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Iona The Circling Hour album cover
3.73 | 59 ratings | 8 reviews | 19% 5 stars

Excellent addition to any
prog rock music collection

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Studio Album, released in 2006

Songs / Tracks Listing

1. Empyrean Dawn (7:50)
2. Children Of Time (5:33)
3. Strength (5:59)
4. Wind Off The Lake (11:07)
5. Factory Of Magnificent Souls (5:06)
6. Sky Maps (6:43)
7. No Fear In Love (6:02)
8. Wind, Water & Fire - Wind (3:30)
9. Wind, Water & Fire - Faith (3:00)
10. Wind, Water & Fire - Fire (7:16)
11. Fragment (Of A Fiery Sun) (2:47)

Total Time: 65:53

Line-up / Musicians

- Joanne Hogg / vocals, keyboards
- Dave Bainbridge / piano, keyboards, Hammond, acoustic & electric guitars, e-bow, bouzouki, mandolin, wind chimes, vocals, producer
- Troy Donockley / Uillean pipes, low & high whistles, tofran, acoustic, electric & slide guitars, e-bow, bouzouki, piano, keyboards, vocals
- Phil Barker / bass
- Frank Van Essen / drums, percussion, acoustic & electric violins, viola, bodhrán, vocals

- Heather Findlay / vocals (11)

Releases information

Artwork: Tim Martindale

CD Open Sky Records ‎- OPENVP11CD (2006, UK)

Thanks to ProgLucky for the addition
and to Quinino for the last updates
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IONA The Circling Hour ratings distribution

(59 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of progressive rock music(19%)
Excellent addition to any prog rock music collection(46%)
Good, but non-essential (32%)
Collectors/fans only (3%)
Poor. Only for completionists (0%)

IONA The Circling Hour reviews

Showing all collaborators reviews and last reviews preview | Show all reviews/ratings

Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by erik neuteboom
3 stars This band has such a distinctive sound, almost every proghead will recognize the wonderful blend of prog and folk with the emotional Gaelic overtones. On this album I am delighted about the drumwork, in my opinion the backbone in the 11 compositions, he leads and pushes the music of Iona in a very dynamic way. The first song Emperyan Dawn is a great starter, it ranges from dreamy to bombastic with beautiful play on the bagpipe and violin, we can enjoy some fiery guitar and of course the wonderful, often high- pitched female vocals, the trademark of this style. The other 10 songs alternate between folky and dreamy climates with lots of room for typical Gaelic folk instruments like the bagpipes and tin-whistles along piano, acoustic guitar and violin. Ang again I would like to mention the strong drumwork, together with the heavy guitar riffs they avoid that the music becomes too laidback or too smooth. Some tracks deliver quite fiery electric guitar soli, a captivating contrast with the folky sound by Iona. The final song Fragment Of A Fiery Sun delivers a guest appearance by Mostly Autumn female singer Heather Findlay. Iona has succeeded to make a very tasteful, melodic and harmonic album, the fans will be pleased! My rating: 3,5 stars.

Review by ZowieZiggy
3 stars Iona has made a long break between their last two studio releases. No less than six years.

But there are reasons to this. A major tour took place in 2000-2001, Joanne will give birth to a boy (which contributed to shorten the tour as well). The band also negotiated with their previous label to put their contract to a stop in order to start their own label "Open Sky".

They will release a compilation box set (four CD's) which took some of their time as well. Their first three CD's are a remastering of their first three albums + a fourth one completes it with some unreleased & remixed songs.

A benefit album is also released during this period (in 2003). "Songs For Luca" (Luca is David Brainbridge's son and suffers from autism). A myriad of stars will collaborate (The Flower Kings, Rick Wakeman, Karnataka and Gentle Giant amongst others).

Joanne will be pregnant for the second time and will give birth in May 2003. Several solo albums will be released as well and the band will also participate in a compilation of Celtic music in 2004.

Remastering of their most recent work will keep them busy during 2004 as well. During 2005, other solo projects as well as the release of a DVD were on their programme.

So, finally here we are in 2006 for this new studio album!

No surprise of course. Their pleasant folk music is still tinted with strong guitar breaks and the use of rare instrument provides an interesting mix. Both "Empyrean Dawn" and the long "Wind Off The Lake" are best heard to have a confirmation.

This album is pleasant all the way through. Ambient and peaceful music but with little highlights (except maybe "Wind Of The Lake" which is my preferred one). As usual a lot of their songs are highly instrumental but "Factory Of Magnificent Souls" leaves Joanne fully on the command and she delivers some stunning vocal performance. But we are used to this, aren't we?

The band is also proposing a suite type of song like in their previous and excellent work "Open Sky" (their best effort IMO). But "Wind, Water & Fire" cannot really compete with the brilliant "Songs of Ascent". "Wind" is particularly weak : smooth violin for over three minutes.

It is smoothly prolonged during "Water". Same atmospheric mood, somewhat too uniform and to speak frankly, a bit dull as well. Fortunately the longest part of this trilogy ("Fire") is substantially better. Even furious at times ! A wonderful guitar solo is also shining on here.

The most tranquil sounds ("Fragment) close this good album. Three stars.

Review by tszirmay
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
5 stars My turn: Iona is my favorite prog-folk band and by a country mile. Some reviewers have given Iona a thundering thumbs up while others have described their recordings as "pleasant but nothing earth shattering". Vive la Difference! Comments such as "Pleasant" are certainly more pleasure-inducing than "unpleasant", no? The truth is that this group of exceedingly talented musicians has consistently improved along their road towards musical bliss. Not everyone likes languid, ethereal, Celtic-infused, harrowingly haunting prog/folk rock but to each his own (your loss frankly because the best definition of a true proghead is BEING OPEN- MINDED). Oh Well! Our own sinkadotentree knows what I mean, he loves the old Iona stuff too! "The Circling Hour" is the latest jewel to arrive into my prog library and it has been received with fitting pomp and circumstance. Guitarist Dave Bainbridge continues to shine ever so brightly, coating the lavish grooves with shimmering blasts of sheer splendor, proving once again that he is a six- stringer deserving of the loftiest praise from the Progland senators. Nimble bassist Phil Barker and drummer extraordinaire Frank Van Essen maintain their exquisite display of inventive restraint, focused on preserving the lush rhythmic euphoria that characterizes their dreamy, highly atmospheric music. Vocalist Joanne Hogg soars mightily over the proceedings with poignant passion, easily one of the better progressive rock voices in recent memory, combining delicate whispers with outright arias. And last but not lost, the luminous Troy Donockley provides the Irish-Scot coloratura so specific to the Iona sound, with Uillean pipes, tin whistles and various other sundries. The preceding "Open Sky" was reviewed by yours truly as a masterpiece and deservedly so. After numerous auditions, this new contribution is in my opinion, a slight notch below the sheer genius of the previous work. The CD starts off with the stately "Empyrean Dream", a luxuriant Celtic flight, tranquility oozing from every note like a solemn mist. "Children of Time" (a huge memorable chorus) and "Strength" (powerful lyrics) are solid tracks that highlight the importance of poetry, in defining the essence of folk based prog. The eleven minute mini-epic"Wind off the Lake" is one of the finest tracks ever composed by the group, a shrewdly woven arrangement based on a traditional Celtic theme with numbingly beautiful choir work, an exhilarating guitar foray and an overpowering sense of serenity. This tune exemplifies precisely why I adore this group; I could listen to uplifting stuff like this forever! "Factory of Magnificent Souls" is more stripped down to basics traditional folk, a simple luminescent melodic treat. The shimmering "Skymaps" is a Donockley composition, where the Irish minstrel gets to stretch his digits over an array of instruments, including piano and guitars. Need I say this is another album high point. "No Fear in Love" is a romantic spotlight on that overpowering emotion that we all seek, perhaps the only "commercial" track on this recording. The second epic is the 3 part "Wind, Water & Fire" suite, a softly languorous musical essay, replete with restrained magnificence and luminously hued wisps of melody and passion. The restless "Wind" is driven by the gentle sweetness of Van Essen's violins (simply gorgeous), effortlessly evolving into the liquid realm of "Water" as expressed by the pristine voice of Joanne Hogg and exploding into the fiery radiance of "Fire", where Bainbridge's electric guitar and Donockley's pipes crackle with blazing abandon. As the album notes aptly describe: "The term Celtic Fire is used to describe the living faith at the heart of the Celtic peoples". Hence, it is only fitting to end the festivities with "Fragment of a Fiery Sun", a melancholic setting of the golden orb, introducing the freshness and the peace of the night. Five windswept suns.
Review by Chicapah
3 stars Being a reviewer for this website is not only something that I enjoy immensely but it is also a privilege I take rather seriously and spend a lot of time thinking about. Like most proggers, from time to time I come across an album by one of my favorite artists/groups that I don't find to be as appealing to my sensibilities as most of their others but still maintains the high standards of musicianship, arranging and production that they're known for. This creates a real conundrum for me because, while it doesn't dazzle me, I must acknowledge that it might attract a listener to the band specifically because it DOESN'T emphasize the side of their sound that I adore. In other words, I wouldn't want to discourage anyone from checking the incredible Iona out just because I'm not completely knocked out by "The Circling Hour."

What I crave about this group isn't simply their inspired propensity to manifest the ethereal but their total, unflinching embracing of it as they did on the sublime "The Book of Kells" and, to a large extent, on the exquisite "Beyond These Shores." But groups naturally evolve in one way or another and perhaps, after a lengthy six year hiatus from the studio, they reunited with a been-there-done-that attitude regarding their former creations and wanted to explore something more dynamic and assertive. That's fine. However, I reserve the right not to like it as much. It comes down to a question of personal taste.

A mellower-voiced Joanne Hogg starts "Empyrean Dawn" off in a disarming way before a shake-the- walls explosion of sound detonates and shocks the listener with a huge cathedral organ roaring underneath various instruments and voices dipping in and out of the fracas. Things settle down considerably for the smooth verses but then a more forceful, rocking rhythm track than I'm used to hearing from this band takes over and the whole thing becomes quite aggressive as it drapes around a thrilling melody line. It's a drastic departure from their usual approach and that bold spirit continues into "Children of Time" as drummer Frank Van Essen lays down a strong, overly loud beat that reminds me of Phil Collins' angry "I Don't Care Anymore" rumbling on his second solo album. It's a bit much but the music retains an almost festive flair between the verses that is refreshing. Overall it's a decent song but not remarkable. "Strength" transitions away from an initial warm, flowing feel into a subdued yet near-metallic guitar/bass riff that seems forced. Again, this harder sound might draw in prog lovers who find Iona's earlier CDs to be too quiet (some say boring) so I don't want to be too critical here. It's worth mentioning that the tune gradually builds up to a spacious ending that's impressive.

By this point in the proceedings I've become more acclimated to their new, wilder temperament and can better appreciate the best cut here, the stirring (mostly instrumental) epic "Wind Off the Lake." The intro features the deep, mysterious shrouded-in-fog effect that these guys do so well before Troy Donockley's Uilleann Pipes and Frank's violin usher in a traditional and very familiar Irish bagpipe air and the whole song soars into the heavens. This track rocks! It ambitiously travels through different movements that include chorales and electric guitar runs (Dave Bainbridge can shred with the best of 'em!), creating excitement every step of the way. It exits through the same door it came in with Joanne scatting wordlessly from out of a dark, hovering mist. It's an excellent piece of music. Unfortunately what follows is the nadir of the album for me, the jagged "Factory of Magnificent Souls." The song just never seems to find its groove as it jostles over a choppy rhythm track from beginning to end.

"Sky Maps" is another generally instrumental number that puts even more distance between them and their more pastoral past as they rush headlong down the rock & roll highway. Dave and Troy's electric guitar work is exceptional but the repeating phrase of "notice how." from Hogg seems like an unnecessary afterthought. The tune drops into a light verse for a while, then returns to the busy melody before collapsing into a peaceful coda where acoustic guitar and a low whistle reign. Another highlight arrives with "No Fear in Love" that has a spacey introduction showcasing Iona's trademark dense depth of field from the earlier albums I mentioned. Joanne's angelic voice literally floats over the music as she sings "love is beyond the mind/love is beyond its reasoning/love is the path that leads to paradise." I wish there was more of this.

The three-part "Wind, Water and Fire" suite is next and for me it's a courageous but ultimately uneven undertaking for the band. "Wind," with its delicate violins and keyboards weaving in and out of each other, establishes a restful and serene atmosphere that segues seamlessly into "Water" where Hogg once again scats over lush tonal terrain before a light beat pattern appears, then dissolves. "Fire" follows and it is true to its title in that its up-tempo electric guitar melody becomes furious at times as it blazes away. It diverts into a more dramatic segment where Bainbridge shines even brighter on his guitar and a massive finale ensues. While the whole thing falls short of spectacular for me I have to give them props for bravely venturing into the symphonic prog area where giants rule. "Fragment of a Fiery Sun" is a reprise of the album's first brief notes but here they take time to further explore and develop the song's beauty and it pays dividends as it makes for an elegant finale.

"The Circling Hour" is a fine album. Not essential but most assuredly good and I expect it will charm those who prefer a harder edge to their progressive music in general because these musicians are not lightweights in any sense of the word. I truly wish I enjoyed this CD more but I must be true to myself and tell it like I hear it. This one gets a three-star rating because it just doesn't move me emotionally and spiritually on the same level as their work in the 90s does. I have a strong feeling that many of you will feel differently and consider this to be a step up from those recordings. To each his own. 3.4 stars.

Review by Mellotron Storm
3 stars I'm so glad Chicapah already reviewed this album because I thought it must be just me who couldn't get into it. I mean sure it's a good album but it's different in some ways to what i'm used to hearing from this band. In fact it is my least favourite of all their studio albums. No I don't like change (haha). Chicapah explains how this one is different far better than I ever could.

"Empyrean Dream" opens with solo vocals from Joanne as the music washes in.The sound explodes before a minute then settles after 2 minutes.The tempo continues to shift.Vocal melodies come and go.Violin after 6 minutes. "Children Of Time" opens with drums and atmosphere as vocals and piano join in. A strong Celtic flavour here. A calm after 3 minutes then it picks up before a calm ends it. "Strength" opens with atmosphere as the vocals join in. It gets fuller with drums. I prefer the intro. "Wind Off The Lake" opens with atmosphere as flute comes in. It gets fuller then kicks in with uillean pipes as the drums pound.It settles 3 1/2 minutes in and vocals arrive a minute later. The pipes and drums are back. Excellent guitar 7 1/2 minutes in. Love the atmosphere 9 minutes in to the end.

"Factory Of Magnificent Souls" is catchy with vocals and strummed guitar. It's okay. "Sky Maps" kicks in before a minute. A strong Celtic flavour here and some brief atmosphere 2 1/2 minutes in. It then kicks back in with vocals.This is good.Violin and piano later. "No Fear In Love" begins with reserved vocals and atmosphere. Drums and a fuller sound take over quickly. "Wind, Water & Fire-Wind" features atmosphere and violin. It blends into "Wind, Water & Fire-Water" which has vocal melodies added to it. Drums start to slowly build.It blends into "Wind, Water & Fire-Fire". Drums to the fore and some chunky bass. It settles 3 minutes in with atmophere. Pipes and drums come in and I like the guitar after 5 1/2 minutes. "Fragment Of A Fiery Sun" opens with flute as violin and soft vocals join in. Mellow stuff.Piano before 2 1/2 minutes to end it.

This is still close to 4 stars for me. I enjoy it, it's just hard not to compare it to the previous album "Open Sky" or their earlier ones. The cover art and packaging are all A+.

Review by BrufordFreak
COLLABORATOR Heavy Prog & JR/F/Canterbury Teams
4 stars Any Iona album is worth owning and listening to regularly--even the most recent, more-overtly and heavily Christian, Another Realm. The Circling Hour is no exception. Coming right on the heels of guitarist DAVE BAINBRIDGE's IONA-collaborated "solo" effort, Veil of Gossamer, and six years since the last studio album, the supreme achievement that is Open Sky, 2006 finds the band still in great form.

Song favorites: "Sky Maps" (6:43) (10/10), "Empyream Dawn" (7:50) (13.5/15) and the three-part "Wind, Water and Fire" suite (35/35).

At first I thought that this album didn't have the staying power of their previous efforts, but I was wrong: it has grown on me over the years. It is not only an amazing display of prog folk mastery but a very rich and deeply engaging listening experience from start to finish.

Nothing less than five stars will serve.

Iona is a band that has few equals in 21st Century prog world.

Latest members reviews

5 stars Iona albums offer alternate very strong pieces, full of fervor and passages soothed, comfortable and moving songs with folk arrangements "mainstream", interspersed with floats "new age". A slope that might not be the most popular with fans of hardcore prog. If Open Sky (2000) had two or three mo ... (read more)

Report this review (#1302658) | Posted by brainsuccasurgery | Tuesday, November 11, 2014 | Review Permanlink

5 stars What...nobody reviewed this great new album yet? Brilliant!!!! Just simply brilliant. The Circling hour opens with Joanne's gentle vocal stating the "Fragment of a firey sun" theme that will re-surface at times throught the album...and then...almost as soon as we are relaxing into that deliciou ... (read more)

Report this review (#100168) | Posted by | Thursday, November 23, 2006 | Review Permanlink

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