Karnataka @ The Robin, Bilston – Sunday 11th October 2015


Review by Paul Quinton

A second date at The Robin in 2015 for Karnataka, still riding the critical acclaim for their most recent album, Secrets of Angels. Whether it’s the backwash from that album, or the reputation that the band has built over the years, despite its varying line-ups, there was a very good crowd in The Robin when the band took the stage. Unusually for the band, there was no intro tape, the various members of the band strolling on without fanfare and getting into their stride straightaway.

Anyone who was familiar with the earlier incarnations of the band can’t help but be startled by the band in its current form, because they are a much heavier proposition these days, heading steadily into European Symphonic metal territories, and in Hayley Griffiths they have a singer with a tremendous range, whose theatrical background is often quite obvious. Having seen the band earlier in the year, one thing I did feel early on in this set was that there seemed much more of a commercial gloss on the music, and in one of their few references to the original line up in this show, ‘Tell Me Why’, there were times when the performance wouldn’t have been out of place at Firefest, although Hayley’s sudden burst into an operatic vocal in ‘All Because Of You’ is still a little startling.

For all that they’re a new line-up, the band still acknowledge the earlier incarnation, with two songs in the first half of the show. ‘Tell Me Why’ was the second song in the set, almost unrecognisable compared to the original, with the distinctive keyboard riff lost in the guitars, and later on came ‘The Storm’; still a great, great song, but again, so heavy that all the atmosphere and emotion of the original was almost impossible to discern.

newbandAfter ‘Tide To Fall’, the band announced a break, which was slightly surprising as by that time they’d only been on stage for around forty minutes, and while the first half had had two nods to the past, the second was composed entirely of music recorded since the band reformed eight years ago. Opener ‘Poison Ivy’ took them straight back into symphonic metal territory, but ‘Forbidden Dreams’ was spoiled by sounding so heavy and distorted making the keyboard solo inaudible. ‘It’s Your World’ became almost a parody of an 80s power ballad, excellently sung by Hayley Griffiths, but a little out of sync with the rest of the show. Then it was time for the big finish, the title track of the new album, the 20-minute long ‘Secrets Of Angels’. Unlike a lot of bands who attempt what is now almost a compulsory item in a self-respecting prog band’s CV, this is a comparatively taut, well written piece, with identifiable themes, rather than just a series of song ideas linked by extended instrumental passages, although it’s a lot to take in on first listen.

When the band the band came out for a solitary encore, there was another surprise when the familiar riff of ‘Kashmir’ began. First reaction is ‘why play a cover when you have five albums of quality material of your own to choose from?’ but to anyone who argues that playing a cover is a common, almost throwaway bit of fun to end a gig on a high note, ‘Kashmir’ is such an iconic song, that’s a bit more of a challenge to play and there’s almost no chance of stamping your own personality on it, especially when it’s played as straightforwardly as this, and I would have thought the last thing Karnataka would want is that they come across as a tribute band. I know the band have played it as an encore in the past, but it still seems an odd choice.

It’s clear that the band are now committed to this new journey into symphonic metal, although it’s still a little startling if you’ve been a fan since the early days. In Hayley Griffiths, they have a good singer, who’s growing into her role as a rock vocalist, although her theatrical background still fights its way out at times. The problem for the band, aside from reconciling their new identity with the older one, is that symphonic metal is an ever more crowded field, and whether they can win new fans in that field, without alienating their existing ones is going to be a challenge. It will be interesting to see how this goes.