Delerium – Karma

Sometimes, you might be looking for a new pop sound; sometimes something a little harsher and darker. Often, you’ll find something which almost fits what you’re looking for, but only very occasionally, an album will turn up which fits your requirements on every conceivable level.

Karma was one of those for me. Of course I’d heard the single version of Silence, and I think by the time I bought Karma I’d even worked out that it would probably sound nothing like the single, and yet there was something about the haunting vocal and melodies that fascinated me and gave me a strong desire to explore further. I’m very pleased I did – half way through my first listen of Wisdom I was already singing along, and it wouldn’t take long before I had in my possession all of Delerium‘s albums and singles, including the many versions of Silence.

The story of Delerium is itself a fascinating one. Kickstarted in the late 1980s, the project really seems to have been a softer, more ambient approach to music than Bill Leeb and Rhys Fulber‘s initially better known industrial project Front Line Assembly. The first Delerium album Faces, Forms and Illusions was released in 1989, and a progression of gentle and entirely commercially unsuccessful albums followed over the next five years.

The real change seems to have occurred with Semantic Spaces (1994), by my reckoning their ninth album in five years, for which they worked on two tracks with Canadian vocalist Kristy Thirsk. The one single, a double a-side of Flowers Become Screens and Incantation seems to have been a minor success, and it is therefore likely that this was a key driver for what would three years later emerge as Karma.

The album opens with another track with a Thirsk vocal, Enchanted. But before you reach the vocal, your journey carries you through several minutes of soft chimes, choral sounds, playground noises, and sampled voices chanting in unknown languages. You should by now have a very good idea of what this album is going to be. The complex layering of Thirsk’s vocals is both confusing and a beautiful complement to the sampled voices, and nearly nine minutes later, the track finally draws to a close.

One of the many singles Duende follows, with a vocal by Camille Henderson. At this point you may realise that without a cross-examination of the booklet, it’s difficult to work out what on earth the vocalists are actually singing about. Somehow though with Karma that doesn’t even matter much – the mood and general spirit of the album are the most important thing, and that is excellent in the extreme.

Even the softer, more instrumental tracks on the album demonstrate a gentle, layered beauty, as pieces such as Twilight, Lamentation and Remembrance demonstrate. What you are hearing, you swiftly realise, is almost a more globally aware application of the Stock Aitken Waterman school of pop music – within each carefully layered and polished track is a steady progression of musical parts, each building on or taking its lead from its predecessor.

Then comes Silence. If there’s any vocal capable of pulling your heartstrings harder than Sarah McLachlan‘s on this song then I don’t know what it is. Much slower and more layered than the more commercial remixes that you’ll have heard elsewhere, you can kind of see how the original version would probably never have been a hit on its own. But for its sheer power and its ability to transport you to other worlds, I’m not sure this version has any competition.

The German Canadians Leeb and Fulber continue on their whirlwind tour through North Africa and India, perfectly mixing samples and obscure instrument sounds to create a quite extraordinary soundscape. Truly, every track on the album has its own special charm, and as a whole this has to be one of the finest releases in my collection.

Euphoria (Firefly) is one of my personal favourites. When vocalist Jacqui Hunt tells us “I never want to lose / What I have finally found / There’s a requiem / A new congregation,” she somehow carries you to another place entirely. Wisdom, perhaps the one ‘pop’ song on the album, with its undertones of buried regrets, is equally powerful.

This is perhaps where the power of Karma lies. Each track in its own way, perhaps through Egyptian sounds or evocative vocals, seems to whisk you away to another place and time. Listening to this album is like taking a geography class in one seventy minute audio experience.

The final track, another Kristy Thirsk vocal, is entitled ‘Til the End of Time (I’m going to forgive the slight linguistic lapse, as Front Line Assembly albums in particular are rarely free of spelling mistakes). Another song with more of a pop feel, it brings the album to a close in almost euphoric fashion with an incredible vocal and rippling synth arpeggio, making you want to dig out Poem already to find out what happened next. Another time, perhaps.

Karma has, over the years, been released in various forms. The initial version included a track entitled Koran, which was subsequently removed as it contained illegal samples. An optional “bonus disc” added Heaven’s Earth and Window to Your Soul. Then Window to Your Soul was slotted onto the main album in place of the inferior Koran, before finally the whole album was reissued with a bonus disc of remixes from the era. Which, to complicate matters further, contains different tracks in each country.

It’s difficult to know which version of the album to point you towards – you’ll need to look at all the different options available in your country and work it out from there. Here it is on iTunes, and here’s a double CD on Amazon.com.

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