Review – The Bardic Depths – Promises of Hope – by John Wenlock-Smith

‘Promises of Hope’ is the second album from The Bardic Depths, the unusual group formed through the Big Big Train “Passengers” Forum which brought together the talents of a disparate group of individuals, united by musical interests. Their first, self-titled album told the story of the friendship between JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis and their experiences in The Great War. This new album also features CS Lewis along with Greek poet Virgil and its theme is that of suicide and redemption.

What is different this time though is that folks who were contributors last time have joined Dave Bandana and now become official members of the band, these being Peter Jones, Tim Gehrt and Gareth Cole. Once again, they are aided by historian Bradley Birzer who provides the lyrics and various other guests appear on the album (like Sally Minnear of Celestial Fire).

The subject matter might seem quite heavy and dark but the music is anything but. The story is that a Queen tries to kill herself but heaven will not allow it and offers redemption instead…

Right from the opener, And She Appeared, there is a new sense of presence in the band, Robin Armstrong’s sympathetic production certainly helps, as do the stellar performances of the whole ensemble. Some great sound effects and expansive keyboard sweeps lead into a triumphant fanfare of synths and a penny whistle before a thrusting bass line kicks in and Peter’s fabulous vocal begins, Dave Bandana joining in with the vocals as the song surges forward. This is exceptionally good stuff indeed and Gareth Cole’s is glorious too. The excellence of the opening track means the album really flies out of the gate with a great refrain of promises of hope but never victory, a truly epic song to start with.

Regal Pride follows and is a more even-paced track, although some fabulous saxophone licks and riffs pump up the tempo as the song tells of the failing of the relationship that caused her to want to commit suicide. It is very languid and almost lazy sounding, again some great classical guitar playing throughout makes a seriously good impression. Consumed opens with more classical guitar and sounds of the sea washing ashore. There’s more penny whistle from Peter Jones, that sounds uncannily akin to Men of Harlech, along with lovely violin from Olga Kent. This track is a slow burner and its folky interludes really add significantly to proceedings, It is all really impressive and a step forward from the debut album, the introduction of a core nucleus certainly helping with stabilisation of the music and allowing for more improvisation to occur naturally.

This is an album that has been carefully assembled and crafted and it shows in the strength of tracks, The Burning Flame continuing the story with some distinctive guitar lines from Gareth, in which he gets to contact his inner ‘Gilmour’, adding an epic scope to the song. The track talks about the Queen’s attempt to end it all and utterly captivating playing makes this a real highlight of the album thus far, you can intimately sense the loss of hope in this song.

Colours and Shapes follows with more moody saxophone, as an instrumental this gives free rein to the jazzy playing of Peter Jones and it is a wonderful thing to hear. When Tim Gehrt’s solid drumming kicks in, it really soars, heading off into lots of different directions until Gareth’s mighty guitar takes flight. It’s really fine track, epic even, with the cool sax segueing in to Why Are You Here?, the song opening with various voices asking ‘Why Are You Here?’, which sounds reminiscent of Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here, as it shares a similar tempo and sound. The track also has a suitably moody and epic guitar solo.

Returned has a different feel to all that has gone before, sounding like an outtake from The Power Station, with its funky stylings and use of vocoder. In this song our Queen is advised to return to love as it is her path to redemption and you can get the 80’s vibe in this track. It is another highpoint in what is rapidly becoming an ambitious and really interesting album. The Essence continues the 80’s sound with heavy drums and lots of synths burbling away. ‘The universe may feel…’ is the refrain on this track and lots more superb saxophone makes it another winner

Imagine concludes the album, opening with a majestic church organ, courtesy of Richard Krueger, that makes a grand statement of intent. This is the redemption that has been offered and received by our Queen, more marvellous keyboards in the middle section and great vocals from Dave and Peter keep the song bubbling along. The guitar part is very reminiscent of a certain Steve Hackett, Gareth showing that he certainly can play in that style. This is a fitting finale to an album that is really something incredibly special indeed.

‘Promises of Hope’ will invariably appear in various end of year listings, and rightfully so too, for it is exceptionally good and I heartily recommend it to all.

Released June 24th, 2022.

Order direct from Gravity Dream here:

The Bardic Depths – Gravity Dream Music

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