Anyone who reads the pages of this Blog will be aware that I love all different types of music - but Prog was my first love - so I thought I would include it in my End Of Year offerings as a section of it's own as I listen to a lot of Progressive Rock.
Now - there is a moral to the tale this year - DO NOT throw away your Prog Magazines, for a year at least. In the beginning of December, as work and life commitments calmed down, I got a chance to revisit all this year's Prog Magazines and in the March 2015 issue I came across the article about the new album by Karnataka. I don't know how I missed it first time around but I did. Anyway, after reading the article I ordered the cd. And what had I missed???
I didn't think I'd see a Prog album that would be better than Steven Wilson's Hand. Cannot. Erase. in 2015 - but I have!!!
Secrets Of Angels by Karnataka is simply magnificent.
I'm not going to go into great detail about the band here - they do a splendid job themselves on their website.
But, just a little background to the release.
Karnataka is the brainchild of local boy (to me anyway i.e Swansea) Ian Jones.
It has taken several incarnations since it's conception in 1997 but today's line-up is probably the best they've had in my humble opinion.
With Ian Jones the sole member since it's conception, Karnataka now consist of Ian Jones on Bass & Keyboards, Enrico Pinna on Guitars, Cagari Tozluoglu on Keyboards, Jimmy Pallagrosi on Drums and Hayley Griffiths on Vocals.
there are other guest musicians on the album such as Seana Davey on harp
Secrets Of Angels is the band's 7th album and the first non-live album since 2010's The Gathering Light.
Hayley Griffiths joined the band before their live album - 2012's New Light - which was also filmed for a dvd release.
Hayley has now become an integral member of the band not only as lead vocalist but also Co-writing a lot of the songs on the album with Ian Jones.
Jimmy Pallagrosi recording the drums for opening track Road To Cairo
So, three years in gestation, the album is a strident move on from The Gathering Light. The opening track The Road To Cairo sets the tone for what is to come. It may bring to mind bands such as Evanesence and Within Tempation. Karnataka have always had a folky and celtic side to their music but this first track brings in an eastern shade into their music which is a lovely addition to the Karnataka sound.
One feature of the album is that the first eight of nine songs are all around the 6 minute mark. This doesn't mean that the songs lack the creative journey of the older songs in the Karanaka repertoire. Indeed, it gives more urgency to several of the tracks and the dynamics of the songs on Secrets Of Angels is one of it's greatest strengths, shown on songs such as Because Of You and the string laden Poison Ivy, which also continues the Eastern sound within the album.
One of he strongest features of Secrets Of Angels is that it is dripping in melody. Be it Hayley's multi-layered vocal harmonies or especially some of the keyboard or string sections that permeate though the majority of the album.
There are three songs that could have single potential if the band so wished - one being the driving Borderline with it's soaring and harmonic chorus.
The next track on the album, the dramatic Fairytale Lies is another that could trouble the single charts if it was released.
For me, the two highlights of Secrets Of Angels are the final two tracks.
Firstly we have the melodious Feels Like Home. With a melody that is absolutely gorgeous, it grows from Hayley's solo soprano voice into a soaring multi harmony extravaganza with the boys joining in on vocal duties and a sympathetic guitar solo which is there for feeling and not for show.
So we come to the final track - the 21 minute title track, Secrets Of Angels.
The best thing about Prog is that it has the capability to enable artists to take on long form music which can capture a variety of moods and passions within a single song.
It has been attempted by many Prog artists and has not always been pulled off. But when it works, there is no music like it.
Think of YES's Close To The Edge or Genesis' Supper's Ready of two examples that work beautifully.
It may take several years to become acknowledged but I think Karnataka have achieved this kind of success on the track Secrets Of Angels. Not so much the delicacy of Close To The Edge but the dynamism of YES's other masterwork The Gates Of Delirium but with an Eastern/Folky side added to the mix.
All of the band pull out out all of the stops for this one track - the musicianship is right up there with the best that Prog has to offer. A special mention must go to Jimmy for such varied drumming and Ian with his bass lines and backing vocals, to Enrico who has a chance to showcase his guitar skills and takes the chance with relish and to Cagari who provides complimentary keyboard patterns and flourishes that enhance and not overpower the music.
And keep an ear out for some sterling work from Troy Donockley of the band Nightwish.
But the real star of the track has to be Hayley Griffiths. God, I've listened to a ton of music in 2015 and this is the Best Female Vocal Performance of 2015 - without a shadow of a doubt. Hayley's harmonies and voice soars and sweeps above the music, especially in the final section.
Like the best Prog it is hymnal and extremely moving. And it leaves you with a feeling of euphoria.
If the album contained just this title track - then I would pay over the money thankfully.
For an album of Majesty, Passion, Musicianship and soaring Melodies - look no further -
Secrets Of Angels is your first stop.
Twitter - @Karnataka