It's always a pleasure to discover a band out of sheer curiosity and to find them exceeding my expectations. Karnataka is one such band that I hope we'll be hearing more about. Actually, from what little of Karnataka I have heard prior to Delicate Flame of Desire has been pretty darn good, but this latest release sees them upping the ante in every respect. Now officially a sextet, Karnataka continue to present their uniquely British ethereal progressive rock without ever resorting to empty flash or needless instrumental noodling. In fact, "ethereal" is the term I usually see associated with Karnataka's music, but this isn't mope Gothic rock nor is it a knock off of Enya or the dozens of other enchantresses designed to get you in the mood…whatever the hell that means. Instead, this is simply Karnataka.
The CD begins with "Karnataka", the song. Sort of like Black Sabbath's Black Sabbath on the Black Sabbath album. It's a short uplifting introduction that segues into "Time Stands Still", a beautiful emotive piece with soaring guitars, lush keys and gorgeous vocals by Rachel Jones. What immediately becomes apparent is the fact that Karnataka have taken more time with the arrangements than on The Storm, for instance. While The Storm is a wonderful CD brimming with delicious melodies, Delicate Flame of Desire strives very successfully to add a bit of complexity to the songs. The overall effect is that the pleasures aren't as immediate this time out, which is a good thing because it shows the band growing and challenging its audience to grow with them. "Delicate Flame of Desire", the title track, is next and it starts out tentatively with Jonathan Edwards trademark keyboard-emulating-the-harp tone leading into Rachel Jones' vocal passages. The instrumental climax is exciting without showing off, never losing the mood of the song. "After the Rain" is quickly becoming one of my favorite songs on the CD. The chorus is uplifting and to die for. Again, this is a song that might take a few listens before it kicks in. "One Breath Away" would be a hit single in a parallel universe as it contains a danceable rhythm and a completely catchy chorus. It's the simplest song on the CD and I love it. Most of the songs are between 6 and 7 minutes in length, but they say more in that time than many "prog" groups can in 20. However, the best is saved for last in the 10 minute "Heart of Stone", a bona fide mini epic with its multi-themed instrumental bits and layered harmonies featuring Rachel Jones and Anne-Marie Helder as well as Heather Findlay, on loan from Mostly Autumn.
The year 2003 has really turned out to be a productive one for progressive groups. Karnataka are one of the best that I've heard and Delicate Flame of Desire is yet another shoe-in for my top ten of the year. Pour yourself a glass of cabernet, lay back and prepare to fall in love.