Review Summary: Classic power metal.
Kamelot is a band I picked up on really, really late. Everyone got on this band's bandwagon two years ago (or earlier), when Epica and The Black Halo were released. However, I only got introduced to these guys two months ago when my little brother played me a copy of the On A Cold Winter's Night he had borrowed. I'd never been into this band much before, but I saw the live performance (especially Khan's), and was immediately blown away. I got their new album, Ghost Opera, which took a while to unfold, but is a pretty good album overall.
However, looking back on that, Ghost Opera is like a sapling compared to this gargantuan oak tree. This album might well be the reason why I like power metal so much. It's got everything a power metal fan wants, in a nice condensed form, without sounding overdone or dramatically cheesy. Most power metal bands eventually fall into the trap that they either sound repetitive or just come off as overly hilarious; Kamelot don't. This is serious power metal for grown up people, and the best thing is, the band pulled it off.
Most of this is due to the vocalist, Norwegian-born Roy Khan. For a first, he doesn't often stray into a range of high notes where he becomes shrieky or growly; his notes seem to be always polished, shiny, yet still full of force and technically top-notch. For a second, he puts some goddamn emotion into the album as well; when he sings about a dead love, or the rise of Mephisto, you're going to sit there and nod, and you're going to actually stand there listening, the man is a convincing entertainer as well as a gifted vocalist, and that is first and foremost one of the main attractions of this album. Khan also has an amazing tendency to draw out syllables rather than trying to spit them out in rapid succession; often he will be found singing much more slowly than the tempo of the song, which may make for some odd moments, but in the end I always find his choruses stick (The Haunting is a prime example.)
For a second, Kamelot are extremely epic, but they do this epic thing better than other power metal bands because they've hit upon a songwriting formula that works. The band writes great technical complex and layered music, but they do so with restraint. Youngblood pulls off some amazing lead solos about every other song (check out the marvellous work on March of Mephisto or When The Lights are Down), but it's done tastefully and concisely, leaving room for the other members to circle and flutter around him.
The same goes for the rhythm section. Barry and Grillo form a rock-solid duo behind Khan and Youngblood, and again it's a case of knowing when to hit the skins and when to let down the tempo. Mr Grillo has apparently mastered this, because he pulls off some amazingly powerful double-bass work (as on Serenade and When the Lights are Down), but he also knows how to execute musical crescendos (March of Mephisto) or support more mid-paced tracks (The Haunting). Barry is solid throughout, he's not really present like most bass players are but never does he slip.
And even though the songwriting is focused and restrained, the band doesn't forget to pull out some amazing hammers. Soul Society is a riveting track, blasting forth like a stomping madman, but all the while the band never forgets to emphasize the melody with perfectly placed keyboards. Abandoned proves that Khan is not only technically a fine singer, he also possesses an amazing range, going from low-pitched singing to some extremely powerful high-end notes at the end. Moonlight has an unforgettable riff that will keep you banging your head. And the interludes may seem like ambient filler at first, but they merely serve to allow your head a breather from all the frenzies going on elsewhere in the album.
Kamelot, with this album even more than with others, have hit on a winning formula that has guaranteed them a three-way home run for me (Epica, The Black Halo, Karma.) The band knows how to play, they know when to be epic, when to be heavy, when to be soft, and they have a vocalist that can actually convincingly perform and elevate all of the rock-solid complex songs that the band is playing behind him. A constantly amazing album that will send your head down to the floor in utter amazement. Highly recommended for anyone into the more melodic reaches of metal.