Tag Archives: The Bardic Depths

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

cover

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

Spirit of Cecilia Progcast 3

A special (MEGA!) progcast, featuring Tad Wert, Kevin McCormick, Dave Bandana, and Brad Birzer. Nearly 3 1/2 hours long, we play Tin Spirits, SAND, NAO, Oak, Nosound, No-man, Memories of Machines, Sanguine Hum, The Tangent, Big Big Train, The Flower Kings, and The Bardic Depths. All of the music was chosen to impress Kevin, and we find out his reactions to it all. Additional bonus feature: Dave talks a lot about the making of the most recent The Bardic Depths album, Promises of Hope.

Spirit of Cecilia Radio Progcast 1

This is the first of our Spirit of Cecilia Radio Progcasts, episode one–featuring music by Big Big Train, The Flower Kings, Galahad, IZZ, The Bardic Depths, Kevin McCormick, NAO, No-man, Wobbler, and The Tangent. All songs used by kind permission of the artists/labels.

And, with the fiery and enthusiastic commentary of Dave Bandana, Brad Birzer, and Tad Wert.

Among our topics: how much we miss David Longdon (RIP); if the Flower Kings are diverse in their musical offerings; if disco can be prog; just what the number 42 is about; if The Tangent simply rocks; what kinds of instruments Wobbler uses; how McCormick, NAO, and No-man owe something to Mark Hollis of Talk Talk; and just how much we love prog.

Enjoy!

The Best Albums of 2020

The first two months of 2020 seem like a decade ago. It was certainly a different world than the one we live in now. As I look over my listening habits during 2020, it is clear that all of the chaos of the year had me seeking somewhat calmer music than I normally listen to. That said, there was an abundance of excellent music to choose from. Artists who were prevented from touring channeled their energy into recording new albums, and we are the beneficiaries of that.

Number 11: Katatonia’s City Burials

Katatonia improved on 2017’s amazing Fall of Hearts with City of Burials. Jonas Renkse’s vocals are some of the finest in rock, and the rest of the band are worthy accompanists. While there are still some crunchingly hard tracks, the standout ones – like “Lacquer” – are full of stillness and hushed tones.

Number 10: Lunatic Soul’s Through Shaded Woods

There are all kinds of primal rhythms and timeless melodies happening here, and the result is Mariusz Duda’s finest release as Lunatic Soul . You can read more of our thoughts on it here

Number 9: Kevin Keller’s The Front Porch Of Heaven

Keller is one of the finest composers of classical music today. This song cycle was composed and recorded after he underwent open heart surgery. It is an extraordinary work that is life-affirming and encouraging. It is rare for instrumental pieces to communicate such feeling and reassurance.

Number 8: The Bardic Depths

Spirit of Cecilia’s own Brad Birzer and Dave Bandana joined forces for this tribute to J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Owen Barfield. The music runs the gamut from elegant spaciness to funky prog. It is a blast to listen to, and I hope Robin Armstrong’s Gravity Dream label plans to release more from them. You can read my full review here.

Number 7: Pineapple Thief’s Versions of the Truth

Bruce Soord has really come into his own with the past few PT albums. Having drummer Gavin Harrison on board has injected a huge dose of energy into their music, making Versions of the Truth their best album ever.

Number 6: Loma’s Don’t Shy Away

The most interesting sounding album in this list. Loma is an American trio who take loose jams and breathy vocals to create an utterly beautiful sound that is compulsively listenable.

Number 5: Glass Hammer’s Dreaming City

Has Glass Hammer ever released a mediocre album? Not that I’m aware of, and I have 29 in my music collection. Dreaming City is one of the hardest-edged albums of their career, conjuring up memories of classic Rush, but maintaining that unique Glass Hammer sound. You can read my full review here.

Number 4: Gazpacho’s Fireworker

A new direction for Gazpacho, as they incorporate choirs and orchestra into their sound. The “Fireworker” of the title is the primal presence in every human that we have to control if we are to be civilized. You can read more of our thoughts on this album here.

Number 3: Kyros’ Celexa Dreams

What do you get when you mash up the best of ’80s pop/rock with a contemporary prog sensibility? This fantastic album that has logged dozens of listens on my stereo. I can’t say enough good things about it, and I hope Kyros doesn’t take another four years to record a followup.

Number 2: Sanguine Hum’s A Trace of Memory

Recorded during UK’s lockdown, this sounds like all the members of Sanguine Hum were in telepathic communication instead of Zoom. A tremendously satisfying set of songs that reward repeated listens. You can read more of our thoughts on this album here.

Number 1: Days Between Stations’ Giants

In my earlier review, I suggested this might be the album of the year, and you know what? I was right! Billy Sherwood, Colin Moulding, and Durga McBroom all join forces with Oscar Fuentes Bills (keyboards) and Sepand Samzadeh (guitar) to create a wonderfully fun and thoughtful work that is comparable to the best albums of the, well, giants of prog rock. This album is destined to be a classic that will be cited years from now.

So, those are my ten favorite albums of 2020. Honorable mentions go to Lonely Robot, Kansas, Pain Of Salvation, and Neal Morse. Meanwhile, I hope you have a Merry Christmas and a wonderful New Year.

Update: Mr. Bandana of Bardic Depths pointed out that I listed eleven albums (two number 7’s), so I’ve corrected that mistake. In my defense, I blame 2020.