top of page

Dave Brons - Return to Arda. New album out now..

Updated: Jan 12, 2023

PROG Archives - Return to Arda rating 5/5

Perhaps album of the year (and a very good year it has been up to date)

Being a big fan of Celtic prog rock and the legendary band Iona in particular, and deeply admiring guitarist Dave Bainbridge's solo work, I latched onto Dave Brons, a second guitarist with Bainbridge's Celestial Fire project. His second album released in 2020 "Not All Those Who Wander Are Lost" was an absolute stroke of genius that literally blew me sideways in its unrepentant beauty and virtuoso playing. That album remains among the top five for that year!

He is back with another epic, best described in the introduction in the booklet for the imminently released "Return to Arda": "The musical journey you are about to embark on will take you across the Western Sea of Middle earth to the woods of Lothlorien, climbing the heights of the Misty Mountains, and finally ascending to the sky on the wings of Eagles to gaze down on the beautiful world below". After almost three years of forced isolation for a humanity that is above all social creatures, surely was a tragedy for some but artistically pain and suffering is often the inspiration for many to look at hope and survival as an outlet for their muse. From Portuguese Fado, to Hungarian gypsy music, to Umm Kulthum, Irish/Scottish folk music and may other traditional music forms, sadness was always intertwined with salvation. Within silence one can find sounds unimaginably creative. The album is divided into three parts: Sea, Soil and Sky. Arda was a Celtic word for Earth. Another most appropriate quote from Dave: "Unable to leave our houses, or meet up in person, we felt disconnected from the beautiful wild places and people that have become so important to our mental wellbeing here in the Shire. Perhaps that is why this music is do full of longing for those things". Footnote: rarely have I come across a booklet that not only provides context, lyrics and explanations but also has the courtesy of offering a Listeners Guide. The meticulous package is only surpassed by the incredible music within the grooves. Hence, listening to the fascinating sounds while reading the libretto is really the optimum choice for any fan out there wishing to go on an incredibly moving journey. Dave and his numerous guests will be your guide.

Song of the Sea

Part 1 the Sea: The celestial choirs beckoning the lost wanderers to find some solace, as "the Song of the Sea" offers Sally Minnear's soaring voice, like a raft on the vastness of the ocean, the ebb and flow of power and grace, the majestic piece effortlessly sets the mood of what is to follow. Dave Fitzgerald's sinuous sax adds a sensuous undertow to the proceedings The crushingly ravishing melody of "When Snow Thaws" would melt the proverbial iceberg floating ominously off the coast, Dave's sizzling guitar rivulets toy coyly with Frank van Essen's spiraling strings, mandolins and acoustic guitars (seconded by Daniel Day) suggestively softening the atmosphere into an immaculate finale, where the river finally meets the sea. Upon the first strains of "Beyond Where the Waves Break", any sane music lover out there will need to kneel in abject wonder at the overpowering melody being played, Dave showing an almost painful restraint that is quite unfathomable, all feeling, all emotion, with occasional scorching electric bursts that would make Oldfield or Holdsworth shudder in admiration if not adulation. John Biglands' timpani and cymbals add a suave thunder, as the guitar deflects off the whitecaps.

When the Snow Thaws

Part 2: Soil: Upon reaching terra firma, an uplifting sense of arrival and hope is clearly displayed, as the arrangements are now more grounded (excuse the pun), rooted in a more conventional progressive folk format, the drums more assertive and binary, the whirling and circuitous guitars in agreement with the pipes played by Catherine Ashcroft as Sally sings of liberation, looking towards the horizon in a sense of discovery. "The Call of the Mountain" really touches home on a personal level, as the exhilaration one can feel, standing atop a snow crested elevation (in the summer) is unparalleled. I have in fact, a picture from 2003 whereby I am on the peak of a Swiss alp taking a picture of an airplane flying BELOW me, as I shiveringly click the shutter. This piece conveys the irresistible power of nature's monuments, as one can actually, hear mountains sing. "Beren & Luthien" is from the Lord of the Rings, a prog stalwart subject that never gets boring. Therefore, it should not be unexpected to identify the arrangement as a flawless soundtrack for the timeless tale of choosing love over immortality. Throw in the whistles, the strings and combined with the thrilling guitars, bass, and drumming. More Tolkien inspiration on the uber-Celtic "Joy Beyond the Walls of the Word", where the exuberance of the whirling sounds is tinged with both profound melancholia and thoughtful promise. The resonating echo of a twinkling solo piano, played by the illustrious Dave Bainbridge, reverberates through the densely wooded trees and lush thick landscape, creating an ethereal sensation. A highlight moment. The final Sky chapter is "The Tears of Nienna", where the storm provokes torrents of sweet drops from the heavens above, a surreal and scintillating command in its simplicity, thus nourishing, cleansing, and invigorating the routine with pensive sound. Sally's forlorn and pensive vocals adding mystery and imagination, as the blessed tranquility yields gracefully.

Part 3 Sky: Composed on the mandolin, "On Eagles Wings" evokes both majestic strength and courageous resolution, as Dave's serpentine guitar performs in the Lydian mode (a major scale with the fourth note raised by a semitone) to soaring, gliding, diving, and fluttering with uncanny virtuosity. Showcasing vigorous wonder, and magical prowess. Daniel Day gets to shine of "Yayanna's Song", a gently breezy affair that inspires serenity and peace. Its companion piece "Beauty and Starlight" is exactly that: elegant and dazzling, like the Milky Way on a clear and unobscured night. The persuasive positivity is articulate and heartfelt as it is led by Sally's cheerful vocalizations. Dave rips into a sinewy and shimmering guitar solo that defies gravity as it zooms higher and higher into the knotted clouds. "Gathering in the Clouds" (what a segue!) is a complex, technically demanding arrangement which required some polyrhythmic effort from John Biglands, accompanied by some gusty bass work from Daniel, in order to finalize the evolution of the melody as well as creating the foundational platform needed to improvise a wicked solo on the electric guitar, which should seal the deal once and for all. Here is the proof of the impeccable attention to melody, harmony, composition, emotional discharge, and instrumental competence, as it is displayed by all participants. Sally's celestial whisper only adds to the effervescence.

Simply put in simple terms: a masterpiece. What better than Uilleann pipes to finish off this epic journey, a lavish work of scintillating music as Last Journey Across the Sea" reminds us that we are emotional creatures who somehow, somewhere, always seek to find our way back home.

Perhaps album of the year (and a very good year it has been up to date).

Review by T Szirmay

Original review at



bottom of page