Karnataka – The Gathering Light

Ian Jones came in for a lot of criticism when he revived the Karnataka name in 2005. The previous incarnation of the celtic-flavoured progressive rock band had imploded a year earlier just at the point where they seemed to be poised for a major breakthrough. The new-look Karnataka played some live dates in 2007 with just Ian Jones on bass remaining from the original band, which led some critics to dismiss them as a ‘glorified tribute band’, despite a fair proportion of new material in the setlist, including the memorable title track for their forthcoming album “The Gathering Light”.

In the end it would be another three years before that album would finally see the light of day, but when it finally emerged,  it’s exceeded all expectations.  The original band was great on atmospherics, but the new Karnataka have gone and done an album of the sort of hugely epic symphonic prog I haven’t heard done this well since Marillion’s “Brave”.  The sound is massive and multilayered with impassioned vocals and soaring guitars augmented by guest appearances from Hugh McDowell of ELO fame on cello, Troy Donockley’s distinctive Uilleann pipes, and a string quartet on a couple of songs.

Lisa Fury has always impressed me as a live singer, her studio vocal performances here have just the right balance between emotional depth and technical precision that distinguish a great singer from a merely good one. But for me the real revelation is Enrico Pinna’s guitar playing; prog guitar at it’s finest, with occasional echoes of Steve Hackett or Pendragon’s Nick Barratt, but a symphonic style that’s still his own.

The album starts with two instrumentals, the short but evocative “The Calling” featuring Troy’s pipes, followed by the lengthy workout “State of Grace“.  The string-laden ballad “Moment in Time” is one song that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on “Delicate Flame of Desire”, and again features Troy’s pipes, along with some great slide guitar from Enrico.  The three-part epic “Forsaken” is perhaps the high spot of the album, tremendously moving vocals from Lisa Fury on the opening section, the symphonic instrumental “Glowing Embers” flowing seamlessly back into a reprise of the opening part.  Lots of prog bands have attempted epics like that over the years, but very few succeed as magnificently.

It’s been a long time coming, but Karnataka have delivered the first essential progressive rock album of 2010.

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4 Responses to Karnataka – The Gathering Light

  1. Russell says:

    I’m afraid I have to disagree! I have listened to ‘Gathering Light’ three times to give a fair chance, but I have to say I am hugely disappointed with it.

    It is just too sugary, too predictable and frankly horribly unimaginative. I am a big fan of ‘The Storm’ and ‘Delicate Flame of Desire’, but ‘Gathering Light’ is a let down and will be lucky to get a fourth airing!

    I think the ELO reference is quite pertinent, as chunks of it sound too much like ELO meets Titanic. A real shame.

  2. Trev Huggins says:

    Im afraid I have to disagree with Russell! I think this album from the “new” Karnataka is nothing short of a masterpiece!
    There are hints of the “old” Karnataka sound but this new line up is a breath of fresh air albeit a long time coming! The new material is a far more accomplished product than previous releases.
    Enrico Pinnas guitar parts are very Dave Gilmour but there is nothing wrong with that! For me the arrangements & Lisa Furys vocals are the stand out point on this album for me
    Karnataka have always shined live on stage I have seen this line up live on the last tour and the old line up back in the DFOD days. Lisa sings the old songs with passion and sympathy to the old versions but stamps her own personality on them. I could not imagine Rachel being able to reciprocate with the Gathering Lights symphonic epic material. I think she has found her niche in The Reasoning and she does that really well.

  3. Tim Hall says:

    I can see why people who were huge fans of the ethereal atmospheric approach of the old band might not like the more symphonic direction the new lineup has taken. But I believe it would have been a huge mistake to attempt a pastiche of the old style

    Trev – I can’t hear much of Dave Gilmour in Enrico’s guitar playing – a bit of Steve Rothery, perhaps, but he reminds me more of post-Genesis Steve Hackett than anything else.

  4. Trev Huggins says:

    Yes I agree Tim! That was the old bring on the new I say!..Its fantastic they are still playing the old “hits” but I think the direction the new band have taken is certainly a step up & forward.
    The gilmouresque bit (for me anyway) is the solo in moment in time before Troys pipes come in.. & def agree with your Steve Hackett reference too.
    TGL light is certainly my fave album of 2010 so far.
    Cant wait to see them live again.