Karnataka return with a stunner. Worth the wait? You bet!
Release Date: 28th July 2023
Label: Immrama Records / Gonzo Media Group
Format: CD / LP / digital / CD & DVD
It’s been eight years since the last new Karnataka album, Secrets Of Angels appearing a mere five years on from The Gathering Light. Karnataka can’t be accused of rushing out new albums, although with the likes of Peter Gabriel and Tool setting new standards in patience-testing waits for new music, we should be thankful.
Karnataka lynchpin, Ian Jones has a new singer fronting the band too. Sertari is the latest in line to add her emotive vocals to the Karnataka legacy and without wanting to put the cart before the horse, a fine job she does too, particularly in the vocal arrangements where she builds herself into a choir of lush multi-tracked presence.
Besides the duo, a number of ‘special guests’ also make their presence felt. Troy Donockley, he of the distinctive pipes, live drummer Chris Allan and former keyboard member Gonzalo Carrera all add their class to the album while Luke Machin continues his association with all things Jones-related with another significant electric guitar contribution.
Newness aside, within lie plenty of familiar tropes – the symphonic ethereality, the Jones knack of bookending the album with the ‘biggies’ and a finger on the pulse of Celtic magic. There’s also a nod to the swirling Eastern spirit that’ been in the Karanatka DNA that goes back to Talk To Me from heir earlier days. Lyrically, the uplift of the music is matched with thoughts of new dawns rising, light within the dark, and brand new days yet that comes balanced with melancholy – the title track for instance reflects on “the price we pay for yesterday” with hope in the refrain about dancing in the rain. Thoughts of turning back time, sacrifice (as in the song…) and the fragility of existence are reflected in the artwork which displays a series of evocative sepia images accompanied by an assortment of clocks whose significance may become clear in time.
And while those biggies bookend the album – the opening optimism of All Around The World countering the epic title track, plus a grandiose and stately Forgiven mid-album – there’s a clutch of equally seductive magic in the more concise numbers. However, the goosebumps that rise and tingle at 2:02 are worth the wait as we swing from symphonic grandeur to an instrumental flurry, a short synth line and soundbite that warns of the impending fate of our planet before Luke Machin winds up for the first of a series of piping hot solo cameos. The piano opening of Forgiven soon gives way to a dramatic arrangement that hits the sort of emotive heights associated with Amy Lee’s passion in Evanescence. One that classes in the ‘big production’ stakes with choral vocal parts and perhaps the pick of the Machin solo parts where he channels the spirit of Tom Morello alongside his own feel and shredding.
Before we close out on what might rival the might of Secrets Of Angels as the ultimate Karnataka track, the handful of more compact pieces reveals a treasury of delights. Over a period of absorbing the album, The Night’s Dance has emerged as a personal favourite. A sumptuous arrangement/production again, the opening of which recalls Heart’s Alone, but one I would love to hear stripped right back and played as a more stark vocal/piano arrangement. Rick Wakeman on piano if we’re being picky a la the part around 2:30. Passionate and packed with hooks, sweet spots (“as sweet as an angel’s call“) and one of Sertari’s ambitious vocal arrangements that contemplate the journey into darkness, it passes the baton to the more straightforward rock and pumping pulse on Say Goodbye Tomorrow and Another pair of stonking Machin solos that sear and soar on this and the Don’t Forget My Name slow waltz – the latter possibly the most recognisible Karnataka track of the album that wouldn;t be out f place on The Storm or Delicate Flame…
It only leaves the title track; hitting twenty-five minutes (maybe there was a subconscious challenge to top Secrets Of Angels) Requiem For A Dream rolls in a series of waves that rage and restrain. Symphonic merges with cinematic in a series of strategically-placed crescendos. The sombre middle section, ruing the destiny of our lonely planet, gives way to an aching Machin solo, a sprightly instrumental section and an appearance from Troy before winding down into the silver lining and hope of a new beginning.
An album of magnitude and contemplation that ponders the question of who knows what the future holds, Requiem For A Dream considers the bigger picture of planet Earth and our own futures. At the same time, we can also ponder the next move for Karnataka. With Ian Jones steering the ship and at the helm of his fantasy rock band, it’s one future that looks bright.
Here’s Forgiven – with Luke Machin’s solo of the album (IMHO):