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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

The Pax Cecilia

Blessed are the Bonds

Review by Julie Knispel

The Pax Cecilia hails from Rochester New York (according to their Myspace page). There’s not a lot of great info out there about them from a quick and dirty search of the net...while I have a band member list copied from the CD tray, I have no idea who plays what. In some ways, that forces the listener to focus on the efforts of the band rather than individual instrumentalists or vocalists. It’s an interesting direction to take, and it does actually work well for the material on Blessed are the Bonds, the band’s second album.

A wide range of sonic landscapes are explored on this release, ranging from quiet, almost pastoral washes of piano and violin to full on thrash metal.  Quite often, the band shifts from one sonic palate to another within a single track; while this may be a sign of weakness or difficulty in maintaining consistency for some, it is evidence of a strong desire to follow the song wherever it develops.  This is not progressive music by numbers…one cannot say that Blessed are the Bonds sounds like Genesis or Yes or any other past giant of the genre.  Taking elements from contemporary music and adding in a dash of post rock, the Pax Cecilia has crafted a heady sonic brew that will alternately lull the listener with gentleness and then dash them against cold, uncaring shores.

I have to say I find it somewhat amazing that the Pax Cecilia is giving this music away...and beyond that, that there’s been so much care taken in packaging (the CD itself is gorgeous, with evocative artwork, surreal lyric booklet, and poster packed in). Blessed are the Bonds really is an impressive package, and the material shows a band willing to bear the slings and arrows of being labeled “pretentious” in order to follow their collective muse. The Pax Cecilia is one of the more impressive post rock/post metal/”noise” bands I have heard in some time, and Blessed are the Bonds is an album that will reward the patient listener with an amazing aural trip.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2008  Volume 1 at

Track by Track Review
The Tragedy
Mournful piano and sorrowful cello lead the listener on the beginning of the journey with the album’s first track, “The Tragedy.” This is an incredibly moody piece, relatively restrained, and with a sound that really defies easy comparison. I could say I hear elements of Radiohead and Tool, but I’m not sure either of those comparisons is a good one, or even especially valid. This track is nicely orchestrated, with live strings courtesy of The Canzonetta Trio, with layered, harmonized vocals, ornate piano, and insistent drumming that adds urgency and insistence to the mix. It elicits emotional response...the hairs on my arm raised, my eyes began to mist up, and I was as committed to listening to this as the band was in getting it down to be heard. Brilliant album opener, this...and it did a great job in assuaging any fears that I would again be the victim of hype.
The Tomb Song
The somewhat restrained mood continues on “The Tomb Song,” which again opens with lyrical, fluid piano lines. Wind noises can be heard briefly before the vocals come in, sounding eerie, distant, detached and disaffected. Long sustained vocal notes sound like mourner’s wails. Again, we have strings, doubled by slashing single guitar chords as the band builds toward the first of several mini-climaxes within the composition. The short electric guitar melodic figures are sweet, adding some texture and power to an already powerful piece. I will admit that the yelled vocals around 4:20 in don’t fully convince, and sound a little ragged, but I’m willing to accept them as necessary for the mood of the piece. The Pax Cecilia works through a number of musical phrases, building, tearing down, and building again in strange and interesting ways. The lengthy composition allows for this, yet its length does not define the song.
The Progress
“The Progress” arises from an extended burst of feedback, and all pretense of quiet and restraint is gone. This is a full on metal assault through the opening stages, amazingly intense, with strings still soaring over thrash metal chording and powerhouse drumming. Vocals are again screamed versus sung, and the screaming works better here over the intense musical backing the band has crafted. Much like previous tracks, the band is not content to stay within a single musical style, tempting stagnation. Guitars are pulled back, leaving space for drums and bass, as the vocalist begins to rant with completely unrestrained passion and emotion. I don’t need to understand what he’s saying (and it’s a little tough from time to time, to be honest)...I again respond to the unfettered emotion of what he’s doing.
The Machine
The heaviness emphasized on “The Progress” is continued on the following album track, the short and lyrically light “The Machine,” adding in more chopped, shifting rhythms and veering closer to progressive metal than post-metal or post-rock.
The Wasteland
“The Wasteland” matches in title and sound, with a sparse ambient soundscape creating the aural image of a vast and abandoned wasteland, wind noises broken up by brief piano chords and tones that could be synthesizer or processed vocals - it’s hard to say.
The Water Song
The unsettling quiet crosses over to the epic “The Water Song,” a piece that builds in intensity toward a fully metallic, explosive conclusion. The Pax Cecilia’s material is always changing, often within the space of a single song, and it is this element that makes their music so enjoyable to listen to. Each composition is a journey, taking the listener from point A to point B...but not always in a straight line. The journey is often dark and emotionally fraught; it’s not always easy listening, but it is rewarding listening.
The Tree
The band’s penchant for complexity and interesting playing is heard to good effect on the instrumental “The Tree,” built around a lyrical and melodic bass line with quiet drum accompaniment. Guitars first sound odd, almost like slightly distorted and flanged violins, but the return of strings to a prominent aural focal point counters that idea quickly. It’s an impressive instrumental, with the focus much more on developing the mood and moving the song than on showing off. In fact, much the same could be said for the material on the entire album; the composition and mood come first always. This results in a sound that is consistent even as styles shift from track to track, or within each song.
The Hymn
The album ends as it began, with the plaintive “The Hymn.” Acoustic guitars dominate, with fragile, barely heard vocals. For an album that has traversed some amazing heights of intensity and power, it may seem an odd choice to close things out so quietly. But it works. It’s appropriate. It’s right. I don’t know that a more appropriate choice could have been made, to be honest. It shows the confidence the band has in this material that they are willing to pick a less heavy piece to close out this release, feeling certain that it is the right artistic choice.
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