Album review: KARNATAKA – Secrets Of Angels

KARNATAKA - Secrets Of Angels

Immrama [Release date 30.03.15]

To be blunt, the first impressions of Secrets Of Angels – played live at Bury Met in February – weren’t great.  The band blamed the venue and the lack of an adequate sound check, but as they’d  recorded the 2013 New Light in concert DVD there, the excuses sounded, frankly, questionable.  And if I’m honest, none of the band looked like they were having a good time.

And while ‘first night’ gremlins/nerves might be understandable, the ‘real thing’ suffers a similar lack of ‘presence’, or identity.  Perhaps no surprise, perhaps because since day 1, Karnataka has been a constant revolving door of players and only guitarist Enrico Pinna remains from the band that recorded the excellent The Gathering Light (2010), along with mainstay Ian Jones.

Five years is a long time in the evolution of Karnataka and they’ve seen almost as many personnel changes in the interim.  You wonder what attracted Hayley Griffiths – previously a lead singer with Michael Flatley’s Riverdance and Lord Of The Dance productions – to join such a fragile eco-system.

Certainly no blame can be laid at her door.  Her ‘West End’ training was evident in live performance where she was the only one who attempted to make ‘contact’ with the audience.  Jones and keyboardist Cagri Tozluoglu engaged in a navel gazing competition (Tozluoglu won hands down) and guitarist Pinna’s only eye contact was with drummer Jimmy Pallagrosi (with whom he seemed to be having a private joke).  All-round, it was frankly uncomfortable.

Secret Angels is, however, a polished set that sees Karnataka stray into the more melodic end of the Nightwish symphonic rock spectrum featuring guest musicians Troy Donockley (Uilleann pipes and low whistles), Irish harpist Seána Davey, Rachel van der Tang (cello) and Clive Howard (viola) from the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

Quite why seemingly every band in the melodic prog ‘space’ feels the need to employ the services of Donockley is a mystery.  An accomplished player, yes, but he adds nothing to the diversity of the genre and his pervading presence makes it virtually impossible at times to distinguish where Secrets Of Angels ends and Nightwish begins.

And that identity crisis extends in other directions – the excellent opening ‘Road To Cairo’ bears a striking resemblance – vocally and otherwise – to Christina Booth and Magenta.  And therein lies the rub, Secrets Of Angels is a perfectly good album – well played and executed.  But there’s no ‘killer’ material with – much like the live performance – one number running almost indistinguishably into the next.

At times, it’s like the band are firing on three cylinders and you just want them to ‘kick on’ and rock out.  But it doesn’t happen.  Big arrangements are the order of the day.  Perhaps tellingly, the highlight is ‘Feels Like Home’ a song that sounds custom made for a Lloyd Webber production.  Griffiths shines on the track and one wonders whether the marriage of her polished musical theatre background to a progressive rock band will be an enduring one.   ****

Review by Pete Whalley

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