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Iona The Book of Kells album cover
3.79 | 77 ratings | 12 reviews | 21% 5 stars

Excellent addition to any
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Studio Album, released in 1992

Songs / Tracks Listing

1. Kells Opening Theme (4:15)
2. Revelation (4:35)
3. Matthew - The Man (11:51)
4. Chi-Rho (4:39)
5. Mark - The Lion (3:26)
6. The River Flows (5:01)
7. Luke - The Calf (4:03)
8. Virgin and Child (3:16)
9. Temptation (4:34)
10. The Arrest - Gethsemane (3:46)
11. Trinity - The Godhead (6:09)
12. John - The Eagle (4:10)
13. Kells (5:26)
14. Eternity - No Beginning, No End (6:47)

Total Time 71:58

Line-up / Musicians

- Joanne Hogg / lead & backing vocals, keyboards
- Dave Bainbridge / keyboards, acoustic & electric guitars, programming, chimes, producer
- David Fitzgerald / alto & tenor saxophones, concert flute, Chinese flutes, piccolo, flageolet, dizi, suona
- Nick Beggs / Chapman Stick, Wal 5-string bass, small cymbal
- Terl Bryant / drums, tabla, bongos, gong, bells, bass drum

- Kensington Temple Gospel Choir / chorus vocals
- Peter Whitfield's Real Strings / violins & viola ensemble
- Fiona Davidson / Celtic harp
- Frank van Essen / percussion, violin solo
- Troy Donockley / uillean pipes, low whistles

Releases information

Artwork: James Kessell with Theresa Wassif (photo)

CD What? Records ‎- WHAD 1287 (1992, Europe)
CD Open Sky Records ‎- OPENVP2CD (2002, UK) Remastered; New cover art

Thanks to ProgLucky for the addition
and to projeKct for the last updates
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IONA The Book of Kells ratings distribution

(77 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of progressive rock music(21%)
Excellent addition to any prog rock music collection(51%)
Good, but non-essential (18%)
Collectors/fans only (8%)
Poor. Only for completionists (3%)

IONA The Book of Kells reviews

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Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by Mellotron Storm
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 !

Review by Chicapah
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!

Review by ZowieZiggy
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.

Review by tszirmay
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
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
Review by Second Life Syndrome
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.

Review by apps79
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
3 stars By the summer of 1990 Nick Beggs had joined Iona as a permanent bassist and a few days later Dutch drummer Frank Van Essen took his place behind the drum kit.In early 91' the band started working on two different projects.One of them was dressing with music and lyrics the 8th century illuminated manuscript ''The book of Kells''.With Van Essen based on The Netherlands things did not work the right way and, although he joined the group on several stage performances, a more proper solution had to be found.This was Terl Bryant, who had also played with Iona as a guest musician.By the dawn of 92' the album had been recorded with Troy Donockley on pipes and whistles, Fiona Davidson on celtic harp, Frank Van Essen on percussion and The Peter Whitfield Strings ensemble as guest appearances, and it was eventually released in July 92' on What Records.

Iona had become masters on producing ethereal, Celtic-influenced music with Rock tendencies and ''The book of Kells'' shows a band on the rise, creating monumental, ancient soundscapes, flashed with modern tunes and echoes via the use of electric guitars and the rhythm section.Crossing the territories of MIKE OLDFIELD and KATE BUSH was more than expected, as the music is performed with plenty of cinematic keyboards in the background, series of acoustic parts and an angelic voice like the one of Joanne Hogg, which is pretty similar to the crystalline chords of ENYA with bits of MAGENTA's CHRISTINA BOOTH.The smooth performances on guitar, bass and drums are accompanied by a mass of instruments like sax, bagpipes, whistles, flutes and percussions, the result is an album full of Ethnic images and Folk tastes, executed under a contemporary sound.Extremely atmospheric material, lacking some sort of energy, but containing a great lyricism and some beautiful, dreamy melodies.Moving a bit further, Iona appear to have adapted some influences from the twisting Neo Prog sound of MARILLION circa-''Holidays in Eden'' and later ''Brave'', music with an electroacoustic sound, some poppy sensibilities, clean and expressive voices and use of cinematic synthesizers.Actually if ''Brave'' was a Celtic-influenced album, I could see it sounding a lot like ''The book of Kells''.

Calm, ethereal and gentle Celtic/Folk-based Prog/Art Rock with a fantastic female singer.Great listening late at night, highlighted by the combination of light electric tunes and traditional, mostly acoustic instruments.Recommended.

Review by BrufordFreak
COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars is Celtic prog Folk (and Christian) artist IONA's breakout album though it is their second release. The distinguished crystalline voice of Joanne Hogg is on full display for all to hear, thanks to the fairly sparse instrument arrangements--especially in prolonged intros and outros. The other half of the band's core, Dave Bainbridge is also present on keys and guitars. This band seems to always be comprised of members who are all virtuosos on their respective instruments and this album is no exception. What changes in the future, however, is that bass/Chapman stick player Nick Beggs (KAJAGOOGOO), percussionist Teri Bryant and reeds player David Fitzgerald move out to make room for future mainstays Phil Barker (bass), Frank Van Essen (drums, percussion, & violins), and Ullilean pipe and whistle virtuoso and future star in his own right, Troy Donockley-- who happens to make his debut as a guest musician here. Though the synth washes are full and rich throughout and the percussion/rhythm team is at full power, The Book of Kells is a much more sparsely instrumented album than Iona's successive releases, but there are always plenty of gorgeous and glorious instrumental sections throughout all Iona albums. Also, as might be surmised from the album's title, which is is taken from the famous illustrated Christian texts of the New Testament that was created around 800 AD and then preserved in Ireland's Abbey of Kells, this is a concept album. What results from this mix of personnel is an album with such seamlessness, such depth and complexity of textures, as to astound even me who had already been a tried and true Iona fan for several years before going back into their early catalogue to discover this one. I didn't think that any Iona album could be better than Open Sky but the amazingly intense whole-goup focus on this concept album may have done it. What's more, this music and presentation is to my ears a prime example of all that is essential and at the core of prog: great story, great instrumental performances, great songwriting drawing from many traditions, great album art, all gelled into a powerful display of great human emotion. "Matthew - The Man" (11:53) (10/10) may be the best prog epic of the year but, heck! The whole album is like one continuous prog epic! Amazing! Beautiful! Another piece of man-made art that makes me proud to be human.

Latest members reviews

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 ... (read more)

Report this review (#635014) | Posted by Frankie Flowers | Friday, February 17, 2012 | Review Permanlink

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 ... (read more)

Report this review (#133821) | Posted by Chumaker1969 | Sunday, August 19, 2007 | Review Permanlink

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 liste ... (read more)

Report this review (#59428) | Posted by shyman | Wednesday, December 7, 2005 | Review Permanlink

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 ... (read more)

Report this review (#39314) | Posted by harm s. | Wednesday, July 13, 2005 | Review Permanlink

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 albu ... (read more)

Report this review (#16073) | Posted by ScottAN | Friday, October 29, 2004 | Review Permanlink

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