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Dave Bainbridge - Celestial Fire CD (album) cover

CELESTIAL FIRE

Dave Bainbridge

 

Crossover Prog

4.00 | 88 ratings

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tszirmay
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars Dave Bainbridge released the meticulous "Veil of Gossamer" back in 2005 and that album has remained a perennial favorite, sliding into my top 20 all-time, sitting among the giants of the glory days as well as a few recent monuments to prog's everlasting genius. Nine long years have passed, focused on discovering many wonderful albums from a myriad of distant masters but always hoping that one day, this tremendously talented leader of legendary Celtic prog band Iona would deliver another palpitating release that would bowl me over like Veil did. Being a big fan of Iona, I was deeply dismayed in 2011 by their last album, "Another Realm" a 2cd affair that had little teeth, even less adventure and had literally forced me to write a negative review, an abhorrent perspective in my line of pleasure. So I was somewhat anxious about "Celestial Fire" and its impact on my adulation for this gifted man. Yes, I read that it was going to be over an hour of music, with fabulous guests such as Threshold's Damian Wilson (a recent discovery for me) , muscular bassist Randy George of Neal Morse and Alan White fame, as well as stellar Dutch drummer Colin Leijenaar (also from Morse and Jordan Rudess). Obviously Iona colleagues past and present like David Fitzgerald, Troy Donockley, Frank van Essen, Martin Nolan and Joanna Hogg all helped their crafty maestro. I am proud to announce that the wait was definitely worth it, as Dave proposes nearly 75 minutes of splendid contemporary progressive rock music. Bainbridge is not only a tremendous acoustic and electric guitar player but his keyboard work is just as overpoweringly awesome.

After a typical Celtic ethereal introduction on the spirited "Heavenfield", the title track comes in as quite a shock to the system, and many of you prog fans will not believe your ears as Bainbridge opts for a quasi-classic Yes sound, orchestral Wakeman-esque keyboard splurges, bold and trebly bass and complex polyrhythmic splendor, with male vocals that would make Jon Anderson blush. Toss in some delightful female backing and choir vocals and the deal is done. Yes has not sounded this fresh and explosive since the 70s! Dave was certainly "going for the one", delivering a masterful homage to the Tormato boys of yore. Even his guitar playing hearkens back to the Howe glory days. My goodness!

This same audacity is continued on the volcanic "See What I see" , giving Damian Wilson the front of the stage to really show off his lungs as Colin thumps mightily, crowned by a rampaging bass and those massed choir voices that we all know and love. Compare this to the recent soporific Yes recording and you wonder what many of us knew long ago, Yes has been out-Yessed by a vast group of musicians who simply have taken the legacy further. Hello Flower Kings, Simon Says, Wobbler, Moth Vellum, Perfect Beings etc?

Let us be reminded that Iona is squarely in the prog-folk sub-genre, so a lovely pastoral deviation is entirely to be expected. The delicate beauty of "The First Autumn" suggest aromas that rural/magical aura that invites reverie and introspection, led by Yvonne Lyon's magical voice that hints at classic Enya, but with way more edge than the celebrated new age artist from Eire. The string support colors the fragile theme with dense classicism and an entirely lovely intermezzo.

The epic 10 minute+ "For Such a Time as This" looks back to Dave's previous album, his mighty guitar up-front twirling amid the glorious piano work while being pursued by a colossally effective George/Leijenaar rhythm section, alternating between serene and explosive (though far from the Yes sound expressed earlier). Violinist Todd Reynolds and cellist Corinne Frost give the arrangement immense depth and variation. Then Dave handles the acoustic guitar in perfect fashion, playing it in parallel with some slide guitar in the background, a Jan Akkerman-like moment one should not skip over. This segues into one of Bainbridge's patented soaring electric leads, a trait that he simply owns in spades, scratching the stratosphere with a flurry of sizzling notes, lush with emotion and feeling. The drum work is jaw-dropping, George popping his fat strings mercilessly in unison, it's enough to make any prog fan drool. The speed, the precision and the emotion are unfathomable, nearly unbearable! This is a classic piece and a jewel of a track that defines the artist perfectly.

"Innocence Found" proves once again that Celtic propensity of emotional readings of simple folk songs and elevating them to celestial heights, as vocalists Julia Malyasova, Sally Minnear, Debbie and Evie Bainbridge weave a convincing tale, spurred by a delirious violin, delicate piano phrasings, lovely tin whistles and flutes and a heavenly guitar. This is veering near Mike Oldfield territory, something that occurs with this artist ever since Mike released his much debated Voyager record (an album I happen to adore), a certain Iona parallel that is impossible to negate. Fact is, this is achingly beautiful music, period.

Another epic piece "Love Remains" and its intense 13 minutes reignite the bold progressive symphonics, with Dave's majestic piano now taking the lead, speeding like a midnight train to nowhere. Damian gently builds up the flames of passion, as the fizzling synths kick in with near delirious fervor, propelling this massive piece into impossibly complex twists and turns, shifts and feints, the drums in particular doing some serious mental damage. I am reminded of Roine Stolt's The Flower Kings brand of colossal exuberance, this is certainly on par with what the Swedish band has best to offer. Dave's electric axe solo alternates between long sustained notes and blistering Mach 5 licks that will leave your jaw in the proverbial gutter.

As if to drive home that message, the majestic "In the Moment" relies on another quarter of an hour to unleash some more sonic magic, acoustic ripples that soothe soul, close to bucolic British folk and all its trappings until the theme blooms into another prog juggernaut, bass and drums pummeling ahead, then suddenly retreating back into a sun-drenched rainbow of beautiful voices with orchestral backing, 'no space between' sings the choir, as Damian shows off his softer side. In an album bursting with mystical highlights, this track just takes you into another world, a massive expanse where artist and fan coalesce into one. Colossal, imperial, spacious, ethereal, grandiose all words that define what the ears and brain absorb, this is what music should mean to any audiophile. When the smoking organ, the relentless bass and the steam-roller drum assault kicks in, one can only surrender to the magic. Wilson wails in the background and the moment is reached! The afterglow violin flutters in the ether, reminding one of the eargasm that just tremored, the quaking now only occasional, the gentle rest not far away.

"Heavenfield "gets a brief reprise before the final cut "On the Edge of Glory" brings the curtain down an a thrilling musical adventure, dual tin whistles (Nolan and Fitzgerald) vie for the center stage, percussive shivers and vocal shimmers follow in reverent style, a perfect finale.

Needless to say, this is a killer album, a 2014 masterpiece that begs to be heard, admired and adulated. Fans of the afore-mentioned bands should hunt this one down and relish the music within.

5 cosmic fervours

tszirmay | 5/5 |

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