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The Bardic Depths

Crossover Prog

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The Bardic Depths The Bardic Depths album cover
3.75 | 17 ratings | 4 reviews | 24% 5 stars

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Studio Album, released in 2020

Songs / Tracks Listing

1. The Trenches (8:35)
2. Biting Coals (7:50)
3. Depths of Time (12:35) :
- a. The Instant
- b. The Flicker
- c. The Moment
4. Depths of Imagination (5:01)
5. Depths of Soul (6:40)
6. The End (7:37)
7. Legacies (9:28)

Total Time 57:46

Line-up / Musicians

- Dave Bandana / vocals, bass, guitars, keyboards, percussion (3), flute & harmonica (6)
- Brad Birzer / spoken word (1,4,5)

- Peter Jones (Camel, Tiger Moth Tales) / saxophone (3), vocals (7), spoken word (1)
- Tim Gehrt (Streets, Steve Walsh) / drums (1,4,7)
- Gareth Cole (Tom Slatter, Fractal Mirror) / guitar (3), lead guitar (5), 1st guitar solo (7)
- Robin Armstrong (Cosmograf) / backing vocals (1,4), keyboards, strings & Hammond organ (1), acoustic guitars (2), drum programming (3,6), bass & 2nd guitar solo (7)
- Paolo Limoli / keyboards & piano (1-6)
- Kevin McCormick / lead guitar (1), acoustic guitars (3)
- Glenn Codere / backing vocals (1,4,5)
- John William Francis / spoken word (1), marimba (2,7)
- Mike Warren / cello (6)
- Lilly Miller / spoken word (4,5)
- Richard Krueger, Henri Strik, Scotty Scott, Andreas Mowinckel, Tony Bridgeman, Martin Holmes, Phil Ball / spoken word (1)

Releases information

Label: Gravity Dream (GD001)
Format: CD, Digital
March 20, 2020

Thanks to mbzr48 for the addition
and to projeKct for the last updates
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THE BARDIC DEPTHS The Bardic Depths ratings distribution

(17 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of progressive rock music(24%)
Excellent addition to any prog rock music collection(35%)
Good, but non-essential (35%)
Collectors/fans only (6%)
Poor. Only for completionists (0%)

THE BARDIC DEPTHS The Bardic Depths reviews

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Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by kev rowland
3 stars So here we have the debut album from The Bardic Depths, which is also their third. Confused? In some ways this is the third album from Birzer Bandana, being Dave Bandana (vocals, bass, guitars, keyboards, percussion, flute and harmonica )and Brad Birzer (spoken word), but as this was such a dramatic change in so many ways they felt it was only right they started again under a new name, which makes total sense to me. I first came across Dave years ago when he was working with the other Dave in Salander (emails used to be always signed from Dave and Dave, really confusing). Over recent years he has been incredibly prolific, and he is right when he says this album deserved a new name. They have brought in many guests this time to flesh out the sound, including the likes of Peter Jones (Camel, Tiger Moth Tales), Tim Gehrt (Streets, Steve Walsh), Gareth Cole (Tom Slatter, Fractal Mirror) and Robin Armstrong (Cosmograf). I was really pleased to see Gehrt involved as one of my pet peeves has always been the use of programmed drums, and to see live drums on at least some of the songs is a definite move in the right direction.

The new musical change, which in many ways is far more keyboards based, seems to have meant there was no room for violinist Olga Kent, which is a shame as I thought she had a lot to offer but it is going to be interesting to see where the band go from here. This is reflective but considered, delicate but with an inner strength, compassionate yet with power. The saxophone on the first section of "Depths of Time" is incredibly poignant, and with just a some held-down keyboards and a picked electric guitar to play against (plus some thunder in the background), it is incredibly dramatic.

At the time of writing this, I am the only person who has written a review of either of the Birzer Bandana albums, and no-one else has reviewed The Bardic Depths, but surely it can only be a matter of time until their name becomes more recognisable. They have moved a long way with this, created a far fuller sound, and if the next album is as far removed from this one as this is from the last, then it will be absolutely essential. As it is, this is a really nice album which I have thoroughly enjoyed, and in many ways is probably the most complete work I have heard from Dave to date, even pre- dating his relationship with Brad. Let's have real drums throughout on the next one and try to keep the same people involved as this is progressing nicely. Really nicely.

Review by nick_h_nz
COLLABORATOR Prog Metal / Heavy Prog Team
4 stars [Originally published at The Progressive Aspect]

First things first. The opening of this album is simply incredible, and unbelievably engaging. I have never been so immediately entranced by an album's opening number. Over some appropriate ambient and atmospheric music and noise, a quote from one of the two bards this album is dedicated to is beautifully read, describing the wartime experience of C.S. Lewis. The quote ends with a sentence containing the words 'this is war', which are repeated by many different voices before the song kicks in with full effect. Instrumentally, it is suitably menacing, though over the top a lighter motif plays. A staccato drumbeat plays out like bullets, and the trenches go quiet. Distorted vocals sound strangely beautiful before the music comes back in with a stately and decidedly melancholy military march, underscored by the sounds of war. Honestly, I couldn't be more in love with this song, and then the vocals are finally sung at about the sixth minute and the mood is broken for me. Or, at least, it was the first couple of times I listened to this album.

Now, I realise I'm going to receive some grief for this. While a new band in a way, this is apparently more a renaming for an established act who have taken on the name The Bardic Depths for an absolutely wonderful concept album concerning the friendship between C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, but I had no familiarity with the artists concerned, and the vocals therefore came to me as a bit of a shock. There's actually nothing wrong with them at all. In fact, I really like them. But they don't at all, for me, fit the music. Dave Bandana has a voice that reminds me of the Johns that might be giants. Now I love TMBG, but obviously, with that similarity playing in my head (and I realise that others may not hear this at all ' we do, after all, all hear differently), I find it hard to equate the seriousness of the instrumentation and lyrics with a vocal style I associate with frivolity (admittedly very clever and enjoyable frivolity, but frivolity nevertheless).

It's taken many listens to get over this. I can enjoy music in spite of a vocalist I don't like (e.g. I like Yes, but not Jon Anderson's voice, and I like Smashing Pumpkins, but not Billy Corgan's voice), but this isn't quite the same. As, in this case, I like the music and the voice, but I struggled to manage them together. I'm pretty sure I'm going to be alone in this, so I'm going to try and avoid commenting any further on the vocals. I have no problem with them at all now, but I wanted to address this, on the odd chance that someone listens to this album and is initially put off by the vocals. Don't be! This album is awesome! So, that out of the way'

I absolutely love The Trenches. It's a perfect introduction to the album. As far as I'm aware, Lewis and Tolkien never came across each other in the war, but that's one of the things I particularly like about the way the story of their friendship is played out over this album. The album begins before they meet, and ends by reviewing their legacies, once their friendship has dissipated. The following song, Biting Coals, therefore is where we first meet both our protagonists, again with an incredibly evocative instrumental introduction. Honestly, musically this album is simply amazing. I think it would have made an amazing instrumental album, or even an album similar to Nordic Giants' Amplify Human Vibration, where spoken word is used to incredible effect.

The Kolbitars were an informal group founded by Tolkien, dedicated to reading Icelandic and Norse sagas (thus named because coal biters sit so close to the fire they virtually bite the coals). This should explain the spoken word samples you hear within Biting Coals. Lewis joined the Kolbitars, and from this group the society of Inklings as the members began trying their hand at forging their own myths. It was Lewis now, rather than Tolkien, who led the group, as the members read aloud to each other, in weekly instalments, lines from their epic works in progress. The Inklings were bards ' storytellers, and entertainers ' but mainly for themselves. As such, Biting Coals has a quite introspective vibe. And speaking of vibes, I absolutely adore the marimba on this track. (I like the vibraphone, but I love the marimba.) Again, the sung vocals don't come in until about halfway through the track, but as they are low- key (almost Floydian), they have never bothered me as much on this track as the preceding one.

Depths of Time is reminiscent of the opening track, and perhaps refers to how their shared experiences deepened their friendship over time. Neither Tolkien nor Lewis wrote a war memoir in the traditional sense, but the fictional worlds of Middle Earth and Narnia reveal much about their experiences and thoughts on the theology of war. Lewis's and Tolkien's mythologies do more than reflect the realities of war. Their characters teach readers how to respond to great conflict. Whether hobbits in Middle Earth or the Pevensie's children in Narnia, it's often the weak or powerless who, in the end, humble and defeat the mighty. The music of this track is suitably humble, until at just shy of five minutes it becomes upbeat, and some nifty sax accompanies Bandana's vocals. Lewis and Tolkien both expressed a dissatisfaction with literature, and Tolkien's letters recount that Lewis said to him that 'If they won't write the kinds of books we want to read, we shall have to write them ourselves.' And so they wrote. And they fought. Tolkien and Lewis didn't see eye to eye on matters of literary taste. But they fought as friends. They had a rivalry, but at this stage, it was a friendly rivalry, and each found the others arguments constructive and instructive. Hence, despite lyrics describing fighting, the music of Depths of Time remains upbeat and happy. But, this is a song of three thirds, and so the music for the final four minutes or so is more sedate. Given the theme of time, I like to assume this might represent the differing writing paces of Lewis and Tolkien. While Tolkien wrestled over The Lord of the Rings for almost two decades, Lewis composed the entire seven-part Narnia series of novels in less than one.

Depths of Imagination, to me, seems to recall the Christian aspect of Lewis and Tolkien'S friendship. It may come as a surprise for many, who know of Lewis via the obviously Christian tales from Narnia, that he was an avowed atheist before meeting Tolkien. Indeed, Lewis credits Tolkien for showing him the light. Lewis believed, erroneously as many still do, that all myths are lies. Tolkien argued that myths need not be lies and that while the story of Christ may be a myth, just like the Scandinavian myths they had loved and had celebrated as Kolbitars, there was one crucial difference: The Christian myth was true. Now, as an atheist myself, I don't buy that. But almost all of the products from the depths of the imaginations of our two bards (their 'Bardic Depths') come from this one basic premise. I will admit that like much of the works of Lewis and Tolkien (which I do enjoy), this song drags a little. It is easily my least favourite track, but it is thankfully short.

Depths of Soul, which follows, is far more satisfying (and I do often skip straight from Depths of Time to Depths of Soul). I'm afraid I've never been one for paying much attention to lyrics, and there are usually only odd lines that stand out to me. So it is entirely possible (probable, even) that some of my interpretations of the songs from this album are wrong. But for me, Depths of Soul represents where it all starts to go wrong for the friendship. Despite having convinced Lewis to give up his atheism, Tolkien was somewhat dismayed to find Lewis choose to join the Anglican church (Tolkien was Catholic). The lyrics are clearly based upon the writings of the bible, as I can recognise bible quotes among them, so I don't think I can be too far wrong in my impressions.

And so we reach The End. The end of the friendship, and eventually the end of the lives of the two bards, who were never reconciled. The music is suitably melancholic. Tolkien had helped Lewis see the light and join him as a Christian, but Lewis' fame and celebrity, which arrived soon after, while Tolkien still struggled on with his novel, was at odds with Tolkien's quiet and devout ways. As their friendship waned, the two saw less and less of each other ' and less still after Lewis married a divorcee. The friendship faded away, and was never rekindled. This song has that same feeling of finality, and could easily have been the final song of the album. It definitely has the feel of a closing number.

But, just as we began the album before the friendship of Lewis and Tolkien, we end it afterwards, with their Legacies. This final song explores why their friendship left a legacy that neither Lewis nor Tolkien could have possibly created on their own, despite all their differences, and despite their friendship not lasting the distance. It brings together all the moods and sounds (including the marimba) into a triumphant and rousing epic closing number. Lewis and Tolkien are gone, but their mythologies live on, and if you are Christian then that mythology lives on, too.

This is one of the greatest concept albums I have ever heard. But even if the narrative wasn't so clear and easy to follow, it would still be great. Bookended by probably the two best tracks (my two favourites, anyway), it is almost impossible not to be carried away with the expressiveness of the music. You owe it to yourself to give this a listen.

Review by BrufordFreak
COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Rather straightforward, simple Neo Prog with some lush atmospheric soundscapes and pulsating prog that have been set up to support the existential and anti-war themes as were discussed between authors C.S Lewis (The Chronicles of Narnia) and J.R.R. Tolkein (The Lord of the Rings).

1. "The Trenches" (8:35) a two minute intro of passages from letters written between C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkein between the two World Wars over atmospheric synth washes then vaults into motion to support a fairly easy-going but steady music with a familiar proggy sound palette. Then, int he fifth minute there is a shift as a more slow military march with synth flutes and synth strings plays while soldiers' voices can be heard beneath saying things like "Fire!" At the six minute mark a more insidious proggy motif takes over to support Dave Bandana's vocal. At 7:45 everything drops out leaving a treated "distant" vocal to sing its dirge. (17/20)

2. "Biting Coal" (7:50) slow, oscillating atmospherics underline samples of conversations in some Scandinavian language for the first half before things take a turn and Dave sings a Roger Waters-like vocal over gently-strummed acoustic guitar and lush atmospheric synths. (12.75/15)

3. "Depths Of Time" (12:35) one of the most unlikely and unexpected masterpieces of the year 2020! (23.5/25) a. - The Instant - emotional sax play over spacey synth washes and some ticking from a clock. (8.5/10) b. - The Flicker - 1980s New Wave techno disco adult jazz! Could be THE THE or SIMPLY RED. Very cool and unexpected. Refreshing and very engaging! This could've been a hit for NEW ORDER or DEPECHE MODE! (5/5) c. - The Moment - return to plaintive sax but this time over full band at half the speed and half the everything of The Flicker." Brilliant sax play, Peter Jones!--enhanced greatly by the heavy reverb. (10/10)

4. "Depths Of Imagination" (5:01) slow, thick PINK FLOYD-like music to support spoken word recitation of a passage from C.S. Lewis about creating the "fairy" world. In the second minute things turn a little more bluesy as Dave sings about the brotherhood of writing about imaginary worlds. Not much meat or variety to the song. (8.25/10)

5. "Depths Of Soul" (6:40) spacious space sounds enter and fade beneath a simple quote from Tolkien before sax, bass, and drums kick in to support lead guitarist Gareth Cole's attempt to establish melody and mood. When everything finally gels and shifts into drive at the end of the second minute, its pretty cool PINK FLOYD motif that Dave sings over. The Peter Jones (TIGER MOTH TALES) sax soli in the fourth minute is great--as is the "Lothlorian" chorus and background synths and organ in the next section. (8.75/10)

6. "The End" (7:37) electric piano and flute sound opens this before being joined by Dave's sad lyric and sad cello. Very frail and emotional. At 1:45 it's as if a whole new song starts, but it's just a lane change--to speed up a little. Dave's got a very pretty melody and sound construct here. Harmonica and deep bass notes alternate with piano chord hits in the fourth minute creating a little discordant tension. Piano then tries to take us out before giving way to organ and cello. At 5:25 there is a little pause with some pitch-bent synth chord before the song kicks out onto another side-street--this one with tom-tom play, bluesy guitar and Mellotron male chorus bank while Dave sings his final verse. Very engaging song. My favorite on the album. (13.75/15)

7. "Legacies" (9:28) there's a very serious intention to the this song as a delivery mechanism for a message: "We define the edge"--as well as more quotes read from the Lewis-Tolkien letters. Nice that it's supported by very nice music and some great solos in the end from Dave's synthesizers and then a running duel between guitarists Gareth Cole and Robin Armstrong. My third favorite song on the album. (18/20)

Total time: 57:46

A very pleasant listen if somewhat singular in its palette and mood (i.e. other than "The Flicker").

B+/4.5 stars; a surprisingly solid near-masterpiece of atmospheric, thematic progressive rock music. An album that I think I'll return to quite often for a while.

Review by Rivertree
4 stars This is a project featuring UK based multi-intrumentalist Dave Bandana. An experienced person really, who already has collaborated with diverse like-minded musicians. At first glance the presence of the other band constant Brad Birzer turns out to be relatively unspectacular. Anyway, aside from the compositional aspect he arranges the comprehensive spoken word contributions all over. Which means provided in different languages, either by himself and also diverse other guest appearances. This looks like strongly pointing to a concept workout. Yep, right, dealing with the friendship of writers C.S. Lewis und J.R.R. Tolkien on this occasion. Stylistically this is lingering around diverse territories, though predominantly a symbiosis of art rock, neo prog and Pink Floyd influenced psychedelic.

Furthermore, one can say a proper selection of prog's who is who is contributing here, examplarily speaking of Peter Jones, Robin Armstrong, Gareth Cole aso. The opening track The Trenches appears like an exclamation mark, spacy kosmische elements, symphonic strings. And I would like to highlight Tim Gehrt's straight drumming later on, changing to marching mode in between. An exceptional composition without a doubt. The extended suite Depths Of Time in the same way, divided in three parts and offering quite different faces. This is an album of roundabout one hour playing time, catching you up sooner or later with its atmospheric flow, charming all the way through. Very nice saxophone input by Peter Jones. Something for relaxed moments.

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