Review Summary: An enjoyable but formulaic power metal album, it works well with the sound of the band but does not completely hold up to previous releases.
Once upon a time, it was a new thing to use an orchestra in metal. Bands that did this were thought of as innovative, as the melding of classical and metal was at one time a virgin idea, a stroke of genius no one had thought of. Mind you, this was 1995 or so, and the world had not yet witnessed the rise of the then infant band Nightwish, and the slew of bands that spawned in their wake. Kamelot, along with Nightwish and Rhapsody, were one of the first power metal bands to succesfully integrate orchestras and choirs in their sound, and have become renowned for their excellent use of it combined with sparse female vocals contrasting the gracious classically trained vocal histrionics of Mr Roy Khan.
As the amount of bands that used orchestral techniques rose throughout the late nineties and the early days of the 21st century, the originality began to fade from the technique. Many bands sounded cheesy with the overly silly layers of instrumentation (Hi, Dimmu Borgir!), or just didn't use them to full effect (Epica, Within Temptation.) However, Kamelot continued to set the bar for the style, and released what is generally regarded as their creative zenith, The Black Halo. Now, I'm going to do a what if experiment and pretend I am unaware of all this (as I had heard no studio outings of Kamelot prior to buying this).
What I hear is quite an interesting blend of power, symphonic and even some more atmospheric/gothic elements (fyi this is not prog.) After the obligatory classical introduction, we start off with the real album. Rule The World has some nice chugging riffs in it, stylised with some Arabian-sounding folk elements. Khan sounds grand in the chorus. Drums work well with the song rhythmically as does the bass. So far, so good.
This trend kind of continues into the next two songs. We still have that typical power metal vibe (with some bonus double bass whacking, I'm sure power metal lovers will appreciate this bit in Ghost Opera), layered with all the keyboards and symphonic stuff going on in the background. Khan is still a monster on the mic. It all works. It's perhaps not overly impressive, but the nice chugging riffs and melodies make you appreciate the work and we're still in a mood where we can dig this.
Now, this is most of the album, apart from a couple of songs. Of course it's power metal, so as a nice break from all the heavy over-the-top things going on, we have Anthem, a kind of corny, cheesy piano ballad, but it's pulled off well by the band. There's Love You to Death, one of those great crescending songs that starts off with quiet acoustic/electronic work and in the middle rips into overdrive with chugging guitars, the standard power metal halfway song formula, but again, it's pulled off well and the chorus is catchy enough for you to remember (actually, Khan and Amanda Summerville's vocal trading off is probably the highlight of the album.) And there's Blücher, a weird, kind of atmospheric song, which kind of integrates 70s synthesizer prog rock elements with the symphonic power metal template (perhaps the only prog element in the album.)
If Kamelot were any other band, this would be gold, then. Catchy melodies, guitar riffs, members who know their way around their instruments, superb orchestrations, name it, you've got it. There is even a nice darker, atmospheric feel due to all the new atmospheric elements being subtly introduced. But now, return to that moment where I said Kamelot basically started this style, and have played this all along with a huge background legacy. And put what came after that in perspective with this notion, and you'll find what I mean: it's not so special when a band that has done this in the past, and much better, is doing it.
Kamelot haven't reinvented the wheel. This album won't make you bow down to your speakers and praise the Lord for having such musical genius shine down upon the world, despite the grand bombastic feel of the album. Instead, they have created an album that is a solid, decent power metal album with symphonic overtones and good use of keyboards, that holds up overall, but to their legacy, can't help but stand slightly uncomfortable against its greater breathren. Fans of the band will enjoy this just as much as the last one. Haters will hate it just as much. Everyone else could pick it up and have a good time with it, but fact remains that Kamelot has better choices as a starting point. In the meantime, this will satisfy all the people who needed a fresh new Kamelot album to enjoy.