Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Delerium - Karma (Original TC Review)

Best Price: $8.99

Nettwerk Records: Cat. # 067003311426
Released 1997

Note: Limited edition two disc release (15, 000 copies). Second disc also includes CD-ROM material.

Track List:
1. Enchanted (8:30)
2. Duende (5:22)
3. Twilight (6:07)
4. Silence (6:33)
5. Forgotten Worlds (7:32)
6. Lamentation (8:33)
7. Euphoria (Firefly) (5:27)
8. Remembrance (7:28)
9. Wisdom (4:48)
10. Koran (10:05)
11. Till The End Of Time (4:36)

1. Heaven's Earth (8:18)
2. Window To Your Soul (10:18)

(2010 Update:
Probably one of my better early attempts, though obviously still stuck in "ridiculously detailed" mode. I was quite eager to do this one because I felt I got lucky in owning the early special edition, and wanted to show it off. Still a great album too. Oh, and apparently
Koran was removed due to an uncleared sample issue. So now we know.)

Despite critical acclaim as both Delerium and Front Line Assembly, Bill Leeb and Rhys Fulber were never able to break through to the mainstream. Signing with Nettwerk seemed to help them gain some ground, as the Canadian based label would put forth a strong PR campaign for their follow-up to the seminal Semantic Spaces. Living in their base of operations at the time, I was hard pressed to not notice promotion for Karma. Quite often the morning radio would be playing one of the first two singles.

In which tends to be a Delerium trademark, plenty of background textures and elements to keep the acute listener busy starts out most of Enchanted. Trotting horse-drawn carriages, African chants, harps, and dark atmospherics create an ominous intro. However, once the meat of the song starts, it feels a little lacking. Accompanied by a simple bit of rhythm, Kristy Thirsk's singing seems to have been put through so many different effects and filters that many of the lyrics are lost and indiscernible (thankfully, the album comes complete with printed lyrics). Some extra electronics, Gregorian chants, flutes that weave about, and a bouncy bass line encompass the rest but aren't given much prominence beyond a few bridges.

Duende grabs our attention immediately though, with an intro that builds quite nicely using an organ melody, string pads, Pygmy chants, and percussion. Soon enough, things settle into a nice, heavy breakbeat. Carried by the vocals of Camille Henderson (a backup singer for Sarah McLachlan) Duende really soars along, including a chorus that is incredibly catchy, even if you can't quite make out what's being said again. Yes, like Enchanted, this song also seems to suffer a little from singing put through a few too many effects to render them almost unintelligible to the casual listener. However, they are sung with far more passion and energy than Enchanted so it doesn't really matter. It flows just as well with this up-beat track as the sampled singing of Pygmies. With rich, sweeping pads to accentuate Camille Henderson's singing and a nice arrangement of background textures to fill in any sonic gaps, Duende could easily be the front-runner for best track on Karma.

That is, until Twilight starts.

What a rich sounding song! Every element used fits so perfectly together that it makes Twilight an incredible aural excursion. Subtle electronic keys and stabs weave in and out of reverb percussion while ethereal voice pads float over tribal chants. Solo use of pianos and synths add to the diversity throughout, never allowing the song to fall into repetitiveness. Why this song never became a single is just bizarre; I guess the lack of singing hurt it in that regard, as lyric-less music rarely hits the mainstream.

And speaking of mainstream, here is the song that changed more than one career: Silence.

A collaboration between label-mates Sarah McLachlan and Delerium probably sounded good on paper: get your label's biggest star to feature on a track and you just may end up attracting her fans as well, pushing a few extra copies in the process. Okay, cynicism aside, the Delerium boys were anxious to collaborate with her regardless. Oddly enough, by having no featuring credits on the track titles, her contribution only became evident later on, after two hit singles had already established Karma a success. Listening to it at the time of its release, Silence didn't seem as important as, say, Duende.

Oh, the song itself? A solid enough affair, as Sarah McLachlan’s voice does suit the Delerium fold. Gregorian chants over acoustic guitar start things off. These chants sound so good in themselves that I wish they could have been used a little more often during the song. However, once Sarah picks up the reigns, her voice carries the rest (thankfully, free of any major effects so her full vocal talents can be utilized) and the Gregorians are regulated to the background afterwards. Musically, everything from electronic pulses to piano arpeggios keep things on pace but never overtakes Sarah's singing in prominence. Good emotional stuff here, although I have to admit I don't find Silence as riveting as the previous two tracks, probably because this song is more about McLachlan than Delerium, and, as such, the music is there merely to service her and just doesn't stand out as much.

Returning to instrumentals is Forgotten Worlds, where a somber string pad plays as bells chime in the distance. Worldly elements such as ethnic percussion, flutes, and sitars play about for a minute of lead-in before tinkling and eerie electronic pulses and pads take us onward with a chunky rhythm that'll get your head bobbing. When these organic and electronic devices are put together, the song is full of life, even when given a solo. However, a vocal of operatic influence throughout Forgotten Worlds (a cleared sample from Dead Can Dance, I believe) also makes this track sound more dreary than it would have without it.

The next song, Lamentation, has a lot in common with Forgotten Worlds, especially the somber, dreary atmosphere. However, considering this track's title, that's probably the point. As a dark pad permeates, flutes, tribal chants, and acoustic strums are used sparingly along with organic percussion for the first three minutes, creating quite a saddening atmosphere. Eventually, though, things pick up a bit with some electronic pulses and simple percussion; just enough to make it sound more interesting but also takes away from the somber atmosphere initially established. Lamentation still sounds rather depressing but a little more intuitive than Forgotten Worlds as elements come and go.

A dark, dreary, ambient beginning starts Euphoria (Firefly) off, becoming a somewhat repetitive theme in the album now considering the previous two tracks used it as well. However, it quickly gives way to a more upbeat percussion and a bassline that is about as funky as this album will get. Many of the elements sound similar to Silence, including lyrics sung by Jaqui Hunt (of Single Gun Theory fame) taking center stage. But where Silence sounded organic, Euphoria sounds quite synthetic with its use of more electronic instrumentation to carry the song along. A nice variation on a similar theme already utilized on the same album.

Remembrance is now the fourth song in a row to use a dark ambient intro, this time with more natural instrumentation. A minute and a half later, things kick into epic proportions with fantastic use of ethnic wind instruments, Gregorian chants, electronic pulses, and simple but direct percussion. Sweeping string pads carry things along, linking all these unique elements with graceful subtlety. What it has in great instrumentation, however, the song seems to lack a little in overall direction. It isn't a major concern though, as Remembrance sounds great on its own merits.

Taking a step away from the dreary intros is Wisdom. Rather, we are introduced to a slow arpeggio that becomes the main musical element that carries this song, switching from electronic to organic instruments throughout in a typical verse/chorus structure. Kristy Thirsk returns to the vocal duties, this time free of overbearing effects. For the most part though, Wisdom bounces along quite nicely, standing out enough to save it from being a transitional track.

With Koran, the dark, dreary intro returns, this time using some very spacey pads before settling into more organic elements such as sitars, Islamic chants, and various wind instruments. Everything builds along progressively, never letting anything gain much notice until a solo of some rather emphatic Islamic chants take full front for a chorus of sorts, repeating this structure twice more. Considering how subdued everything else comes across as a whole (think a darker Twilight), this chorus can come across as a little obtrusive, despite enough lead into it that you'll expect it. I guess depending on how much you like this sort of thing will determine how much the chorus feels right or not.

Finishing out this disc is Till The End Of Time, a track that seems to realize it's at the end of an album. Not too concerned about big moments, it kind of meanders along with lyrics by Thirsk and little sonic samples fluttering about. Probably the most dynamic element to this song is percussion that sounds quite unique compared to the rest of the album. It sounds more mechanical and choppy, despite all of its organic instrumentation use. Aside from that, nothing much else new here that hasn't already been heard on the album in one form or another (well, aside from a dreary intro).

Now that I've covered the original album, allow me to delve into the bonus disc that was limited to fifteen thousand copies (one of which I own, heh).

For a B-Side, Heaven's Earth sounds amazing! Delerium's love of wind instruments, acoustic guitars, and ethnic chants continues with a two and a half minutes long lead in. Slow, punchy rhythm kicks in with spacey synth pads as Kristy Thirsk starts to sing, somewhat unintelligibly again (like Enchanted), but quite frankly it doesn't matter this time around; the chorus absolutely soars! Melding of organic and synthetic is once again flawless in execution, creating a sonic delicacy.
How did this not end up on the original release of Karma? As a track, it is a bit stand-alone, in that it would have been a tough song on an album to follow while maintaining a consistent flow. Heaven's Earth could still have made for an excellent opener, though; much better than the rather mediocre Enchanted.

The second of the two bonus tracks here is Window To Your Soul, a song that actually ended up replacing Koran on many subsequent copies of Karma after the album's initial release. I'm not sure why this was done, though.

With an album filled with dark, ambient intros, this track probably has the darkest of them all. Moody atmospherics permeate a foreboding background while melding of organic and electronic instrumentation continues to flow effortlessly together. Four minutes later, things become much lighter. Pleasant electronics pulse about as benign Gregorian chants weave in and out of mellow, spacey pads. Window To Your Soul is very much a yin/yang track.

The CD-ROM material on the bonus disc includes videos of earlier Delerium singles, information on the contributing vocalists, and audio clips of interviews with Leeb and Fulber, detailing their musical influences and ideas when approaching Karma (I found one such clip about how they took a boom-box with some pre-recorded music to a church to record an authentic Gregorian choir quite amusing).

The debate's been done to death whether Karma marked the beginning of the end (“those lyrics ruined their sound!”) or the end of the beginning (“those lyrics enhanced their sound!”) for Delerium. The way I see it, you get the best of both worlds with this release. The vocal tracks here are arguably some of the best ever done under the Delerium banner and the instrumentals are catching Leeb and Fulber in their studio prime. Those getting this album for the big singles may be turned off by some of the instrumentals though, especially when many of the intros sounds quite similar (patience has never been a virtue for track skippers). If you can find it, I recommend getting this version of Karma, as not only do you get the excellent Heaven's Earth, but also the now relatively rare Koran as well, a track that really didn't deserve to be shunted.

Score: 9/10

Heavens Earth

Written by Sykonee. Originally published 2004 for© All rights reserved.

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