Karnataka @ The Robin, Bilston – 30 September 2012

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Review By Paul Quinton and photos by Rob StanleyThis was the second visit to The Robin this year for this latest incarnation of Karnataka, part of their lengthy Forbidden Dreams tour and coinciding with the release of a new live CD/DVD recorded earlier this year. They’ve slimmed down slightly since the previous tour, with no sign of multi-instrumentalist Colin Mold, which led to one of the questions to be asked prior to the gig, namely that on the previous tour the heavier direction which the band seem to be taking proved too much for the older material, rendering a lot of it almost unrecognisable, so how would the band reconcile the back catalogue with the new direction? Also, at the previous gig, a lot of people thought that new singer Hayley Griffiths seemed a little awkward in a rock gig context, rather than the theatre roles she had been used to. Would she be more comfortable as the singer in a rock band?

The show was divided in two 50-minute sets, the first beginning punctually at 8.30, introduced by ‘Talk To Me’, a song by the original line-up, although never released as a studio track, and tonight played fairly closely to the original. It was followed by ‘Time Stand Still’, another original line-up song, and again played fairly straight, before the band introduced a new song ‘Poison Ivy’, which was the first real hint of how much this band were moving away from its past. This was a markedly heavier song than most things the band have ever done and owed much to the Within Temptation school of symphonic rock, and it was these influences that dominated the rest of the show. The song that followed, ‘Heart Of Stone’, was another one from the original line-up, but was a low point in the show, sounding quite messy compared to how tight the rest of the set was, although a brief segue into ‘The Storm’ soon put things right. This is undoubtedly one of the best songs the original band ever wrote, and even in a rockier arrangement, the beauty of the song shone through.

The opening set ended with ‘The Gathering Light’, before a 20-minute break, after which the band seemed to recommence with a fresh determination to underline their new identity. The opening track of the second half was another new song, the one after which this tour is named, ‘Forbidden Dreams’. This was even more firmly in Within Temptation territory than what had gone before, and when it was followed with another old song, ‘Delicate Flame of Desire’, the contrast between the two eras of the band was more marked than ever, and apart from the piano-led ballad ‘Forsaken’, the rest of the show was all about the new direction the band appear to be taking, ‘The Journey’ in particular sounding like something from a Delain album.

Judging by the new material, it’s pretty clear that Karnataka are fast becoming a melodic rock band with serious symphonic metal tendencies. But, having said that, while Hayley Griffiths is no Charlotte Wessels; she seems a lot more comfortable in this environment than she was earlier in the year. Some of her more theatrical flourishes were more restrained and she reacts with the crowd a lot more easily, which can only be a good thing, as the rest of the band aren’t the most visual performers you will ever see.

In the current climate, it’s not fair to assess the success of a band’s direction based on crowd numbers, especially when they’re playing a few shows in the immediate area, including gigs in Evesham, Bromsgrove, Derby, Leicester and Leamington. But it has to be said the crowd was pretty thin on the night, probably less than two-thirds of that at the February show, and how many of the band’s longer-standing fans will take to the new direction remains to be seen. But I’m sure that had this been a new band playing this show, rather than one that will always be compared the earlier line-up, it would have been easier to appreciate what was otherwise a pretty decent, if surprising, gig.

 And you can see more of Rob’s shots here: