As a band, Karnataka have had quite the journey. Since forming in 1997, they have gone through enough personnel changes to rival even Yes, leaving bassist Ian Jones as the sole original member. Vocalist Sertari is the only other official member of the band, but since 2018 Luke Machin has held down guitar duties. A good thing, because even though the songs are largely credited to Jones/Sertari, it’s Machin’s magic touch that brings these songs to life.
Requiem For A Dream is the latest project to tackle the subject of climate change, and it does so with passion, intelligence and beauty. Sertari’s voice is so clear and strong it would make any lyric attractive; but, even though lyrically most of the album is weighty and depressing, her vocals find that ray of sunshine we all want to cling to in these frightening times.
To set the mood, a voice intones “Tick tock” repeatedly at the beginning of All Around The World, addressing impending climate disaster right out of the gate. Even the requisite Greta Thunberg soundbite from her eloquent speech to the UN is used to emphasise the urgency at hand. The sound is crystalline, evoking the fragile place we find ourselves in. It is Luke Machin’s visceral approach to guitar that brings the dynamics to these eleven-plus minutes, but it’s Sertari’s vocals that make the tune accessible. You can hum along with practically any melody within seconds of hearing it. And, since the chorus repeats so often, you will have plenty of opportunity to do so. That vocal prowess is readily evident on piano ballad Sacrifice. Sertari’s voice ranges from deep and rich one moment to breathy and airy the next, floating above the gorgeous orchestrations like a bird above the clouds.
Ocean sounds and rowing oars open Look to the East over ambient keyboards. Jones’ driving bass and some wordless Eastern scale vocalisation introduce yet another strong melody. The Eastern influence is especially prevalent in the instrumental passages. Machin’s guitar is understated and all the more appealing for it, allowing Sertari’s vocals to swoop and soar like a seagull over the waters. Waves of synths and pulsing bass underpin Forgiven, the juxtaposition of Latin choral vocals with Sertari’s pleading lead bringing the fire. The song trades in emotional changes, simple accompaniment giving way to building orchestrations which then release via another lofty guitar solo. What impresses about Machin is how he plays to the song, rather than over or against it. The use of light and shade throughout keep Forgiven interesting for its entire twelve minutes.
The Night’s Dance, co-written with keyboardist Gonzalo Carrera, is heavily orchestrated, but with the vocals recorded so crisply, there is no clutter as each of the layered vocal parts is easily distinguishable from the other. Tolling church bells set an ominous mood which Machin’s guitar simultaneously embraces and balances out during Say Goodbye Tomorrow. The song rocks politely as the minor key verses in 7/8 give way to major key choruses in bright common time:
Hope to find a brand new day
Not standing in our way”
This is great concert sing-along material which takes the listener on a journey from despair to hope. It’s followed by Don’t Forget My Name, a departed lover’s plea to the one left behind not to be forgotten. Sertari’s stirring wall of vocals pretty much guarantees that being forgotten is not a likely outcome.
The final 25-minute title track, Requiem For A Dream, is worth the wait. Sweet tweeting birds stand in contrast to the foreboding synthesiser which opens the track. The vocals enter to a simple arrangement before percussion starts to build the mood. The keyboards also grow in strength, laying a bed for Troy Donockley’s ubiquitous uillean pipes. Machin’s rhythm guitar further darkens the mood as the bass and drums create a solid bottom which helps move the music forward. Another change of mood as a heartbeat bass drum pattern and synths provide a backdrop for more of Donockley’s pipes, only to bow out for piano and another change of mood. More stellar soloing from guitarist Luke Machin signals a hopeful turn in this final tale of climate cataclysm:
A darkness grows around us now
The light is fading fast and we know…”
We have a second chance
This is a new beginning
It’s in our hands”
The song’s length is justified by the numerous ideas which pop up, all held together by Sertari’s commanding voice. The musical interlude eighteen minutes in ratchets up the ambiguity, making it sound as if all hope is already lost. But when the vocals re-enter, the music brightens again, even as Sertari sings “We keep dancing in the rain / A second chance to breathe again”. It is the repetition of these lines as the song fades that make you want to believe we are not the authors of our own destruction. When the swelling music is replaced by a simple piano, your belief that there is still hope is somehow diminished. The final nail in the coffin as the music fades away is a reprise of the lone voice intoning “Tick tock”, fading to black. Impressive stuff all around.
The global pandemic seems to have turned many artists inward, facing demons both personal and universal. It’s my opinion that this soul-searching has resulted in some incredible art. Karnataka’s Requiem For A Dream can take its place among some of the better expressions of our existential angst.
01. All Around the World (11:30)
02. Sacrifice (6:30)
03. Look to the East (6:45)
04. Forgiven (11:49)
05. The Night’s Dance (5:29)
06. Say Goodbye Tomorrow (6:01)
07. Don’t Forget My Name (6:30)
08. Requiem For A Dream (25:13)
Total Time – 79:47
Ian Jones – Bass, Keyboards, Piano, Orchestration, Bass Pedals, Acoustic Guitar, Programming
Sertari – Vocals, Backing Vocals, Choir
Luke Machin – Lead & Rhythm Guitars
Chris Allan – Drums
Troy Donockley – Uillean Pipes, Low Whistles
Gonzalo Carrera – Additional Keyboards
Record Label: Immrama
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 28th July 2023