Since their inception in 1997 in Swansea, Karnataka have become a hothouse for symphonic prog talent, with Anne-Marie Helder, Bob Dalton, Jonathan Edwards and Rachel Jones all passing through their ranks. This constant rotation of personnel has resulted in some perceived loss of continuity and focus, but founder member and linchpin Ian Jones has here assembled a new line-up which promises to be stronger than any to have gone before.
While vocalist Hayley Griffiths can hardly be called ‘new’, having been with the band for over three years, Secrets Of Angels is the first recorded work to feature her contribution – and what a find she appears to be. Coming from a classical-crossover background and having had experience working with the Riverdance and Lord Of The Dance productions, Griffiths certainly has the technical proficiency, but the material here shows that she also complements the band’s music perfectly, coming over as a sort of cross between Annie Haslam and Magenta’s Tina Booth.
Her vocal dexterity is remarkable, riding the swelling symphonic waves, while never over-singing to the detriment of the song. It’s a textbook symphonic prog vocal performance, and one matched by the rest of the band, who here display a sense of power and drama hitherto unequalled in their repertoire.
It’s a multi-faceted, tightly constructed piece of work.
The standout track here is without doubt the 20-minute title track. Unashamedly epic in scope, and subdivided into no fewer than seven parts, it builds from a folk-influenced opening section (featuring pipesman Troy Donockley), gradually unfolding into a multi-faceted yet tightly constructed work, and with a climax to lift the stoniest of prog hearts. The song’s positioned quite rightly at the end of the album as its crowning glory and enduring calling card.
Other highlights abound, not least the opener Road To Cairo, full of sweeping majesty and Arabic-infused strings recalling the mysterious grandeur of Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir. Elsewhere are more immediate compositions, with Forbidden Dreams featuring a soaring chorus which would have surely made it a possible hit single material in the old money, and Fairytale Lies echoes the trick. Every track here is full of merit, in sum amounting to the strongest selection of material the band have produced to date.
A final word must go to the packaging, with each song accompanied by a beautiful full-page illustration, some of which are sublimely atmospheric, lending the songs a true sense of intrigue. These only add to the impression that Secrets Of Angels is a triumphant work.