Tag Archives: Dave Bandana

The Bardic Depths’ “Promises of Hope” Is a Triumph

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The Bardic Depths, a musical project begun by musician Dave Bandana and lyricist Brad Birzer (who also founded this blog!) have just released their second album, Promises of Hope.

Rock artists fear succumbing to the dreaded “sophomore slump”, but Bandana et al. need have no worries on that front. Promises of Hope shows tremendous growth from their eponymous debut album, which was an all-around delight itself. (Reviewed on Spirit of Cecilia here.) There is now a stable core of musicians involved: Bandana on vocals, guitars, keyboards; Gareth Cole on guitars, Peter Jones on vocals, sax, penny whistle, and Tim Gehrt on drums.

Like their debut, Promises of Hope is a concept album, this time relating a tale of divine intervention in an attempted suicide in a fantasy realm. Sounds heavy, I know, but this is some of the most life-affirming music I’ve ever heard. The opening song, And She Appeared, is roaring rocker that is reminiscent of classic ’70s Rush. Cole’s lead guitar trades wonderful solos with Richard Krueger’s galloping organ. It’s an exhilarating way to begin an album. Lyrically, it introduces the main character, a woman who is

“Halo’d wrapped in white
Radiant wrapped in white
Innocence made real
Beauty made manifest”

However, there is something tragic in the offing, because she brings “promises of hope, but never of victory.”

Regal Pride, the next song, features lead vocals by Peter Jones, as well as his excellent saxophone flourishes. Our heroine has been betrayed by a man of mystery, and the melody is suitably somber.

Track three, Consumed, is the best of the album. It features a stunning classical guitar intro by Kevin McCormick, and soon shifts into a beautiful British-folk melody that sounds timeless. Jones’ penny whistle and Donny O”Connell’s spritely violin add Celtic atmosphere while Cole pulls off two more excellent electric guitar solos. The heroine has lost hope, and she is consumed by a fire.

Next up is The Burning Flame, which has a very spacey intro that calls to mind Wish You Were Here-era Pink Floyd. McCormick contributes another excellent guitar solo, this time on electric, while Paolo Limoli provides wonderful piano and Fender Rhodes accompaniment. Jones takes lead vocals here, and they have a definite bluesy edge. This entire track is a gorgeous, slow burn (pun intended!) of song that I wish lasted far longer than six minutes. Fortunately, it segues into the extended instrumental, Colours and Shapes, where Jones’ sax continues the spacey blues mood.

In Why Are You Here? our heroine is confronted in the afterlife:

Why are you here?
Did you not respect?
Did you not cherish it?
Could you not love life?

This is another somewhat slow song, but one that is enlivened by Limoli’s tasteful piano fills and Cole’s terrific guitar solos. 

Things pick up with Returned, where the protagonist’s suicide is rejected by her Creator:

“You must return
You will make good
Rewrite this wrong
You must Love”

These lyrics are accompanied by a triumphant melody that is bursting with energy. The album’s co-producer, Robin Armstrong really shines here, lending his talents on keyboards, vocals, bass, and lead guitar.

With our heroine given a new lease on life, The Essence explodes out of the speakers with an insistent beat and infectious melody that is truly exhilarating. 

“Reconciling hope, reconciling all.
Reconciling everything.
It is the universe made real.”

Bandana’s vocals and synths are outstanding here; they convey the pure joy of the lyrics.

The final track, Imagine, is a coda addressed to all of us and the choices we must make:

“Imagine a world in which we are judged by
Our most insufferable, our sorriest…

A horror beyond time…

Imagine a world in which we are judged by
Our best and our glory, our gift and our love…

There is a word and it needs to be heard.
It is hope. It is what you promised to me.
Rise up and see, it is our victory.”

Krueger’s church organ is appropriately employed here, because this last song is a hymn to hope. As the song unfolds, the tempo increases inexorably, and I’m reminded of the final scene in C. S. Lewis’ Narnia book, The Last Battle, where the protagonists reach paradise. As they realize where they are, they cry out, “Further up and farther in!”

Some final thoughts on this special album:

Dave Bandana has said that Robin Armstrong really pushed him to do his best, and it shows. His vocals and keyboards are terrific throughout. Peter Jones is the secret weapon of The Bardic Depths – his singing and sax work are some of the best elements in the mix. Gareth Cole’s lead guitar is AMAZING!

Promises of Hope is an outstanding album with an inspiring concept. The melodies complement the lyrics perfectly. As good as their debut was, this is even better. The core group of Bandana, Cole, Jones, and Gehrt have gelled into a formidable ensemble, and I hope they plan to tour.

Promises of Hope is on Gravity Dream Music. Here is the official lyric video for The Essence

The Bardic Depths: Truth, Goodness, and Beauty in Dark Times

The bard – singer, poet, truth teller. The one who expressed a community’s hopes, fears, and values in a form that everyone could immediately grasp and be inspired by. Every tribe needs someone who can remind them of their virtues and warn them of dangers. The prog tribe has a new bard, The Bardic Depths, comprised of Dave Bandana (music) and Brad Birzer (lyrics), with an all-star supporting cast of musicians.

Their eponymous debut album, The Bardic Depths, explores how vital true friendship is for people to survive in a fallen and dangerous world. It focuses on The Inklings, a group of 20th century British writers/philosophers/professors: J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, and Owen Barfield. They were survivors of The Great War – that cataclysmic conflict that signaled the end of liberal western civilization.

Our journey begins with the song “The Trenches” and a spoken excerpt from the memoir of a veteran (C. S. Lewis, maybe?) of The Great War. As Birzer reads the soldier’s account of the appalling conditions in the trenches, Bandana lays down a bed of ominous synthesizers. At the point where the soldier remembers the first time he heard a bullet whistle past his head, we are treated to a beautiful guitar solo by Kevin McCormick as various voices call out, “This is war!”

The ancient Greek poet Homer is the primal bard of western civilization, and Birzer’s lyrics make the connection to him explicit, as Bandana sings, “So this is what Odysseus felt/So this is what Leonidas felt…” and ending with “So, this is what Ronald [Tolkien] felt/This is what Jack [Lewis] felt/This is what Owen [Barfield] felt”.

In the second track, “Biting Coals”, we gather in a cozy pub with Tolkien, Lewis, and Barfield to “meet, smoke, and drink”, and wonder “Where is fair Albion/What has happened to the West?” This track evokes the best moments of classic Floyd, with strummed acoustic guitars, Bandana’s warm and intimate vocals, and majestic washes of synths. This is a wonderful song that never rushes the moment, allowing the listener to contemplate along with The Inklings if there is a way forward for civilized men when everything that was once certain and established is no longer.

Next up are the three central “Depths” songs: “Depths of Time”, “Depths of Imagination”, and “Depths of Soul”. “Depths of Time” is the longest track on the album at 12:35, and it is a standout. The first four and a half minutes feature a languid sax (Peter Jones, Camel/Tiger Moth Tales) gracefully soloing over some Vangelis-sounding synths. Once again, nothing is rushed – the music is allowed to develop at its own pace which increases the listener’s anticipation. That anticipation is well satisfied with the middle section, “The Flicker”, featuring a compulsively catchy and disco-y melody and beat. An edit of this section is the album’s first single, and it’s a great choice, rivaling the radio-friendly Alan Parsons Project at their ‘70s-era best.

 

“Depths of Imagination” celebrates the Inklings’ literary gifts, and how they bounced ideas off of each other to improve their art. “In brotherhood, we share and shape/In brotherhood, we hone and create.” Musically, this is a straightforward rocker, with a propulsive guitar riff and wicked synthesizer solo that captures the excitement of artists creating and collaborating.

“Depths of Soul” is a simple, almost creedal recitation of the Inklings’ faith in beauty, truth, and the excellent, and their efforts to bring them to light through their art: “There is a glass through which we see darkly/There is the spotless mirror/There is the Light/There is the reflection/Here is the shadow/But there is no nothingness/All moves with grace/Or it moves not at all.” Peter Jones returns with another excellent performance on sax, trading licks with Gareth Cole’s guitar. The melody is leavened with a little Floyd influence, especially in the final bars. Very tasty, indeed!

Which brings us to the final two tracks, “The End” and “Legacies”. “The End” chronicles the splintering of the Inklings’ brotherhood, and their recognition that human frailty is inescapable. “To the world we sang/To the world we spoke/To the world we enchanted/Yet, there is always frailty.” Bandana’s music perfectly complements the sentiments of the lyrics – he creates a hushed, delicate atmosphere through piano, cello, and flute. Of course, all good things on this earth must end, and the Inklings’ friendship was no exception. As Bandanna sings of the Inklings’ dissolution, there is palpable sadness and regret.

If The Bardic Depths closed with “The End”, it would leave the listener without any catharsis. Fortunately, we have “Legacies”, a celebration of the incredible literary legacies of Lewis and Tolkien. It’s hard to imagine a world without Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia and Space Trilogy, let alone Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Even though their fiction was set in fantasy worlds, they used them to hold up a mirror to our own world and remind countless readers of eternal truths that must never be forgotten. In the dark ages of the 20th century, Lewis, Tolkien, and Barfield nurtured the flame of Christendom. The music is appropriately joyous, featuring lush vocal harmonies worthy of Big Big Train. Gareth Cole and Robin Armstrong (Cosmograf) both contribute stellar guitar work on this standout track.

The Bardic Depths is set for release on March 20, 2020, on Robin Armstrong’s new label, Gravity Dream. Dave Bandana is the primary musician/vocalist/composer, and it features an impressive lineup of artists from the world of prog rock including the aforementioned Kevin McCormick and Peter Jones, as well as Tim Gehrt on drums (Streets/Steve Walsh), Gareth Cole on guitar (Tom Slatter/Fractal Mirror), and the marvelous Paolo Limoli on various keyboards. Mr. Armstrong himself contributes keyboards, guitars and vocals. It’s a very impressive debut, full of atmospheric musical passages and inspiring lyrics. This is an album to savor slowly and with appreciation, like a sip of single-malt scotch. And just as with a fine scotch, it has all kinds of hints and complexities that reward repeated hearings. Fans of classic Pink Floyd, Alan Parsons Project, and Cosmograf should definitely snap this one up. Even though 2020 is just getting underway, The Bardic Depths is a contender for one of the best albums of the year.

You can purchase The Bardic Depths here.