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ProgRadar  - Return to Arda review

   One of the best instrumental guitar albums that I have ever had the pleasure of listening to [...] It is simply beautiful music that is masterfully made and I urge you to find room in your life for this most spiritually rewarding release.

Voted #1 Album of 2022 on PROG Archives - Return to Arda rating 5/5

 Shortly after this review came out. Return to Arda went on to be voted #1 Prog album of the year on Prog Archives

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

Original review at
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.

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.

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

Sonic Perspectives - Return to Arda 

This album [Return to Arda] is truly something special, as was its predecessor [Not All Those Who Wander Are Lost]

Sea of Tranquility Reviews - Return to Arda 

The entire package is uplifting and inspiring [...] Top notch musicianship and wonderful production, you are in for a treat"

The Phantom Tollbooth  - Return to Arda 

Once again, Dave Brons has created a musical world for us to escape into for an hour or so.The music is sweeping, cinematic, Celt-inspired fantasy-prog that’s designed to take you to another place"

Esther's Rock Blog - Return to Arda 

'Return to Arda' is sublime and is very likely the best album of 2022."

IO Pages - Return to Arda 

I have a weakness for Celtic music, the books of Tolkien and for excellently
played music. These three elements come together extensively on this wonderful album.
Paul Rijkens IO Pages , Netherlands

PROG Magazine issue 123 

Brons has Steve Vai sized axe chops but lets the Symphonic pallete do the Tolkien (sorry!), the widdle couched in beautifully realised mystical atmospheres that LOTR movie composer Howard Shore himself would be proud of

PROG Magazine issue 122 

The British guitarist has carved out a compelling musical niche for himself that is lovingly quilted by Celtic symphonies and draws much inspiration from the works of Tolkien. Expect a picturesque instrumental steeped in epic peaks, romantic pianos and emphatic guitar solos. 

PROG Archives 5/5

Every year, there are a few surprising, out of the blue and frankly world-class prog releases from lesser-known artists or bands that really keeps the flame of discovery alight […]
This album is absurdly entertaining, with an infinite sense of fairy tale magic, propelled by commitment, power and passion. No mush, no filler, no weak filling the blanks with needless notes. As such, this masterpiece is in my top 10 of 2020 releases, without the slightest hesitation

Dutch Progressive Page DPRP : 9/10

 Not All Those Who Wander Are Lost is an album that works on every level, with stunning musicianship and melodies that I for one will never tire of hearing. Dave Brons set himself a monumental task with this album and has pulled it off in style.

Big Bang Prog Magazine (France) 

 This music thinks, breathes, weeps, and speaks to uscalling out to all who love progressive rock that is Celtic, symphonic and majestic.  

PROFIL PROG (Canada – review in French) 8.3/10

This album is epic in its braveness, kudos to Dave Brons for succeeding in bringing alive a romantic literary story that has been well worn over the years. By way of comparison this opus has turned out to be far superior to what MOSTLY AUTUMN produced in 2001. I write this as a huge fan of MOSTLY AUTUMN.

Metal Planet Music : (UK)

Not since Jeff Wayne’s legendary opus ‘The War of the Worlds’ have the twin arts of music and literature been so perfectly and wonderfully intertwined as they are in this new release from Dave Brons..

The Progressive Aspect .Net

Tackling one of the best-selling novels of all time, along with the huge popularity of the film trilogy and award winning musical score, is a bold undertaking. This said, Dave Brons has pulled it off and has produced an album which he has obviously painstakingly created, and I feel serves as a complimentary twist in the legacy of the Tolkien novel.

PROGWERELD (Dutch prog site)

Not listened to such an impressive album for a long time. Dave Brons goes for gold!.

This is an album that is to be both treasured and revisited frequently, as you let the music take you to a special peaceful place. I highly recommend this fine album to all. 
This album has a card from Dave that says ‘Adventures in music for Tolkien Fans, may it be a light to you in dark places when all other lights go out.‘ These personal touches from Dave really add value to what is an excellent package

Sea of

This is an album that is to be both treasured and revisited frequently, as you let the music take you to a special peaceful place. I highly recommend this fine album to all. 
This album has a card from Dave that says ‘Adventures in music for Tolkien Fans, may it be a light to you in dark places when all other lights go out.‘ These personal touches from Dave really add value to what is an excellent package

ROCK MUZINE (Holland) 96/100

It is not necessary to be a connoisseur of Lord of the Rings to enjoy these phenomenally constructed tracks.[…] What stands out time and time again is the great guitar playing. The balance between rock, symphony and Celtic music is perfect.

New-Prog-Releases Blog 

Tracks like The Riders Of Rohan and The Ring Bearers boast soaring instrumental flights, demonstrating Brons' virtuoso guitar playing and inventive soloing.... If I had to cite comparators, in addition to those already mentioned, I would add Iona, Mike Oldfield, Solstice and, for sheer audacity, Arjen Lucassen.

Prog Female Voices Blog

The huge ambition of this project deserves respect, especially as the result is up to par. Dave and his flamboyant guitar plunges us into the heart of an adventure that is thematically familiar but original in its approach. .

La Tierra Progresiva (Latin American Prog site)

This album is one of my favourites (...). I consider it to be one of the most memorable musical interpretations of Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien’s extraordinary literary work. .

Phantom Tollbooth (USA) : 4.5/5

Not All Those Who Wander Are Lost is a movie for your ears – but don’t forget to bring your heart and soul. This is a wonderfully produced labor of love that deserves a special place in your music library. Like in those wonderful books, you’ll get more out of Not All Those Who Wander Are Lost each time you listen.

Customer Reviews

PLEASE NOTE: Dave Brons' music is inspired by the work of J.R.R. Tolkien but is in not endorsed in any way by the Tolkien Estate