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Kamelot Meets Frasier: The Shadow Theory

April 13, 2018

Kamelot The Shadow TheoryOne of the year’s biggest releases, at least in the prog/power metal world, The Shadow Theory is Kamelot’s third album in the Tommy Karevik era, and their twelfth overall. It was on their third album Siége Perilous where they first introduced the much loved Roy Khan as their vocalist, but it wasn’t until its follow-up (The aptly named The Fourth Legacy) where Khan’s inclusion as a co-songwriter finally created the Kamelot magic we all love. The Khan/Thomas Youngblood songwriting duo wouldn’t suffer the expected sophomore slump either, delivering in succession albums that ranged from excellent (Karma, Ghost Opera) to downright masterful (Epica, The Black Halo). Similarly, Karevik’s first album with the band mirrored Khan’s nearly non-existent songwriting presence on Siége Perilous, as Silverthorn was an awkward, clunky affair that really could’ve used more of the new guy’s input. But just like Khan’s true unveiling on The Fourth Legacy, Karevik’s ground floor role in crafting the songs for his sophomore effort in Haven resulted in the band’s strongest album in a decade. I mention this emergent symmetry not only to point out just how much time I have on my hands to think about such things, but also to sketch out just where my expectation level was for The Shadow Theory.

 

Now I know what some of you are thinking, that this symmetry only works if you consider Haven on par with The Fourth Legacy, and truth be told Haven suffered from a few noticeable flaws, despite its largely excellent collection of songs. I wrote about this at length in my original review for that album, but the gist of it was that the band sounded inspired and reinvigorated when their songwriting leaned into Karevik’s ability to sing in higher registers. The songs that ended up being duds were the few that seemed to lack  major key melodies and power metal lift, and seemed to lean more towards an approach that I referred to as “faux-heaviness”. I’m thinking specifically of cuts like “Liar Liar (Wasteland Monarchy)” and the dreadful, industrial tinged “Revolution” (my nominee for most disappointing Kamelot song of all time). But fears that maybe the album hadn’t aged well were dispelled when I was playing it in the weeks leading up to the release of The Shadow Theory, if anything, these recent spins have reinforced my belief that its one of the band’s strongest albums. Two weak songs aren’t enough to dislodge that status, but I might have been naive in thinking that they were simply vestiges of the downtuned, minor-key driven later Roy Khan era that Youngblood and keyboardist Oliver Palotai had gotten used to writing in.

 

 

Kamelot 2018What I’m realizing after the umpteenth listen through this new album is that Karevik’s mighty vocal power and ability to sing sustained vocals in a higher register weren’t quite enough to completely shake those darker tendencies from Kamelot’s songwriting approach. Not only does The Shadow Theory not hit the same major key heights as Haven, but it doesn’t hit the same sustained emotional heights either as a result. My theory last time around was based around the possibility that Youngblood and Palotai were in the process of breaking out of songwriting tendencies that were built up over time that naturally resulted in darker albums —- their way of adjusting to Khan’s increasing preference (and controversial speculation here, his declining range) for a lower to middle register vocal approach. But I think I may have overlooked something else entirely that smacked me in the face when I went back recently to read/watch a bunch of interviews with Youngblood. He said in response to several questions over those interviews that the band moved away from their more mythological/fantastical lyrical imagery because they found it limiting over time. In interviews for the new album, he was keen to discuss the Carl Jung based conceptual angle behind The Shadow Theory, relating it to the state of the world at present and how we relate to it (ie social media, etc). In one interview he even defended the band’s name, acknowledging the Arthurian mythology influence, but effectively brushing past it by suggesting the band had moved on topically (and that basically its just a brand name).

 

While those comments might hurt the heart of many an old school Kamelot devotee, I can see where he’s coming from. Its fair that the band would want to gradually evolve away from those types of lyrics, imagery, and concepts. I’d argue their first foray into really dark territory occurred as long ago as 2005 on the second half of their Faustian concept with The Black Halo, a darker, less playful affair than Epica, but perhaps more intense and haunting as a result. But even on those records, they framed the darkness in a literary landscape that put its characters in a relatively fantastical and mythic setting and time period. Even Silverthorn was set in the 19th century amidst the intrigue of a wealthy family (if the “Sacrimony” video was anything to go by), its gorgeous ballad “Song For Jolee” referring to a “…princess captured in a wooden frame”. The lyrics on some of the best songs on Haven also invoked this kind of old world, fantasy-steeped imagery, “Fallen Star” pleading to “the kings and the queens of the dawn”;  “End of Innocence” sees Karevik invoke Prince Charming with “A kiss on the lips / Turned the toad to a prince”. There’s more examples, but my point is that this kind of romantic, melodramatic, renaissance tinged imagery has continued despite the change in album art from royal purple hand drawn covers to more modern, metallic gray sci-fi inspired artwork; its a fundamental part of the band’s DNA, a part of their genetic code that pushes them towards rich melodicism, soaring choruses, and a sense of high drama.

 

 

Kamelot 2018Thematically and to a certain degree lyrically, The Shadow Theory sees the band attempting to try something entirely new by framing the album in a very modern, nearly science-fiction setting. In some sense its their music catching up to the visual style we’ve seen in some of their recent music videos, and its certainly reflected heavily in the dystopian drenched video for the first single “Phantom Divine (Shadow Empire)”. Its a wise choice for a single as its one of the album’s best cuts, a spiritual cousin to previous storming album openers in “March of Mephisto”/”The Great Pandemonium”, and like those songs it uses strong imagery rooted in the band’s DNA to offset its larger, more abstract lyrical matter: “…In ambrosial grace / No applause for the old pantomime…”. Its a small thing to fixate on perhaps, given just how bracing this song is from a purely symphonic power metal perspective, but its also the introduction to The Shadow Theory’s far more modern lyrical concerns. The Jungian Shadow is a complex and in depth topic, worthy of being used as the basis for a thematic album (important to note that this is not a traditional concept album), but Kamelot very much use our modern day, real life problems of social media anxiety, technologically induced disassociation, negative group think, and media manipulation as the vehicle for exploring these ideas.

 

When they are able to strike a balance between this modern setting and the old world Kamelot DNA, they strike gold, as on “Ravenlight”, a song where Karevik sounds as close to Khan as he possibly can (perhaps a byproduct of said DNA…?). His lyrics during the verses are pure classic Kamelot, “Silent tears / In a sea of sorrow / If only God would talk to me / And promise me tomorrow”, and reinforced by beautiful imagery in the refrain, “In Ravenlight, you came to me / From silence rose, a symphony / of coming winters white”. Its a dark song, but it reminds me of the balance they were able to strike on the best moments on Poetry For The Poisoned, matching that darkness with decadent caramel drizzles of bright melody. We hear more of this on “Vespertine (My Crimson Bride)”, an epic symphonic ushered romp that sounds refreshingly like something from the Karma era, propelled by dueling vocal and string melodies that careen gracefully through the air. Karevik’s lyrics here are gorgeous, painting the portrait of a sunlit memory breaking through the oppressive hazy darkness, “Come day, come night, my crimson bride / Is dancing on the fields of gold”. I love this song, its regal and resplendent and reminds me of all the reasons I originally fell under this band’s spell.

 

 

Beyond the Black's Jennifer HabenPerhaps nowhere does the sunlight breakthrough more than on the glorious duet sung ballad “In Twilight Hours”, one that should be in serious consideration for our hypothetical top five Kamelot ballads discussion. Karevik delivers an impassioned vocal, and he’s matched in kind by Beyond The Black’s Jennifer Haben whose own vocals are the perfect balance of ethereal and earthy, resulting in a crystalline quality to her phrasing. Its a majestic song, centered around a cinematic, fully-arcing chorus crafted almost solely around their conjoined vocal melody —- but the emotional build up in the verses is perhaps more impressive, utilizing Palotai’s understated, sombre piano fragments and a sense of quiet, hushed dynamics that Kamelot have made a history of owning (recalling immediately classic ballads “Wander” and “On The Coldest Winter Night”). When Youngblood finally crashes in with his vocal melody echoing guitar solo, its almost cathartic in its emotional weight, the guitarist proving once again that his understanding of restraint and release is central to Kamelot’s musical power. I also really enjoyed “Stories Unheard”, a unique track that while not as magnetic as its peers described above, certainly has something charming working for it, a combination of its many disparate elements —- the music box emulating intro is immediately intriguing, keeping our attention long enough for the chorus to wallop us.

 

Then there’s the flip side, and its far more problematic here than on Haven, where the band leans into a darker musical approach, one where the melodies don’t get the spotlight, shunted aside for pure metallic aggression. I’ve said this before, but heavy riffs and pinch harmonics aren’t why we listen to this band —- there’s loads of other bands who do that well, but few can match Kamelot at their own strength. We get a dose of this aggression in “Kevlar Skin”, and it makes for an underwhelming song, with a hook that never seems to take off under the weight of its awkward melodic angle and lack of adequate build up in the verses or via a bridge. I’m not wild on the lyrics either, the imagery very sci-fi inspired, which in itself isn’t a bad thing but I just think the choice of diction limits the direction this vocal melody can head in. I might be the only one harping on these things and many of you might disagree, but I’m sensing a correlation here. Similarly on “Mindfall Remedy”, we’re blasted to a load of quasi-industrial sound effects that don’t do much for the actual song, which is already hampered by an underwhelming, under cooked refrain. Its the kind of chorus that certainly sounds like its supposed to be a chorus, yet lacks anything in the way of a discernible hook. The metalcore vocals courtesy of Lauren Hart (Once Human) are just texture at this point, although she did a fine job on “Phantom Divine”. I do sometimes wonder if the band ever realizes how transparent their decision to use female vocalists for every guest vocal spot is getting…

 

 

Tommy KarevikI really wanted to enjoy “The Proud and the Broken”, and in brief flashes I do, but overall it fails to move me as the apparent epic of the album. I’m not sure what the problem is here beyond the lack of a more definable vocal melody, because it has an interesting intro and fine middle instrumental passage (just one of those songs that doesn’t quite gel perhaps). I did notice the thematic similarities between it and Orphaned Land’s “Take My Hand” off their recent Unsung Prophets and Dead Messiahs album, not in exact diction, but in the spirit of what its lyrics are trying to say. Entirely coincidental of course, but its interesting how one song works so well and the other falls flat due to not making all the requisite emotional connections (lyrical and musical). We’ll skip the pointless closing instrumental “Ministrium (Shadow Key)”, only pausing to wonder why anyone felt that this was a better inclusion than the relatively decent bonus track “The Last Day of Sunlight” (which is noteworthy for its utterly bizarre musical hook during the verses and a chorus boasting a really nice Karevik moment). The other lackluster cuts were “Amnesiac” and “Burns to Embrace”; the former ruined by an anemic chorus and a wash of industrial sound effect nonsense, the latter by a lack of an actual melody of any kind in the verses (what the hell guys?).

 

Those lackluster moments are scattered pretty evenly across the tracklisting, and it ends up creating a picture of a really spotty listening experience. I sometimes wonder if an album is better off being a bit lopsided, with half excellent material and the other half ho-hum… does that leaves a better impression on us as fans rather than something like this, where its like eating an under cooked pancake? The moments I enjoyed on this album will find their way to my iPod’s Kamelot playlist of course, but I’m disappointed that they’ve taken a step back with The Shadow Theory. This is just one die-hard fan’s opinion, but I really think they need to reevaluate their overall stylistic approach and do something to shake things up. It could be seen as nitpicking on my part, but I’ve seen quite a few people comment that this album is more of the same, sort of a Haven part two. As I’ve pointed out, the band’s DNA is still intact, but they keep trying to edge in this direction where they’re pulling away from their roots, and at a certain point that’s more harmful then helpful (particularly when its been happening for four albums in a row now). I’d love to see Kamelot do an about face and embrace that older spirit that defined their glory era, though I know Youngblood has expressed no interest in doing so. Kamelot’s darker direction and the resultant songwriting seems to be lacking the firepower to keep things interesting for a full album. Take a page from Priest and look to the past for inspiration, this is metal after all, its okay to do that.

18 Comments leave one →
  1. iWerewolf permalink
    April 13, 2018 5:45 pm

    I enjoyed the majority of the album, though I also really liked “Poetry for the Poisoned” when it came out so maybe I just like their darker stuff in general, lol. That being said, I do prefer the older, more power metal work – my favorite albums by them would indeed be “The Fourth Legacy”, “Karma”, “Epica” and “The Black Halo”. That was an utterly perfect run of albums, as far as I’m concerned, and I’d also say that “Haven” was the best since that era. Honestly, the only Kamelot albums I don’t like are their first three. I will say though, my favorite song on this album is “Vespertine (My Crimson Bride)”, which is the most blatantly oldschool sounding one!

    All that being said, it would in fact be nice if they’d do a more symphonic power metal-oriented album again, like in the (very) late 90s and early-to-mid 2000s. They don’t have to talk about medieval/fantasy stuff necessarily, there are a few power metal bands that don’t (Keldian have pretty scifi oriented lyrics). Tommy Karevik can certainly hit those high notes (please put some “Fourth Legacy” songs back in the setlists!). The awesome new Seventh Wonder single “Victorious” is proof of this – I’d love to hear them take full advantage of the man’s incredible range.

    • Blair permalink
      April 13, 2018 6:22 pm

      God Tommy would KILL at those old Fourth Legacy songs. Its such a shame theyre not using them and that the concert demographic has changed so drastically since Khan’s era.

      • April 14, 2018 12:30 am

        Yeah I’d really love for them to add some of those back into the mix. I think the earliest song from the show I saw a few years back with Tommy was “Forever”, and he did great on it. Hearing him do “Nights of Arabia” or “Lunar Sanctum” would be great!

    • April 14, 2018 12:38 am

      Wow, that Seventh Wonder song was unexpected, had no idea they were releasing the single so early. Sounded great, you can really hear that Michael Jackson/Freddy Mercury vocal influence coming through when Tommy writes for this band, a little more poppy, more deft in his phrasing.

      Regarding the sci-fi theme and Kamelot, its not something I’m inherently against. Its just that given the nature of the subject matter it tends to result in darker sounding material from these guys, and I just don’t quite feel its their strongest suit. That being said “Phantom Divine” was a terrific song, and I even liked the stylistic choices of the music video (it helped that iCode was behind it and not Revolver studios).

  2. April 14, 2018 3:34 pm

    I’ve been eagerly awaiting your review of The Shadow Theory, thank you for writing it and posting it!

    I had been excited about the release of The Shadow Theory when I first heard it was in the works. Kamelot even has a stop on their tour not more than a 25 minute drive from my house. My wife and I were making plans to attend the local stop for the tour. But, when I saw the relatively narrow time frame between release and the tour stop for us, I held back on my excitement as we waited to see how this one would turn out.

    Fast forward to more recent times, and we got some online short clips of things from the album, and I wasn’t excited about those sounds, but I accepted that they were such short snippets I couldn’t make a fair judgement of anything with that.

    So, the day the first single officially debuts, and I hear it for the first time and my honest to god first reaction was “You have got to be kidding me, that is the choice they made for the first single??”. Needless to say I didn’t find it that great. Then the second single got released, and my reaction was nearly identical. I had penciled in that we were going to see them on tour, but after the first two full songs released I pulled the plug on that very very quickly.

    I must say in full disclosure, Roy Khan is my favorite all time vocalist in the genre. But, and I mean that very firmly, I have grown to really really enjoy Tommy Karevik, a LOT. But(there it is again), I absolutely hate his work with Kamelot. I love his Seventh Wonder work, his work on Ayreon is also highly enjoyable for me, particularly on ‘The Source’. But his work with Kamelot is awful, and it is not his fault. The man goes out and sings his heart out and gives it everything he has. He stepped in to some shoes that had been occupied by a very very tough man to follow, and he had to know that he would forever have people making comparisons and that he would likely face many challenges. But he did it, and has done admirably. The rest of Kamelot, has not done him justice.

    I am of the opinion that the songwriting problems that have been an ever present plague upon this band continue, to the point that I think The Shadow Theory is a steaming pile. That’s right, a pathetic, weak, poorly written, disjointed, steaming pile. When I listen to it, I think “Wow, all of that obvious talent, and nobody can write a song to save their lives”. The album is so far removed from being enjoyable that it baffles me. I get glimpses of Kamelot, like somehow Youngblood’s natural tendencies keep trying to fight to the surface even as he attempts to suppress that sound in favor of something else. I smile when I hear his familiar style, but then it just goes sideways and the poor writing and disjointedness of the songs shows. These guys are way too accomplished to write such rubbish, but yet they do.

    As has been often discussed on this site, apparently Roy was a huge part of the writing – perhaps far more than we even know, because without his fingerprints on the songs, they languish. Please remember, I love Karevik’s work with other bands, it is fantastic! He has so much talent, but Kamelot is wasting it. Who cares if he sings his heart out every night, if he’s singing crap? I surely do not. I understand the attractiveness of being a busy musician and recording/touring, but I wish Karevik would leave Kamelot. He is too good for them in their current lineup/mindset. I firmly believe that whomever takes part in songwriting for Kamelot needs to go back and take “Musicial Composition 101” again, because the writing is just bad. I’ve been a fan since around 2001, and I can now officially say I am not a fan any longer. I will avidly follow Karevik’s other work, and I am very excited about the new Seventh Wonder album. The song linked in the comments here is not my favorite of theirs, but yet I still did enjoy it a lot. Tommy Karevik shines in Seventh Wonder and gets to explore the creative side without the songs sounding half-baked with poor writing. He sounds like a completely different singer between the two bands. I honestly like his work on The Great Escape the best, he blows me away in a few spots.

    Far too often, it comes across like the Kamelot writing team think that writing songs that the fans love and that could be career defining, are just so easy to write. If it was easy to write songs like that everyone would be doing it! These guys have fantastic talent and skill to play their instruments, but the songwriting is simply awful. I don’t know if it is an ego thing, or if they truly believe this material is great, but I assure you it is not great. They need to shake things up in a huge way.

    So far, every single Kamelot CD with Karevik has worse and worse writing, and it is the fault of those writing the songs, period. This entire album is a dumpster fire for me. For a bit I thought I was back in the 80s and that I entered a parallel universe called ‘Synth-Keyboard Land’ or something. I heard the remarks about the ‘Industrial’ bits, but I don’t consider that industrial, it just annoyed me. Thankfully I didn’t order it because a friend has it and we listened to it together. I must have had a strange expression on my face for most of it because my friend kept looking at me like ‘Are you ok??’, and I was, but he could tell I didn’t like it at all. I am extremely glad I didn’t waste my money on the album, because if I had a physical copy of it, I suspect it would be in the trash where it belongs.

    I know, I have written things that could be considered harsh. But, I expected so much more than what they delivered. I can’t believe the amount of hype versus the actual album. It is not what I had expected them to deliver.

    I also do have concerns over Karevik’s voice. By my count, the first leg of the tour has 22 shows from April 16 to May 13. 22 shows in around 28 days. That is a punishing schedule for a vocalist. I can’t imagine trying to do that type of a schedule and still be able to perform. While he is younger than Roy, Tommy is not young and probably not immune from the wear and tear that will take upon him and his voice. I won’t be shocked if down the road they wear Tommy’s voice out too.

    • Eric permalink
      April 16, 2018 1:41 pm

      Nailed it, sir. 100%. I’ve been wondering if I need to get my hearing checked because while so many people are praising this album, I think it’s a steaming pile of poo. I like Tommy’s voice but that isn’t the problem, it’s the songwriting. What the hell happened? This is the same band that wrote “Center of the Universe”, “Forever”, and countless other classics?!? I didn’t love Silverthorn or Haven but at least they each had like two or three decent songs. There’s not one song from this album I liked at all. Where’s the hooks? Where’s the catchy choruses? I knew I had a right to be concerned when I heard both singles and thought they both sucked but I was trying to be optimistic. Talk about a complete letdown. Glad I didn’t get a ticket for this tour, even though it would have been good to see Battle Beast live again, who were awesome opening for Sabaton.

      • April 16, 2018 6:27 pm

        The Shadow Divine really grew on me, its not the best Kamelot single but I do think it has a really nice Queensryche-ian vibe to it (not just the obvious bit at the end where they’re chanting “I am the empire!”). I’d still go see the tour (I’m going myself), I’m sure they’ll hit up some Khan era classics that’ll be worth hearing.

      • April 17, 2018 4:14 pm

        Eric,
        Thank you for confirming I am not the only one out there that doesn’t get the hype surround this album. I’m still mighty baffled by many things surrounding it.

    • April 16, 2018 8:11 pm

      Its interesting SR, because I see that opinion ventured every so often regarding Tommy in Kamelot vs his other work in Seventh. I totally get where some people are coming from because he does have this other side to him on albums like TGE where its a pop-influenced vocal approach, very Michael Jackson and Freddy Mercury influenced. Alot of speedy phrasing, interesting diction, a lot of stuff that shouldn’t work but he manages to finesse it to a perfect edge to make it fly. He is a little more boxed in with Kamelot, just by virtue of that distinctive Kamelot sound —- I suppose the question is did the band make Tommy fit into that sound (I think maybe, given that Silverthorn was largely written before he showed up), or did Tommy just figure he should give it his best Roy Khan to keep continuity for the fans more. As loathed as it was, you gotta give Maiden props for having the balls to get Blaze Bailey in there when they could’ve had a more Dickinson-ian vocalist like Doogie White instead. Bailey was a totally different type of singer, and those albums were really written and heard through the prism of his voice. Not so with Karevik era Kamelot…. and that could be a problem in the long run (already is for some like yourself).

      I will argue that Karevik helped Kamelot on the songwriting front, if only in noticing the difference in quality from Silverthorn to Haven. He knows how to craft a great vocal melody and even pen the odd quality hook or two. But it didn’t last, not on this album —- I did like the single more than you (thought it was one of the highlights really), and I don’t think this is a bad album by any means, but its a big step back, a little above Silverthorn in quality.

      Regarding Karevik and the touring schedule, I hope he informs the band of what his limits are, for his own sake. Roy was significantly older than Tommy but he also toured just as hard. The Kamelot machine keeps rolling every year it seems.

      • April 17, 2018 4:27 pm

        Pigeon,

        Since I don’t know your name, Pigeon will hopefully suffice for the time being. I still maintain you should be well compensated for your astute writing and ability to really connect with your readers. If you are not, you should be considered a professional writer. I, and undoubtedly many others love what you write, the ideas, and the ability to connect to the reader.

        That being said, I had a realization today that for me plays into why I dislike the Karevik fronted Kamelot albums today at work. I think Tommy does best in a very upbeat, dare I say more positive tones and expressions in his vocals. I tend to really enjoy that version of him and the work he has produced that way.

        Contrast that to his Kamelot work, which I think we all would agree is darker than his Seventh Wonder work, and I think beyond having mediocre songs to perform, Tommy also has to overcome the fact his voice is arguably more suited to be singing in the more poppy sounding work he has done, and he just doesn’t pull off singing the ‘darker’ tones of the Kamelot stuff he has been stuck with.

        Don’t get me wrong, as I say this very tongue-in-cheek, but I still think a room full of well trained chimpanzees could write songs just as good as these if simply given a bit of time. But, when you write the same basic stuff over and over, bad things can happen. I sum it up this way: If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Period.

        I respect Palotai as a performer, he has fantastic ability to play. I offer that up as someone with a very lengthy background in piano playing/performance at a very high level. He is great at playing, but I feel he has no business being so involved in the composition stage.

      • April 17, 2018 7:15 pm

        Hah thanks, sadly professional and writer in regards to metal is nigh nonexistent. I cough up money every year to keep the blog going actually, but qualifying for Google Adsense one day is a nice dream to try to aim for haha.

        Tommy being a better singer on positive material might be something worth thinking more about, its not a far fetched notion. Roy had a way with darkness, it really seemed inborn in him, and one could argue that the band turned in that direction largely due to his lyrical direction steering them that way on more and more songs as the years went on, culminating on The Black Halo. Tommy has mentioned specifically that he preferred singing ballads live more than anything, he mentioned that it was due to it being in his comfort zone (wish I remembered the interview it was on). It might be worth pondering whether or not that comfort zone is largely due to ballads’ tendencies to be major key driven, positive songs.

  3. Robert Kurelic permalink
    April 15, 2018 4:33 am

    In case you missed this info: Roy is back with a religious song

    but might be working on a Conception reunion.

    • April 16, 2018 6:27 pm

      Yup, saw the news in the USPMC facebook group. Pretty exciting stuff, particularly the Conception rumor… funny how it was captured paparazzi style. TMZ meets power metal!

  4. L Roy permalink
    April 16, 2018 3:32 am

    Hey Pigeon – I’ve been waiting a while for this one (actually, both the album and your review of it!)! I have a theory as to their gradual decline, that being…

    … Thomas Youngblood has never been a strong enough songwriter on his own.

    That golden era (Fourth Legacy through Black Halo, or even Ghost Opera) found Youngblood surrounded by a lineup equally or possibly more proficient than him (Khan, Barry, Grillo). Of particular note, keyboard arrangements were provided by one of their producers, Miro, on each of those albums. The songwriting partnership of Youngblood and Oliver Palotai you refer to heavily didn’t kick in until Ghost Opera. Miro’s orchestrations took a back seat in favour of a permanent keyboard player and, by the time this partnership had a chance to really kick in on Poetry, both Khan’s vocal register and enthusiasm for the band were severely affected.

    About this same time, Barry left and Tibbetts (re) joined. Despite being an ‘original’ member, he was never on any of their records. Having seen Tibbetts live, two things strike me about him;
    1. his constant showboating, prancing around almost as much as the frontman; and
    2. he seems content to hold a root note and pick 8th/16th notes in the background of Youngblood’s chords, rather than lock in his own pulse (refer Lunar Sanctum, Edge of Paradise or Love you to Death).
    I get the impression that he’s more concerned with the rockstar trimmings and is happy for Youngblood to run the show.

    Which brings me to their guest appearances. Traditionally, Kamelot have been accompanied by an equally traditional power metal crew – Youngblood’s wife, Robert & Cinzia Rizzo (who have been on almost every Paeth and Miro produced power metal record), Amanda Somerville and Simone Simmons of Epica fame. Coinciding with Tibbetts’ entry and Khan’s sudden issues, the guest appearances all of a sudden became a bit more palatable to the Youtube generation – Speed Strid, Jon Oliva, Elize Ryd, Alissa White-Gluz, Charlotte Wessels, and now Lauren Hart and Jennifer Haben (the latter two or their respective bands I’d never heard of until this record – I must be getting old). Singing wise, they’ve not really added anything previous guests haven’t other than younger, prettier and, dare I say, more popular faces which I’m sure was Youngblood’s intention.

    Say what you will about Karevik – I love his vocals but don’t care much for his lyrics (Song for Jolee a particular sticking point of mine, but I know you love it so I’ll leave it alone!) – the main issue is very much with Youngblood and his lack of decent riffs, a problem that only became apparent after his writing partners disbanded. His first single without them, Sacrimony, was recycled into Veil of Elysium which in turn has been recycled into Phantom Divine. Likewise, the melody from Silverthorn became Beautiful Apocalypse which has since become Ravenlight… Grillo’s departure prior to recording The Shadow Empire was perhaps telling as there’s very little on the record that he and the rest of the band hadn’t already played a part to on earlier albums.

    Whilst the rest of the band is no doubt a capable group of musicians, all of them have other projects, with Kamelot being their regular meal ticket (refer recent comments from Seventh Wonder about their own album delay). I suspect that unless the band takes a break and finds the time to sit down together and write an album from scratch, the next Kamelot album is going to be yet another Youngblood marketing exercise, hidden behind a decent singer and long list of guests.

    • April 16, 2018 7:35 pm

      LRoy that was a fantastic comment —- you brought up some stuff I’d not even considered:

      – The bassist issue I hadn’t ever really thought of, although I preferred Glenn to Sean, I could never figure out why. His is a more thoughtful style, complementing Youngblood on those older albums in intelligent ways. It was always interesting to hear just how full they could sound rhythmically… I guess I hadn’t paid that much attention to Tibbet’s playing but if your observation is anything to go by, it could be a contributing factor in why there’s been a lack of standout riffs. Youngblood is talented, but he used to hit that Chris DeGarmo sweet spot so often, and lately a lot of his stuff has sounded rote and often metalcore-ish. Could be a rhythm section issue overall. I too thought Veil sounded like a better version of Sacrimony, and really the difference is that Karevik has a better vocal melody (and space to properly phrase things out) in Veil. Recycled riffs.

      – I think I’m with you in the Miro factor —- its one of those untold things about albums recorded at Gate Studios but he has a hand in nearly everything excellent popping out of there. I’m thinking not only of classic Kamelot but his work on Avantasia/Edguy’s orchestral elements as well. He might be a missing magic piece, and although Palotai is talented and has contributed some good work, I dunno if he fits the band as well songwriting wise than Miro did as an outside contributor. Good catch and a controversial take, Palotai has a lot of fans who will balk when they read that comment but I’m feeling you on it.

      – Re: The use of pretty faces as guest vocalists. This is a potentially loaded subject so I’ll tread carefully. I think Kamelot had a run where they chose guest vocalists wisely. Simone was great on The Haunting and House on a Hill, perfect vocal chemistry with Khan. Shagrath was excellent on March, even though the part is small, it was tastefully executed and really was a breath of fresh air at the time. They didn’t need to constantly go back to that same well again and again (Bjorn Strid was fine on Great Pandemonium, but we all know he’s capable of so much more as a vocalist —- his work in Night Flight Orchestra for example). And I loved the Jon Oliva track, was really different for them and it worked.

      But the repeat usage of Elize Ryd and Alissa White-Gluz on Silverthorn felt strange, I know she had worked with them live and there was already a relationship there so I could understand it. They were also playing roles in a concept album and there’s also something positive about choosing a female vocalist for a growling guest vocal spot, gender equality and all that. The flip side is that their presence can also be seen as exploitative, something to draw eyeballs to music videos. That criticism could be avoided if they were guesting on non-single/music video cuts, but we’ve all seen the “Sacrimony” music vid. Doubly for the inclusion of Eklipse on the “My Confession” video when as we discussed before, they could’ve easily included those strings via Oliver or Miro (although I suppose every band wants to work with live strings… why specifically the goth rock version of Bond?)

      Alissa was back for two songs on Haven, one of them (surprise surprise) was for a video (Liar Liar, arguably one of the worst cuts on the record). Charlotte Wessels was even on the lyric video for Under Grey Skies —- a good ballad, but why would they want to make a focus track out of a ballad? Bands rarely do that anymore. A cynic could reasonably suggest that it was due to the collab factor and particularly Wessels. If Tony Kakko were guesting, would they have bothered grabbing him for a video? And here we are with The Phantom Divine and Lauren Hart doing the growling/clean guest vocals, a video track as well. There’s a pattern there, and it revolves around drawing eyeballs and I understand that, but its also understandable for some fans to look at that and long for a Kamelot album without guest vocals. Should they just get a permanent female singer at this point?

      I’m not sure what else can be said aside from pointing out how predictable their choices have gotten. I wouldn’t be surprised if “In Twilight Hours” ends up as the next music video or lyric vid simply due to Jennifer Haben’s guest spot. Its the best song on the album so you can’t fault them too much, but its still a ballad and you’ve gotta think Napalm Records would somewhat wish that it weren’t. If this is all as you said, a Youngblood marketing exercise, then we’re starting to see through it fairly easily. All the more reason they need to go back to the drawing board and change things up. Go back to their roots a bit.

      • April 16, 2018 8:02 pm

        I’ll also eat all my words if Kamelot grabs Corpsegrinder or John Tardy for their next growl/brutal vocal guest spot!

      • L Roy permalink
        April 18, 2018 7:17 am

        Ha, I’d forgotten about Eklipse!
        I’d like it noted that when I say ‘prettier’ I don’t mean it literally (i.e. pick the singer for sex appeal), but moreso in terms of their appeal to younger, less hardened audiences… Amaranthe and Ryd had just done The Nexus, White-Gluz was either side of Arch Enemy (and both just happened to have filled in for Nightwish prior to release of Silverthorn), and Delain had become a festival staple in their own right. But as you’ve mentioned videoclips… The cynic in me certainly agrees that being attractive hasn’t hurt their sales…

        Corpsegrinder would be awesome! But I’d probably be happier for an album devoid of guests (or at least who’s identities are left hidden in the back of the lyric booklet) and with a bit more sincerity. Karma pt2 anyone?

    • April 17, 2018 4:30 pm

      L Roy,

      Thanks for the comments about Tibbets. I’ve never been a fan of his bass playing. I’ve generally held the opinion he is inferior to Glenn, and I think he’s a bit of a prima donna at best.

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