...Edge of the World has moments of great power, often propelling everything toward an explosive moment that may or may not suddenly turn into a worshipful interlude.
Edge of the World – Live in Europe
Open Sky Records
Disc 1 – 10 tracks / 67:45
Disc 2 – 10 tracks / 70:33
What you have here is the next best thing to being at an Iona concert: more than two hours of beautifully-recorded music pulled from performances at a handful of European venues from Liverpool to Leeds. The band reaches all the way back to their first recording and treats us to songs from various phases of their career, right up to a generous helping of songs from 2011's brilliant Another Realm project.
It's hard to imagine that it's just five people – Joanne Hogg (vocals, keyboard, acoustic guitar, shaker, tambourine), Dave Bainbridge (electric guitar, bouzouki, keyboards, shaker), Frank Van Essen (drums, percussion, violin, backing vocals), Martin Nolan (Uilleann pipes, low whistle, tin whistle), and Phil Barker (bass guitar, electric double bass, darbukka) – creating the huge sound of Iona, a sound that's as driving as it is worshipful, as majestic as it is visceral and earthy. To describe what this band does is to stretch the boundaries of musical genres but it might be best described as Celtic/prog/worship/fusion – and, of course, that description falls far short.
Starting off innocently enough with "Irish Day," the intensity begins to increase as the band journeys through the early tracks and gets into the title track of Another Realm, where Hogg's vocals break into a more passionate mode and the band breaks into a fiery instrumental section towards the end of the piece. The instrumental, "Jiggs," follows with a hot intro featuring the articulate bass lines of Phil Barker paired up with Van Essen's thunderous drum work. Tandem guitar and pipes by Bainbridge and Nolan propel the song to its end, leaving the listener in appreciative awe.
If there's one song that sums up Iona (for me, at least), it's the next one on the album - "White Horse." This is the one that's worth the price of admission. In a music industry that tosses the term 'Praise and Worship' around pretty liberally, this song stands out as a prime example of how a song can break free from the shackles of style and genre, to transcend definitions and show that a true worship experience can't be contained in a stylistic box. "White Horse" has moments of great power, with Van Essen's drums becoming the thunder of celestial hoof-beats, Bainbridge's guitar soaring through a wash of atmospheric keyboard, and Barker's bass coming up from the depths, pushing it all forward. In the midst of all of this, Iona drops moments of almost-sacred silence, making a path for Hogg's crystalline tones: "see His glory...." rings out through the fury. The song explodes with powerful playing and turns a corner after the six-minute mark with more of Iona's signature guitar and pipe work backed by massive Gothic cathedral-like organ chords. Eight minutes into the powerful song is another triumphant "see His glory," and, if you can't see it, you certainly might be able to hear it in this song.
Still, there's so much more: Van Essen's stunning violin on "Luke – The Calf," and "Ruach." the triumphant feel of "The Ancient Wells," the Celtic fusion of "And the Angels Dance," are just a few high points. Still lingering in my ears is the "It's All Too Much" guitar tone and the all-out celebration of "An Atmosphere of Miracles Part 3," where Hogg's frequent bursts of laughter convey the atmosphere of pure joy and celebration that Iona is able to produce in their live performances.
If you can get to see them, by all means do it! Meanwhile, treat yourself to Iona – Edge of the World – Live in Europe. Then try to figure out if you can put praise and worship in a box.
- Bert Saraco