Artists | Issues | CD Reviews | Interviews | Concert Reviews | DVD/Video Reviews | Book Reviews | Who We Are | Staff | Home
 

Iona

The Circling Hour

Review by Gary Hill

Iona’s blend of melodic prog rock with Celtic elements has always worked quite well. With their emphasis on acoustic instrumentation and the stellar vocals of Joanne Hogg comparisons to Renaissance are obvious – and often times well founded. They bring other sounds to the table, too, though – and not just in the form of those Celtic sounds. You might hear such bands as Yes, Genesis and Gentle Giant in the mix here. The end result is all woven into a musical tapestry that is uniquely Iona, though. I’d have to say that this particular outing is among their best, doing a great job of merging their more ornate sounds with harder rocking ones. It would be a great first acquisition for anyone looking to explore the musical universe that is Iona.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2006 Volume 6 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Empyrean Dawn
Iona’s blend of melodic prog rock with Celtic elements has always worked quite well. With their emphasis on acoustic instrumentation and the stellar vocals of Joanne Hogg comparisons to Renaissance are obvious – and often times well founded. They bring other sounds to the table, too, though – and not just in the form of those Celtic sounds. You might hear such bands as Yes, Genesis and Gentle Giant in the mix here. The end result is all woven into a musical tapestry that is uniquely Iona, though. I’d have to say that this particular outing is among their best, doing a great job of merging their more ornate sounds with harder rocking ones. It would be a great first acquisition for anyone looking to explore the musical universe that is Iona.
Children of Time
Here percussion leads off, but Hogg quickly joins along with lush textural elements. The cut builds in pretty patterns from there, rising ever so slowly. The full and prominent drums are an interesting touch. As the band work this one upward it feels a bit like Renaissance to me. Eventually they fire out into a Celtic prog excursion that’s quite strong. This one moves through a number of reworkings, but the central concept remains essentially the same. They do drop it way back later, though to a very atmospheric movement that reminds me quite a bit of Yes. From there they rise with a decidedly Celtic bent to the sound.
Strength
Starting off with voice and musical textures as the balladic (albeit bouncy balladic) structure enters it has a Celtic edge to it. This one is gentle and pretty here. They work it up into a more full incarnation of this theme to move onward. This turns into a more rocking arrangement later, but still the overall musical progressions and the like remain relatively unchanged. This is a really potent piece and one of my favorites on a disc that is full of strong material.
Wind Off The Lake
Very sedate tones begin this one. At over eleven minutes it’s the longest cut on show here. They move it onward very gradually until a whispered voice heralds the transformation into one the harder rocking pieces on the disc. Celtic sounds swirl over the top of the hard-edged prog backdrop for quite some time. This arrangement intensifies and gets quite lush. Then it shifts downward towards mellower tones, but still the Celtic instrumentation continues its steady showcase. Another burst of harder rock ensues. This crescendos about three and a half minutes in, then they go back into atmosphere. Vocals that feel like Gregorian chant take it for a short time until the group explode out into a more standard progressive rock journey for a while. Then it drops to a percussion based arrangement that feels a little tribal for the first “real” vocals of the song. After this works for a time they soar back out with more guitar-based prog – that instrument weaving lines of melody all over. They drop back to the segment that came before and then move it out into more Celtic textures again. After moving through like this for a while the cut turns into a new Celtic rock dominated segment. This turns quite dramatic as it carries forward. I hear some Tempest in the mix on this, but with a more symphonic prog sort of approach. As the Celtic tones move away Dave Bainbridge weaves some more tasty guitar lines over the main song structure. Then all hands seem to merge in a more lush take on these themes. This crescendos about eight and a half minutes and atmospheric tones take over from there. They once again begin to build upwards ever so gradually with Hogg’s voice coming up ever so slightly in the mix. As this carries on hear beautiful non-lyrical singing keeps working further upward in the mix with multiple layers over each other. While this does get more developed it never rises again beyond the sedate level, but instead takes the song out to its conclusion.
Factory of Magnificent Souls
This comes in with a folky Celtic mode that is quite strong and a nice change of pace. Shades of Renaissance show up on this one, too. They work this track up organically and it becomes more powerful, but never wanders far from its roots here. They drop it back later to a stripped down version of its themes and then eventually rise up into more traditional prog (still with those Celtic elements). This instrumental segment gives way once more to the main compositional elements of the piece.
Skymaps
Very pretty, but mellow, tones begin this one. Various elements play around in this format for a while until a quick burst of power moves it into its next segment. A more standard progressive rock theme with a great stuttered percussive line takes it and Celtic music plays in the air of this soundscape. I hear elements of early Genesis in the arrangement here, but tempered with those Celtic sounds. Dave Bainbridge throws out some extremely tasty guitar work, too. They crescendo on this and then drop it to more pretty atmosphere over which Gregorian chant styled vocals are laid. Then the unusual percussion returns with more pretty layers of sound and this time Hogg’s vocals are added to the mix. The progressive rock instrumentation returns climbing in the mix on this intriguing track. They eventually drop it back to a ballad sort of segment, but that percussion still plays here. Then it soars outward in a new prog rock excursion that is among the best of the disc. This eventually drops away leaving acoustic guitar to take over. Other sounds join in this delicate arrangement that serves as the outro.
No Fear In Love
Pretty mellow tones begin this and Hogg’s vocals come over the top of this backdrop. A world music drumming enters after a time, but otherwise the track remains unchanged. After a while, though, they intensify and fill out the arrangement, but still leave this in a ballad-like structure. They just add more emotion and power to it. At about a minute and a half, though, they power it out to a more rocking prog journey. This drops back down, but then gets even more potent in its arrangement. They work through several variations and themes on this as they move forward. It’s another strong cut, but not one of the standouts. That’s how good the album as a whole is!
Wind Water and Fire
Wind
The suite opens with textural tones that feel symphonic in nature. As other instrumentation joins the feeling of classical music is even stronger. In fact, this instrumental never rises into the rock realm, content to explore musical themes within the territory referred to as purely classical music.
Water
Coming straight out of the previous segment, this continues the musical themes of that one, but adds Hogg’s voice in angelic non-lyrical lines. Eventually some world type percussion joins in here, but the general mode is not changed. It’s not until a little past the halfway point that other instruments join and bring with them a progressive rock sound. Still the overall texture and stylings don’t change – it just intensifies.
Fire
As this segment kicks in from the previous one the band launch into the first really rocking segment of the suite. This comes in with an energized movement that feels like a cross between Yes, Genesis and other prog acts. They work through several turns and changes and Hogg’s voice once again sails the uncharted territories over the mix for a while. Then it fires out into a new iteration of the musical themes in powerful arrangements. Some of the lines of melody that are woven over this are in the territory of extreme greatness and the overall effect is stunning. I definitely hear a lot of Yes on the faster paced transitionary segment that emerges at varying points. At about three minutes in they drop to atmospheric territory again (after hinting at it once before). Then they turn the track into a new prog ballad type of approach for the first real vocals of the suite. They intensify this and work the arrangement into more powerful reincarnations of itself as it carries on. It soars out in an almost fusion-like guitar solo later. When layers of vocals come in over the main structure it becomes intensely powerful and awe-inspiring. This segment works through and eventually ends the song and suite with style. At almost seven and a half minutes this is the longest part of the suite – actually longer than the other two combined. It’s also a great way to end it by revitalizing the musical themes and introducing new ones into the mix.
Fragment of a Fiery Sun
At less than three minutes in length; this is the shortest cut on show here. Celtic sounds start this and then give way to atmospheric tones that serve as the backdrop for Hogg’s vocals. They never move this far from that format, instead focusing on creating a gentle beauty through both her singing and the musical textures they create. This actually makes a great conclusion to the disc.
You'll find concert pics of this artist in the Music Street Journal members area.
 
Return to the
Iona Artist Page
Return to the
Dave Bainbridge Artist Page
Artists Directory

Ultimate Indie Bundle Banner
 
Google

   Creative Commons License
   This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.

    © 2019 Music Street Journal                                                                           Site design and programming by Studio Fyra, Inc./Beetcafe.com