Review Summary: March of Mephisto ends in loving memories
Kamelot is undoubtedly, a trully exceptional band, with a distinct personality. This was evident right after their first releases in the beginning/mid of the 90's. Their "subtle" power/artistic metal sound was distinguishable and appraised among the rock/metal audiences. Their diversity, their quality, concerning music and lyrics and Roy Khan's unique voice played a key role to this evolution and Kamelot are evaluated nowadays as a great contributor to our favourite music.
"The Black Halo" is the second part of their concept, based on Goethe's "Faust", concluding the story that was set forth by "Epica". Lyrically, we could say it is vaguely based on Goethe's work. It retains the central idea of the character Faust, who begins a second adventure after waking up in the fields, after the tragic end of the first part of the story. The negative thing here is, that Kamelot don't really pick up the greatest themes from this masterpiece, but they remain more focused on the love story between "Ariel" and "Helena" and the feelings and memories after their separating. This is considered a huge try to be on the "commercial" side, on my part. On the one hand we have the use of the name "Mephisto", but not the use of "Faust" or "Gretchen", accordingly. This happens for obvious reasons. "Mephistopheles" is already a famous "brand" name, while "Ariel" and "Helena" are for sure more popular than the original german ones.
The afore mentioned thoughts don't mean in any case that the album is lyrically weak. On the contrary, Kamelot are once again on top of their game here, and tracks as "The Haunting", "Abandoned", "Moonlight", prove the latter. Of course if they could have avoided some commercial "lovey" lyrics at the end of the album, it would have been much better.
Musically, they follow the succesful path of "Epica" in a more grandiose and polished way. It's not a foul to step on something succesful. It would be a foul if they had tried to copy it. This is not the case. The two records have huge similarities and some differences. The keyboards part is more grandiose on the "Black Halo", the production is more polished, the rhythm guitars are less heavy and the part of female vocals is more restricted. The influences by the second era of Iced Earth ("Dark Saga") are here more than obvious and the experienced listener also deciphers elements (f.e. piano) "borrowed" by "Thane to the Throne" (Jag Panzer). Thus said, we have to clarify that Kamelot never sounded as heavy as these bands. They follow more the "european" melodic/speedy tradition.
Roy Khan seems to be the main protagonist in the "Black Halo". He is an accomplished singer and he has a distinguishable voice. But on the larger picture, he cannot fullfill the role of the "prime diva" that he is so much after. On "The Black Halo" he is not endorsed by backing vocals on the refrains and this reveals he doesn't have that epicness to carry this out. His higher tones of the scale, though well delivered, are really weak. Roy is not a power metal singer. He can fit in perfectly in a progressive band or a quality rock band, but for Kamelot, he is not the best choice. Of course, that doesn't mean he doesn't deliver above average. My opinion is that a singer with more inner strength and expression would be better.
Really stand-out tracks on this release are, the opening track, "When the lights are down", "The Haunting" and "Moonlight". Melodies are unparalleled, showing great inspiration and musical prowess. Unfortunately, towards the ending of the album we get more generic tracks and less excitement. But this is a bit understandable for a release that doesn't finish on 30 minutes. The keyboard solo of the great keyboardist Jens Johanson on "Mephisto" (though, of course, well executed) is outplaced and doesn't really blend with the atmosphere of the song. Same goes with Sagrath's vocals. Though a clever idea to give a dark tone on the song, his approach is not to my liking. I would prefer something more guttural and not so epidermic.
In conclusion, "The Black Halo" holds moments of grandeur and splendor but also more generic ones. Though well intended and heavy enough, it is obvious that commerciality played a key role here. This is not bad by itself, by i feel that if they tried to be more diverse and innovative with the lyrical themes, judging by the treasury of words they possess, they could have gone much further. Musically, it is a natural sequel to the very succesful "Epica" and it's hard to decide between the two. If I was pressed too hard to decide, I would say that I clinge more on "Epica", based on Youngblood's brilliand guitar intermissions and better soloing. Still, "Black Halo" is top notch melodic power/artistic metal and recommended to the audience of the scene as well as to people who would like to listen to some melodic music with clean and well executed vocals.