Product Reviews

Product: Karnataka - Secrets of Angels
Date: 2015-05-18 

Secrets of Angels

Review by tszirmay 
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Crossover Team
5 stars Karnataka released a rather momentous album in 2010, the stunning 'The Gathering Light' that garnered rave critical and fan plaudits, and after a rather long hiatus (5 years) that saw them slightly alter once again their line-up with the departure of the sassy lead singer Lisa Fury, drummer Ian Harris and keyboardist Gonzalo Carrera, they are back with a fine effort indeed. New lead vocalist (and quite ravishing lady) Hayley Griffiths, French drummer Jimmy Pallagrosi and Turkish keyboard master Cagri Tozluoglu add to the tradition of sensational voice, booming percussion and sweeping ivories, keeping the Ian Jones-led Karnataka ship in fine form. Guitarist Enrico Pinna is also back to provide some blistering leads and never disappoints. Again, they opt for another extended epic (as with the preceding album title track 'The Gathering Light', which clocked in at 14 minutes+), the whopping 20 minute opus 'Secrets of Angels' seeks to stamp the proceedings with unmistakable prog-rock credentials.Vivid pieces like the cinematographic opener 'Road to Cairo' set the mood from the get-go, introducing unpretentious, highly melodic nuggets that have all the elements to please, solid drums pushing and egging all the others forward, the melodies that infect you the very first time you perceive them, a bit like being smitten by love at first hearing, light yet resonatingly profound. From that moment on, each track seems to flow into the next, like riveting chapters in a racy romantic novel, further intoxicating the listener into a miraculous emotion- drenched fantasyland. After returning from Egypt, a delicate piano and orchestral drama on the emotionally heavier 'Because of You', slashed by a monster axe solo awaits the longing listener. A gorgeous love song. Contrast that with the slick 'Poison Ivy', a raging and tempestuous lullaby, led by a choked Griffiths vocal and diseased love lyrics. The swirling symphonics and choir elevate this to a palpitating level, tossing in a venomous verse, just to remind all of us that humans can veer from sweet to bitter in a nano-second. Both the insistent and persistent 'Forbidden Dreams' and its companion, the stormy 'Borderline' offer up instantaneous airs that do not meander in molasses-like slosh, quite the opposite really as the bombastic melodies, mammoth choruses and penetrating verses resonate with power and emphasis.
'Fairytale Lies' is a stunning little jewel, served by a classic melody, sung by a siren-like a voice that would make you feel 'reborn from the ashes' and underpinned by a Pinna solo (hihihi, as Kati would say!), a soulful Griffiths vocal that sears the skies. On a delicious track like 'Feels Like Home', the ingenuity of simplicity comes shining through, a soulful, honest internal reflection on the myriad little mosaic tiles that form our daily routine. The massive title track is deliberately kept at the end, a majestic and grandiose finale that leaves a huge impression of contentment. Brilliantly constructed with recurring Celtic themes (under the leadership of Troy Donockley) , seasoned with delicate pipes, whistles, harps and strings, and garnished with colossal orchestrations, titanic choral effects and opera-like vocals from Hayley , owner of a spectral voice that will raise the hair on your back. It's all there, folks, a heady mixture of expert playing, buzzing bass in tow, tectonic drum blasts, shimmering guitar phrasings and overpowering keyboard colorations that will leave one breathless and content. This is easily one of the finest epic pieces that one will enjoy in 2015.
As with the entire Karnataka catalog, this is not technical wizardry or complex multi-suited symphonies that many demanding progressive fans are constantly searching for but a delightful prog-folk that serves as a meticulous stargate into the prog world for the uninitiated. Accessible yet superbly orchestrated, the feminine style is ideal to woo the gentler sex, propelled by the sultry and passionate lead vocals and founded on compact melodies that will adhere to your soul forever. If you enjoy bands like Panic Room, Mostly Autumn, Harvest and a slew of similar female vocal fronted bands, Karnataka is definitely a pioneering band in this style. Team players they remain firmly, there is never a feeling of overt show-off tendencies that may be offensive, as every note is a slave to the spellbinding melody. Every song is a highlight, a lithesome pearl shining in the emerald waters of sound, gliding over well-beaten rocks like a vivid stream searching for some outlet to the faraway sea. Their best effort yet.
5 Clandestine cherubs
2 social review comments  | PM tszirmay | Review Permalink
Posted Thursday, April 02, 2015 | Review this album | Report (Review #1392084)
Review by Nightfly
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
3 stars I hadn't bought a Karnataka album since 2003's Delicate Flame of Desire. It's Celtic infused prog folk was pleasant enough but left me a little underwhelmed. However on a recent Classic Rock magazine freebie Cd my attention was caught by the powerful Road To Cairo with its middle-eastern vibe, strong melodies and latest singer Hayley Griffiths crystal clear expressive tones.Secrets Of Angels turns out to be a pretty good album but Road To Cairo is its best song. I'd question whether much of this music can be classed as prog, symphonic pop would seem a better description for the most part and there's certainly not much trace of the folk elements anymore. It's not complex music but all very slick and well played with a lush production. When I listen to Secrets Of Angels I could imagine a lot of this music sitting comfortably in a west end musical or in the soundtrack to a Walt Disney film like Frozen or Beauty And The Beast. Partly down to Hayley Griffiths classically trained background no doubt but sometimes the music gets a bit too sweet and twee for my tastes, especially the sugary ballad Fairytale Lies.
I did say Secrets Of Angels is a pretty good album though and it certainly does have its moments. Apart from the previously mentioned opener Road To Cairo, Poison Ivy and Borderline hit with a bit more punch. We're not talking metal here of course but the guitars do cut through the symphonic wall of sound a bit more. The album closes on a high with the 20 minute title track, which is a bit more along the lines of my pre-conceived expectations. It shifts from a Celtic flavoured opening into more bombastic orchestral flavoured parts and has plenty of dynamics with more instrumental interplay than the rest of the album put together, but still giving attention to some strong vocal melodies. At last I'm hearing some prog!
Overall then Secrets Of Angels is a pleasant listen with some strong melodies but unlikely to appeal to those who prefer their prog on the more adventurous side. A few more songs like Road To Cairo could have really raised the level considerably. As it stands a worthy 3 stars.
5 stars Karnataka has been around for more than a while. As with other bands orbiting around the Celtic folk-influenced mellow prog aesthetic, this band has been doing their work at a steady pace - releasing very pleasant, if not very pretentious albums once in 3-4 years, getting the response of their small but quite loyal fan base...
... until now, I hope. I have to admit, Secrets Of Angels is a smash. Being familiar with Karnataka's music yet still having other favourites in this scene, I expected an atmospheric, mellow album with discreet folksy nuances - what we get here is much, much more than that. Of course, we still get most of Karnataka trademarks, like excellent vocals and a nice atmosphere, but boy, what an energy!
Ever since Road To Cairo kicks in, songs bombard us either with sheer energy, or in their calmer moments, with very beautiful vocal melodies that catch your breath anyway. Music is all very colourful, never succumbing to the snooze factor which hangs upon many such releases. Besides the opener, Poison Ivy, Forbidden Dreams and Fairytale Lies seem the brilliant highlights of this very strong selection of songs. They all utilise the same weaponry of killer melodies, but when things work so well, there's no need to change.
And at last, we have the title epic - this in all honesty, is one of the best new music pieces I've heard in recent years. Here's everything Karnataka is about - Celtic intro, haunting harp sequences, achingly beautiful, versatile singing melodies, brilliant performance... And it all is connected by elaborate composition skill that goes from mood to mood, dynamic to dynamic.
To put it short, this is an exceptional, near-perfect release from Karnataka. Very accessible (could even be used as toe-dipper into prog for Celtic music crowd), but very refined, flowing with creativity. 4,5 stars from me, rounded up to 5 and I think we have a very strong contender for the-best-album-of-the-year throne.

 

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