Review Summary: The BEST electronica / new age album of 1997.
Oddly enough, the more successful of Bill Leeb's musical output has come not from his main band, industrial inclined Front Line Assembly. No, Delerium certainly takes top honours here, though perhaps for good reason. Originally an obscure side project formed for Leeb's ambient indulgences in 1987, Delerium has grown to be much more over the last fifteen years. While not completely abandoning the dark ambience of their early material, the duo has adopted a more light-hearted, pop sound; an artistic evolution that made Delerium a much more accessible endeavour without sacrificing their alluring characteristics.
Collaborating with Front Line Assembly keyboardist, Rhys Fulber, Leeb began experimenting with such changes on 1994's Semantic Spaces
. It paid immediate dividends; the record became a minor hit, as"Flowers Became Screens" and "Incantations" hit the top-40 on Canadian airwaves. With Karma
, Delerium's follow up to Semantic Spaces
, the band takes the latter's formula a step farther. In addition to the returning Kristy Thirsk, who sang on three of Semantic Spaces
' tracks, Karma finds Delerium working with Sarah McLachlan, who sings on megahit "Silence", Camille Henderson, who sings on "Duende", and Jacqui Hunt, who sings on "Euphoria (Firefly)". As result of the increased vocal collaborations, the record features more in the way of danceable pop tracks, though not nearly to the same extent as Chimera
. It is these songs that leave the greatest first impression, with "Silence" and "Duende" leading the way. The ethereal vocal talents of McLachlan and Henderson provide for some of the most sonically pleasing elements on the album, not solely due to their mesmerizing qualities, but also in the way they compliment the airy electronics. "Enchanted" places Delerium's worldbeat influences at the forefront, with tribal drums, flutes, and a child's chanting opening the first two minutes of the song before making the transition to a more commercialized electronica cut dominated by Thirsk's soft coos. A perfect representation of the album as a whole, the song never meanders, nor tires despite being one of Karma
's songs at over eight minutes.
But where Karma
shines the most is in its instrumental tracks. The more experimental of Delerium's post-Semantic Spaces
works, the duo forgoes the some of the commercial elements in favour of a more exotic ambience and trance. "Remembrance" is the strongest track in this regard, and to date remains the band's magnum opus. Arabic melodies kick things off rather slowly and serenely before relaying to Gregorian chanting and African flutes. A staple in "Remembrance", the chanting is also featured on "Silence", "Lamentation", and very briefly in "Window to Your Soul". Yet rather than becoming a gimmicky addition to Delerium's sound, the chants are used tastefully and instead give the song a mystical flair. Underneath the Gregorian choir, the band utilizes a layer of strings and keys to produce enthralling, spacey textures that make the song such an engaging and relaxing listen. On the opposite side of the spectrum, we have "Lamentation". While containing a similar trance inducing, beat-heavy structure, the electronic elements are much less pronounced, giving way to sparse flamenco guitar and Persian harmonies. And though it isn't quite as memorable as "Remembrance" or even "Forgotten Worlds", "Lamentation" maintains an absorbing vibe which more than makes up for its lack of catchiness.
In the end, one of Karma's greatest strengths is its cohesiveness. Semantic Spaces
was undoubtedly a good album, but it flowed poorly and was no where near as engaging as it should have been. Karma
not only corrects said setbacks, but also better flushes out Delerium's sound. That it effectively bridges the dance-pop of Poem
with the rich ambience of Faces, Forms, and Illusions
flawlessly makes it Delerium's strongest record to date. Factor in the additional worldbeat leanings, really, what's not to like? Karma
is simply essential electronica that is as fascinating as it is entertaining.