(05 March 2015) The latest waypoint in Karnataka's musical journey is the first studio album fronted by lead singer Hayley Griffiths entitled Secrets of Angels (Immrama Records (UK) KTKCD007, 2015). Chosen as one of Musical Discoveries first featured artists almost 15 years ago, Karnataka remains to this day one of the most heavily reviewed bands here.
One of Karnataka's original founders, bass player and song writer Ian Jones, is the only remaining member. The band name recalls a fishing trip he made to that region in India in the 1990s. Hayley Griffiths is the band's third -- and so far the very best -- female vocalist. Although her Riverdance, Lord of the Dance and two solo (classical crossover and Celtic) albums released in 2010 and 2011 were outstanding, Karnataka's new studio album is clearly her finest hour. She also sang Karnataka's former material on the double live album and DVD New Light - Live In Concert (2012).
Former Karnataka band members Jonathan Edwards (keys) and Ann-Marie Helder (vocals) have released two acoustic albums as Luna Rossa, and with Gavin Griffiths (drums) and Paul Davies (guitar), three progressive rock albums as Panic Room. Gavin and Ann-Marie also play with Mostly Autumn. The band's original lead vocalist Rachel Jones joined The Reasoning who -- after releasing three CDs, an EP and two DVDs with her -- announced just this week that they have called it a day. Karnataka's second lead vocalist Lisa Fury co-wrote and recorded Karnataka's The Gathering Light. She also contributed vocals to a forthcoming Chasing The Monsoon album recorded with Ian Jones and others.
Secrets of Angels is to The Gathering Light as Delicate Flame of Desire was to The Storm, that is to say, an exponential improvement in songwriting, arrangements, production and -- most notably -- vocal work that is nothing short of amazing. This project was clearly written and produced to take full advantage the band members' virtuosity as well as Hayley Griffith's extensive vocal training, broad range, and diversity of styles, as well as a keen ability to deliver layered self-harmonies while retaining the power and clarity a lead vocalist must have. With a series of UK dates planned to support this new album, Karnataka will clearly be a tour de force. We hope that a DVD will be produced on tour to make these live performances accessible to enthusiasts worldwide.
Secrets of Angels is an eight-track album that runs for an hour and is comprised of seven average length tracks and one 20-minute opus. The album was recorded at Real World Studios, Box, Wiltshire and Quadra Studios in London. A Special Edition includes a bonus DVD that features behind the scenes footage from the album recording sessions, previously unreleased live footage and image galleries. Although the front and rear cover photos are stunning, interested readers should note that these are of a model, not Hayley Griffiths. The accompanying booklet is extremely well produced with full lyrics and stunning images meant to visualize them.
Musical Discoveries editors were the first team to be granted access to the album for review just one week ago and since that time we have listened to it exclusively. Secrets of Angels progresses through four distinct chapters before the title track. With musical themes that harken to its title, "Road to Cairo" picks up right where The Gathering Light left off stylistically, with a slight shift within the progressive rock realm only to adjust to Hayley's vocal style. The Karnataka sound that has been developed over the band's first dozen years shines through. Listen for Ian Jones' bass parts, with allusions here to Chris Squire (Yes) and Jon Camp (Renaissance). It continues through the majority of the album.
"Because of You," "Poison Ivy," and "Forbidden Dreams" form the album's second stage. In this more significant shift, the band's sound alludes to northern continental European rock bands like Epica, Nightwish and Within Temptation. Listen to the intensity of the sound develop through the first, become extremely memorable in the second and then build further in the third. Guitar work is superb, lush symphonic keys add power and depth while bass and drum drive the music on. Hayley's lead vocals are tremendous, operatic in spots, and vocal layers are just amazing.
The accessible and uptempo rock song "Borderline" opens the album's third chapter. Solo lead vocal work in the verses is complemented by lush harmonies in the choruses. Fantastically performed guitar and keyboard instrumental solo parts further extend the song likely in anticipation of outstanding stage work in forthcoming live performances. Pay particular attention to Hayley's light and brief vocal interlude before the final choruses. The more downtempo "Fairytale Lies" begins where the vocal interlude mentioned above leaves off but develops with rich instrumental arrangements, vast guitar excursions and lush harmonies.
The final chapter of the album includes "Feels Like Home." The song is a West End-styled torch ballad likely not possible with the band's former vocalists, but clearly a track within Hayley Griffiths' repertoire. It's important to listen for the harp in the introduction and the modestly powerful instrumentals that support the song's conclusion. The table has now been set for the opus self-titled track.
"Secrets of Angels" opening passage returns to the band's sound on The Storm. Initially Celtic-styled instrumentally and vocally, the sound develops into a more robust arrangement drawing on themes from the album's first chapter. Three subsequent passages continue in this way passing through the remaining three chapters of the album, each with a Celtic-styled portion that builds in that chapter's style. And it works so perfectly. Listen for Troy Donockley's (ex-Iona, Nightwish, many others) whistle and Uilleann pipe contributions and the lovely Celtic harp. Hayley's Celtic-styled vocals of course draw on her previous work but fit perfectly in those sections. Similarly, her lush harmonies and powerful lead in the opposing sections further illustrates her work in this album's earlier chapter. We loved the choruses and can't get enough of them. This epic has the potential of an equally great stage number, although some of the instrumentals will likely be amended to adjust for Donockley's absence.
As the band's first studio album since 2011, Secrets of Angels clearly demonstrates significant development of Karnataka's sound. The album is available as a CD, a special edition with DVD, 2xLP and in a variety of digital formats including FLAC. Samples are presently available at the band's website and FaceBook. The stunning Secrets of Angels album is clearly a contender for 2015 BOTY. Bravo!