I love seeing new labels established, and Gravity Dream Music is one of the latest. You’ll recognize owner Robin Armstrong from his band cosmograf, and he also plays on some of the albums, like this sophomore effort from The Bardic Depths. The band is back and bigger than before, releasing their Promises of Hope on June 24th.
The Bardic Depths is a four-pack of musicians, namely Dave Bandana, Gareth Cole, Tim Gehrt, and Peter Jones. You’ll probably recognize some of those names. However, it is a collective, too, in the sense that many guests are involve. First off, and sort of part of the band, too, is Brad Birzer on lyrics (with Dave), and the musician guest spot list is incredibly long, but includes Robin, of course, John William Francis, Paolo Limoli, Kevin McCormick, Mike Warren, and many more.
The band plays a retro prog rock-inspired sound with plenty of pastoral, jazz, blues, and symphonic rock elements. The debut had more in the way of electronic and ambient portions, but that is mostly gone now outside of a couple tracks. The music here, then, is pleasant, uplifting, and tasteful, and there are plenty of different flavors to sample.
I’ll come right out and say that I have both affirmations and reservations about this album. Some of them are probably pretty silly. You see, the debut felt more like a small experimental project, while this album has new and recognizable faces added to the mix. Some of them are the usual suspects, so to speak, and so I do feel like the raw, rough-around-the-edges style of the debut is lost somewhat to the din of musicians that end up making this feel like any number of other projects out there right now. In other words, it isn’t as unique as the first outing.
On the other hand, the new faces and sounds are quite good. I love the sax especially, which also appeared on the debut, but is perhaps more prominent in certain places and definitely more illustrious. I love the bassy grooves and even bits of funk I hear on individual tracks. Dave’s voice, while something of an acquired taste, sounds great through the various elements, and the lyrics are obviously well-written, if a bit more repetitive than last time. That, of course, makes this album a little catchier, though.
And so I end up with mixed feelings, liking what I hear but also missing the simpler sound of the debut. I think the closest this album comes to the sound of the original is the song “Returned”, which I really like. It has an electronic overlay to the vocals, but also a bright, sparkling beat with hints of funk playing around the edges. I really, really like listening to this song; it just feels fresh. I also like “Regal Pride”, a song that plays more as a ballad at times with its melodic focus. It feels conversational and relatable.
The album has plenty of other good tunes. I like “Consumed” for its wonderful flute and folk tendencies, and again for its groove and percussion. I like “The Burning Flame” for its ambient void vibe which allows for plenty of atmosphere and style. I like the instrumental “Colours and Shapes” for its bass driven abstractions paired with some nice, dirty sax. “The Essence” has a great sense of scale and flight, too. Overall, I think the second half is the strongest.
Promises of Hope is like something from a different band altogether, and that leaves me feeling a little torn. However, even listening to this album again as I write this review, there isn’t a bad song on the album. It is rock solid through and through, and there are many moments that I feel are fresh and immaculate. If you are a fan of prog rock with all the trappings, this could be for you.
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