While players like Brons make albums like this, music is in safe hands. Beauty, skill and feeling flow here like water down a cataract. Many major artists never got close to this level on their solo projects.
Time: 14 tracks / 67:23
“In the beginning, The One made a melody, bidding his heavenly hosts to create a great music. Out of the music, a vision of globed light was formed in the void.”
These softly-spoken, Genesis-inspired words begin this epic feast of almost entirely instrumental music, based on Lord of the Rings and letting its spirituality run wild. Brons hopes that the listener will find it “an immersive piece of music that will transport you” as reading the books has transported him. He has certainly done his part.
This project, three years in the making, also displays the hand of Iona helmsman Dave Bainbridge, who mixed the album and played additional instruments. So unsurprisingly many of the brief vocal introductions are from his Celestial Fire partner Sally Minnear, sometimes with a Galadriel-like whisper (and colleague Frank van Essen contributes a folky viola solo in “Under the Same Sun”).
Brons reached the last sixteen in the global “Guitar Idol” contest, so his excellent guitar work rightly dominates the album.
Of the contest, he has commented, “I wasn’t even going to enter, because for me music isn’t about a competition where ‘he who plays the most notes wins’…. for me music has to transport me somewhere, or make me imagine a scene from a film.”
There is some occasional, restrained shredding (and he uses a variety of techniques in “Into the Perilous Realm,” displaying some Jeff Beck-like moments, and he even creates a discreet whinnying effect on his guitar in “The Riders of Rohan”) but he clearly prefers creating moods to flaunting his expertise.
This means that he brings great variety into the tracks. The openers both include Celtic sections and feature a 100-voice choir from Yorkshire. “Eä” is a free-flowing, rockier piece; and both the lyrical “Under the Same Sun” and the exquisite, magical, piano-led soundscape of “Awakened by Starlight” have a filmic quality about them – sensing Lord of the Rings from here is no big leap. “Prayer for the Fallen” goes further, and is almost entirely piano. Flutes are dotted throughout the tracks and Brons even gets to improvise with a colliery brass band on “The End of All things.”
The release is easy to leave on repeat, full of beauty and skin-tingling moments. Brons says that he loves the sound of Uilleann pipes and is best known for imitating them. It sounds to me like he is duetting with pipes player Catherine Ashcroft in “The Shire,” which is highly reminiscent of Iona’s electric Celtic reel tracks, like “Castlerigg.”
If the album begins in the creation story, it takes the listener on a journey through to a conclusion:
“When our fire has burned the dark, and our final song is sung,
Distant shores will call us home and we’ll be forever changed, forever changed.”
Importantly, there are strong tunes and themes throughout this immensely enjoyable release. If I had to take one collection from the last twelve months to spend the rest of my life with, this magnificent album would definitely be at the top of my shortlist. Highly recommended.