19, 2012 | Review Permalink

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