Review Summary: A sublime release from power metal's finest.
The term “power metal” often elicits ridicule amongst the metal community, and not without valid reason. As a sub-genre, power metal is frequently associated with high-pitched vocals, fantasy-orientated lyrics, overly dramatic keyboard solos and, well...DragonForce. It comes as no surprise, then, that your casual metal fan often finds the genre impossible to stomach. However, these preconceptions have been thrown aside by Kamelot, a Florida-based band who, over the years have proven to be a breath of fresh air in an otherwise gimmicky genre.
Whilst still relatively unknown outside of certain circles, Kamelot have gradually built up a devout following, and have a reputation for releasing consistently strong albums. Their sixth studio album, 2003's Epica, has helped to cement this reputation. The album – based conceptually around Goethe's play Faust – tells the story of Ariel, a disillusioned youth who trades his immortal soul with the devil in exchange for a life of power and fulfilment. He eventually comes to regret his decision, however, when his actions result in the death of his one true love, Helena, and his unborn child. The fact that the songs are driven by such a strong and compelling concept helps to give the album a sense of continuity, and prevents it from dragging at any point during its 16-track duration. The storyline is continued and concluded on the band's excellent follow-up release, 2005's The Black Halo.
Musically, the jewel in the band's crown is undoubtedly their vocalist, Roy Khan. Much like Blind Guardian's Hansi Kürsch, Khan avoids the clichéd “high pitched” vocals that many have come to expect from power metal. Instead, Khan possesses an almost operatic voice and a vast vocal range. From the soaring choruses found in heavier numbers like Farewell or The Edge of Paradise, to the raw emotion Khan displays throughout ballads such as Wander, it becomes obvious from one's first listen to the album that, vocally, Epica is technically brilliant.
That's not to say that the other members of the band don't pull their weight. Guitarist Thomas Youngblood, whilst no Yngwie Malmsteen, has an excellent ear for melody, providing powerful guitar riffs – with The Edge of Paradise being a strong example yet again – and tuneful solos whilst rarely resorting to mindless shredding. The rhythm section are, regrettably, given very little time to shine beyond the occasional bass lick or well-timed drum fill, but they get the job done, and provide a solid backbone throughout the album.
Kamelot have always been fairly adventurous for a band so often associated with such a strictly-defined sub-genre, and Epica is no exception to this. Atmospheric interludes, as well as duetting male and female vocals on several tracks, help to add variety to the album, and further the lyrical concept. As if this wasn't enough, the band have also successfully woven subtle keyboard melodies and choral backing vocals into many of the songs, allowing for more replay value than a band such as Kamelot may initially seem to warrant.
In this case, then, the band's musical merit combines perfectly with Epica's concept to create an album that's enjoyable from start to finish. Every song boasts strong musicianship, as well as vocal melodies that will haunt you for days afterwards, without the album ever becoming too cheesy for its own good. This, along with the band's follow-up release, The Black Halo, is a must-have for any metal fan.
Center of the Universe
The Edge of Paradise
III Ways to Epica