A review by Anthony Linden Jones is in the Summer Edition of Music Forum Magazine. Yet another positive review of Hymnarium.
Prog Archives, THE prog rock resource on the web, has a couple of rave reviews of Hymnarium. Read them here. There's also a review of Resonaxis' self-titled debut CD. 5 out of 5. Not bad! Read it here.
St James Church is the oldest church in the centre of the Australian city, Sydney. The church in King Street was built in 1824. The organ there was first played in 1827. In 1870 the organ was modernized and enlarged. This huge pipe organ is the trump card of the Sydney based group Resonaxis. I can’t recall another (Prog) band that uses a real pipe organ in the instrumental lineup.
Resonaxis is the brainchild of Brooke Shelley. Trained at Sydney Conservatorium of Music, she wanted to combine music from the Renaissance and the Baroque with contemporary metal, jazz and symphonic rock. She is responsible for the music and the texts on this album. She is inspired by ancient hymns, motets, psalms and chants, among others. Occasionally the band reminds me of their compatriots Dead Can Dance, but apart from that, there are few references.
Prog with a secular church organ might make many fall off their chairs. The mix of styles, the great performance and impressive production ensure that we are dealing here with a unique piece symphonic rock in the purest sense of the word. The church organ has a clear role in each number. Sometimes this is more in the background, as in the sturdy Dustward and on other numbers it takes the lead. Take the majestic Wachet Auf, where the organ comes beautifully into prominence. David Drury lets the organ rip and the church shakes on his foundations. This number must be turned up and played as loudly as possible! The combination of singing, organ and a wonderful solo riff on guitar are of rare beauty. In the uptempo Mysterium the organ sounds sometimes almost serene, and then again enormously bombastic. Great how Drury opens all registers and, with bombastic chords, gives the music a huge boost.
The voice of Brooke Shelley is unusual. Not everyone will perhaps appreciate its classical technique. In the opener Monsignor Loss the voice takes a back seat. On the other hand, when you hear how she knows how to tackle vocally for instance Chorus Angelorum, admiration is well-deserved. Her high notes in combination with the searing organ in the very proggy Deathdamp Allemande are magnificent. When she sings softly and subdued, her voice sounds beautifully fragile. The fact is that it fits this music excellently and one needs to listen to the whole thing many times to estimate its true value.
The rest of the musicians take more of a background role. Guitarist Richard Hundy plays fantastic riffs and also knows also knows his way around a solo excellently. His edgy solo in Dustward cries out for an encore. Also bassist Adam Bodkin know how to weave his bass lines expertly through the whole.
In the interview I had with singer Brooke Shelley, she mentioned how difficult this album was to mix. When you listen very attentively, you indeed hear that the guitar is not on the level of the rest, but this is hardly disturbing. The priority happily remains the organ. The unique church acoustics are fortunately preserved and the pipe organ has retained its original resonance. And how cool that sounds! A unique album that the deserves to be (frequently) listened to.
Maarten Goossensen, Progwereld, March 2013
Translated by Josie Ryan
Maarten Goossensen Interview with Brooke Shelley, March 2013
Could you introduce the band to our readers? Could you tell us about the history of the band?
At present, the band is David Drury (Organ), Matt Roberts (Drums), Richard Hundy (Guitar), Adam Bodkin (Bass) and me, Brooke Shelley (vocals).
The idea for the band came about when I was listening to David Drury improvise on the organ at St James’ Church, King Street Sydney. What he was doing needed to be experienced (I thought) by more than churchgoers on Sunday mornings – what better way to bring it out of the church and to the general public than via a rock band? David introduced me to his nephew, Matt Roberts, who is a drummer and programmer, and Matt expressed an interest in joining a group with David. I had already done some work with guitarist Michael Sheridan because we were both students in Composition at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, so it was only natural I asked him to play guitars for the group. Michael left the band in 2010 and we had to find another guitarist, which wasn’t easy. As we had already started recording Hymnarium at that stage, the engineer, Richard Hundy, was familiar with the sound and direction of the album. Little did I know he played guitar, so he offered to step in. Adam Bodkin (bass) was recommended by Matt because they play together in the Frank Zappa cover band, Petulant Frenzy.
As far as I know, you’re the only band using a pipe organ. Could you tell me something about that instrument, and how you came to use it? Was it difficult to get permission to use it?
David Drury is the reason we use pipe organ in the band. He’s such a talented musician and I wanted to work on a way to bring his talents to a wider audience. It hasn’t been difficult getting permission to use organs in Sydney because David is somewhat of an organ celebrity here. Once we explain David’s playing, it all seems to be OK!
Do you practice with the organ as a full band?
Unfortunately, no. It’s difficult – near impossible – to find a space in which we can practice that has an organ. When we practice for a gig (which we’ll be doing soon for a concert in June), we practice as a group with David playing keyboard. We have to wait until we’re set up in the space (usually a church) until we can run through everything with the organ. We all have to adapt quickly.
How did you go about recording the album “Hymnarium”? It sounds complex considering the pipe organ.
Hymnarium was recorded in stages over a long period of time. We had the opportunity to use the organ at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music so we recorded the organ part for a few tracks first. Then it was drums and bass, then more organ (which we recorded at St James’ Church, King Street, Sydney), then vocals, then guitars. The tricky bit was mixing. Richard had a difficult time balancing the organ with the other instruments since the organ takes up everything in the mix.
Coming from a religious background, I recognized some psalm-like features in your music. Do you recognize these influences? Could you tell me more about this?
It’s no wonder there are religious music influences since I sing in a church choir. I joined the choir because of the love I have for sacred medieval and renaissance music.
Brooke, I heard that you’re responsible for the musical aspect of the band. Could you tell us how you write/compose music? Could you describe your creative process?
Well, writing for the band is pure indulgence. I get to mix two of my favourite genres of music together: renaissance choral music and heavy metal/rock. The creative process can vary, but generally, it starts with either a musical idea or a philosophical concept I want to explore. Sometimes the lyrics come first, sometimes the music comes first; sometimes I try to stick with a standard pop song structure, or a use Early Music structures. Though I try not to ‘think’ too much – having been a composition student, I too easily fall into old practices and ‘overwork’ the music, instead of remaining intuitive. It’s got to feel right first; not be ‘compositionally’ right.
Which bands and musicians have influenced you?
First and foremost, Europe. I’ve been listening to Europe since I was a kid (that shows my age!) and their melodic and harmonic styles – not to mention lyrics – have been my primary influences. Other bands and musicians are Nightwish, Sonata Arctica and Within Temptation. I’ve also done work with Nick Littlemore (Pnau, Empire of the Sun), and his ideas and processes have influenced me a lot as well, not to mention pushing my thinking into new areas. Then there are all the classical music influences…
Your voice has a very distinct sound. What’s your background as a singer? Have you had any form of training?
Yes, I’ve had formal training – not in any particular style, just in learning to use my voice properly and naturally. It’s a limited voice and only really suited to choral and ensemble work, which is why it’s distinctive and not your usual rock band voice.
Could you tell us about the lyrics on this album?
The lyrics broadly deal with death and depression. Even though that sounds dark and, well, depressive, the lyrics explore them in a positive way. The deaths of two people close to me occurred whilst I was writing the album, and the lyrics gave me a way to make sense of their deaths, and death in general – in a positive and uplifting way. The album might sound dark, but it’s actually uplifting and hopeful.
Of which song are you the proudest, and why?
Well, that changes all the time! At the moment, it’s a tie between Hymn 2 and Dustward. I like Hymn 2’s expansive chorus and the organ work, and I love Dustward’s guitar solo (thanks Richard!).
Are you going to remain a trio, or are you going to make Richard Hundy and Adam Bodkin permanent additions to the band?
I’d love Richard and Adam to be permanent members. It’s up to them, really. Not only are they extremely talented, but they’re really good people and they have a whacky sense of humour, which is important.
Do you do lots of gigs?
As Resonaxis, no. We don’t do many gigs. The main reason for this is because we’re all so busy with our own lives. But, given the opportunity, we would love to perform and record more.
Last year I interviewed fellow Australian Ben Craven. He told me there’s hardly any support for symphonic rock in Australia. Does that ring true for you as well?
That doesn’t surprise me at all. To me, Symphonic Rock has elements that hark back to European music, which isn’t in Australia’s ‘musical bones’ – there just isn’t that sort of history here.
What are your plans and ambitions for the future?
We’d love to perform in Europe and let David loose on some of the grand organs over there. Our primary ambition is the same as any band’s: to continue making music we love and share it with as many people who’ll listen.
In iO Pages 82 I wrote with great admiration about the first album of the Australian band Resonaxis. Four years later, fortunately their second CD is released. I was wondering if they would be able to surpass the quality of their debut. Well, they did!. It was certainly worth the wait. Resonaxis creates Gothic rock but of a kind that it is difficult to compare with other bands in the genre and that is good. Central in their sound is the beautiful medieval-sounding voice of singer Brooke Shelley and the pipe organ of David Drury, a respected church organist. The peculiarity of the group is that guitarist Richard Hundy sometimes produces a metal-like sound but the way the guitar is mixed in the music -namely not particularly on the foreground, which is normally quite standard in Gothic metal-, is very special. All compositions Hymnarium are of great class. Monsignor Loss opens the CD with a beautiful chord of Drury, after which the band falls in. The central theme of this track is truly outstanding. Beautiful classical guitar sounds introduce Hymn 8 where Shelley and Drury sing together in a medieval way. The organ again plays a major role in Wachet Auf. In my opinion, one of the highlights of the CD is Deathdamp Allemande that has a great chorus. But also the fantastic lingering Hymn 2 comes close. Drury plays a wonderful solo here. Also Dust Ward is again a great song: Shelley's voice has traces of that of the famous German singer Sigrid Hausen who plays in bands like Estampie, Qntal and Andaluz Project. Hundy can be heard here in an excellent electric guitar solo. In the last piece Akasha we hear his guitar effects over which Shelley sings. This creates a fantastic atmosphere. Compared to their first CD, Hymnarium brings Resonaxis forward and that is a good thing. Thus, the organ can now be heard in each song on the album. I love that sound. Hopefully, we can ever see them play a live show in the Netherlands. This must be done in a church or big hall though, because they need a place that has a pipe organ, unless Cultuurpodium De Boerderij are going to build an organ...
©2012, Paul Rijkens, Dutch progressive rock magazine iO Pages
(ZENITH WA RECORDS ZWR004)
In issue #77 of iO Pages I expressed my admiration for the single Videntes Stellam Magi of the Australian band Resonaxis. That was an impressive piece of music in which the strange combination of a rock group and a church organ could be heard. I was looking forward to a full CD for a while and now it is here. Resonaxis consists of Brooke Shelley (vocals and keyboards), Michael Sheridan (guitars and bass),Matt Roberts (drums) and David Drury (church organ and vocals). Live they are accompanied by Steve Elphick (doube bass) and Julie Kim (bass). Resonaxis creates Gothic rock but is has nothing to do with the more hard edged bands we know from that genre. Though the first track Pilgrim opens with a firm guitarsound by Sheridan but that is all because for the rest this is a very varying track. The Australians put much more atmosphere in their compositions than other Gothic bands do. Central is the beautiful voice of Shelley. Especially whenacoustic strings are added, like in Salve Regina and Travelling Gifts, thisgives a magnificent effect. Sometimes the mix between the vocals and the effective instrumentation (Indigo) reminds me slightly of the Norwegian band Bel Canto. Ascension is a special composition. It begins with a repetitive electric guitar in which after which Drury (with a somewhat Medieval sound) en Shelley sing a duet. The middle piece is a bit experimental. This is very intriguing, impressive and typical prog. Drury play church organ in the wonderful symphonic His Dance in which he sounds “big” at the end. The same instrument can be heard in Life Contract that moves from a ballad into a great symphopiece. And I haven’t mentioned the highlights of the CD yet. In Psalm Shelley may show her vocal talents more than once, together witch piano andelectronic strings. Sleep opens with a raw Hammondsound after which a greatchorus follows. How beautiful! The CD is ended with the albumversion of Videntes Stellam Magi. This had become a fantastic CD, one that meets my expectations fully. This is one of those unique albums we have to cherish.
©2008 Paul Rijkens, Dutch progressive rockmagazine iO Pages.
The Sydney Morning Herald
"THE CHILLOUT MUSIC THEY LISTEN TO IN HEAVEN"
October 11, 2006
WHEN it comes to establishing themselves on the Sydney music scene, Resonaxis are pulling out all the stops. Rather literally, in fact. The band's principal instrument is the pipe organ, so when they take to the stage for their first public performance tomorrow it will be at St James' Church in King Street.The performance, six years in the making, will be a rare chance to hear an electro-acoustic band backed by a church organ.The quartet's lead singer, Brooke Shelley, 31, says: "We wanted to do something with early music and make it far more popular. I thought, maybe if I can take bits and pieces from old stuff and mix it with some popular music people would listen."In one of the songs we've taken the original score from an early piece, another uses Gregorian chants … most of our songs are inspired by early music."Shelley, whose haunting vocals are set against Resonaxis's chillout-rock melodies, is nervous. She has been having nightmares that an electrical storm will knock out the power and disrupt the gig."I'm worried that after all this time - we've been on and off for about six years - something is going to go wrong. But I have to be positive," she says."It has been [happening] far too slowly for my liking, I have been funding everything myself. If we had the money we would have done it in two weeks."I am really putting my neck on the line, but it's something I need to do. Otherwise I'll end up old and bitter with a chip on my shoulder, and I don't want that to happen - no way. I've seen people like that."The other members of Resonaxis are guitarist, Michael Sheridan, drumming programmer, Matt Roberts, and David Drury, one of the country's finest organists and a regular performer with the Sydney Symphony."It's a really interesting group in terms of experience and interest," Drury says. "You can't really pigeonhole it, that's the exciting part."And what of the band's plans? "That's up to Brooke," he says. "She has got a great depth of knowledge of music and her imagination is not limited by a lack of skill, which a lot of musicians have trouble with. She can bring to fruition the ideas in her head."Shelley says: "I'm starting to find my own voice in the music, I want what every other band wants I guess, for people to get something new out of our music, for us to give them something different and something they have never heard before."And the first items on her shopping list when she becomes rich and famous? "A Bulgari white gold and blue topaz ring … and I want to go to Milan to get a beautiful leather jacket." She is halfway there.