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The Circling Hour

  • reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2006 1 Oct
The Circling Hour
Sounds like … the progressive pop/rock of Genesis or Yes with a decidedly Celtic flavor reminiscent of Clannad or Enya.At a glance … assuming you have the patience for progressive rock and a passion for Celtic music, The Circling Hour is another triumph from the supremely talented Iona.Track Listing Empyrean Dawn
Children of Time
Wind Off the Lake
Factory of Magnificent Souls
Sky Maps
No Fear in Love
Wind, Water & Fire – Wind
Wind, Water & Fire – Water
Wind, Water & Fire – Fire
Fragment of a Fiery Sun

Considering they debuted nearly twenty years ago, that it's been five years since Open Sky, and that they're no longer with Forefront Records, it's understandable why it would seem Iona had called it quits. Nothing could be further from the truth. Though they no longer have American distribution at this time, the band independently released their Live in London DVD in 2005, and some of the individual members have released projects of their own in recent years. On average, it seems to take Iona three to five years between studio projects, making their sixth right on time—and as usual, worth the wait.

At just a casual listen, The Circling Hour comes across similar to every Iona album before—Celtic pop fused with ambient progressive rock, like Clannad meets Genesis. Devote your full attention to it, however, and the album is nonetheless breathtaking, offering a marvelous display of musicianship highlighted by Joanne Hogg's ethereal vocals, Dave Bainbridge's magical guitar solos, and a rhythm section that operates like precision clockwork. In addition to the familiar pipes and whistles of the genre, it's nice to hear some choral effects and organ put to dramatic use (the superb 11-minute instrumental "Wind Off the Lake"), and it all comes together for the frenzied climax of the "Wind, Water & Fire" suite.

One might also mistake the lyrical focus on nature as new age, but Iona remains devoted to the liturgy and traditions of their Christian Celtic heritage. The evocative hymn "How Wonderful This World" is used to bookend the album, while "Children of Time" draws on an old poem for its imagining of heaven, and "Factory of Magnificent Souls" beautifully finds love and redemption amid the pain and misery from a mission trip.

Though Iona may not be the most accessible, radio-friendly band around, it's a shame their music doesn't receive the attention it deserves in America. The Circling Hour comes highly recommended to those with the patience for progressive and the passion for Celtic. Few sound like this band and do it better.

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