Karma (Review) - In*Press June 18

[Karma Cover]

(by Anthony Horan)
In*Press June 18 1997

Canadian keyboard experts Bill Leeb and Rhys Fulber could never be accused of laziness. Best known for their "main" band, Front Line Assembly, they have always refused to be content with pursuing one line of musical attack, and have released albums under several different band names - on as many different record labels - over the last decade or so. Each "band" takes in a different set of ideas and influences - Front Line Assembly moved from aggressive electronic to aggressive guitar-electronic, Intermix has explored world music samples, the vastlly different albums often being created in the same time frame. But it's Leeb and Fulber's Delerium project that has proven their most successful.

As Delerium, the duo has released a swag of albums over the years, most of them for obscure German labels. They are credited with pioneering the use of monastic chants in electronic music long before Enigma was even conceived, and have maintained a steady cult following. For 1994's Semantic Spaces, though, the approach changed subtly. Recording for innovative Canadian label Nettwerk (also home to Single Gun Theory), they used an increased budget to experiment with vocials, bringing Rose Chronicles vocalist Kristy Thirsk in for a pair of songs. That album became a commercial success in Canada but was largely ignored throughout the rest of the world; with Karma, that situation may well change.

This time around it's vocalist heaven - along with Kristy Thirsk, who returns for three tracks, there are contributions here from the remarkable Sarah McLachlan, her backing singer Camille Henderson, and Single Gun Theory's Jacqui Hunt (who recorded her vocals in Sydney and mailed the tapes back to the band). And they're proper songs this time, too, rather than the previous record's spoken-verse approach.

Opening track Enchanted is consummate Delerium - atmospherics aplenty, solid machine-powered grooves, angelic vocals and immensely detailed programming. Everything here is as considered as fine art - memorable keyboard sub-melodies and analogue synth sequences are constantly woven in, the textures given added depth thanks to the use of a real choir rather than samples - a first for the band.

While there is an occassional tendency to throw in inappropriate samples - in particular, the tribal singing, which doesn't quite gel with the atmosphere on offer throughout - it's all intelligently done, and there are plenty of moments of true beauty here in between the irresistible rhythms and cimenatics. That the same men responsible for the last Front Line Assembly album (an abrasive beast if ever there was one) are capable of this at all is remarkable. Leeb and Fulber, though, are not as musically like-minded as some would think, and it's almost certainly this difference between them that gives their work such bite.

Best listened to as a complete album, Karma does nonetheless contain radio-friendly pop songs in the form of Silence (Sarah MacLachlan) and Euphoria (Jacqui Hunt). But it's elsewhere that you'll find the truly eye-opening material; the ten-minute instrumental Koran, for one, which fascinates for its entire length; or Forgotten Worlds, which samples (with permission) Dead Can Dance's Lisa Gerrard to great effect.

Semantic Spaces was one of the most impressive albums of its year of release; this one surpasses it effortlessly, in terms of production (once again by Greg Reely and the band), songwriting, arrangement and programming. Anyone lamenting the lack of depth in electronic music would be well advised to investigate this record; far from being a narrow-appeal genre album, Karma (commendably released in Australia by Festival less than a month after hitting the shops in Canada) is an intelligent, astonishing, and essential work from a pair of true innovators.

Reproduced without permission from In*Press Magazine for private and research purposes only.