Review Summary: Ctrl-V
In 2012, comedian Jim Gaffigan opened his special, Mr. Universe
, by mentioning how he had recently became a father. Naturally the audience met his announcement with cheers and applause, only for Jim to specify, saying that he became a father for the fourth time. To this, the audience barely afforded him more than a mere handful of chuckles, to which he commented: “never as much applause on that part.” It’s a fun bit about how things become less charming as they happen over and over again, which happens all the time in entertainment and, by extension, music. One of the latest examples of this is the new Kamelot album, The Shadow Theory
, coming off the sweet trail of its mostly celebrated predecessor, Haven
. At this point, Kamelot have released three albums with Seventh Wonder vocalist (and firefighter extraordinaire) Tommy Karevik over the course of six years, so they aren’t exactly scrambling to come up with new material. Yet in listening to The Shadow Theory
, one can’t help but feel that the band are stumped by something, whether by design or not. In any case, this twelfth entry in Kamelot’s discography is neither an evolutionary step forward nor a strong case for the band’s more recently established sound.
One thing Kamelot have always had going for them is a grasp on theatrics, even on their less impressive albums. If we strictly consider the band’s recent affairs, Silverthorn
possessed the benefit of being a concept album dealing with the fallout of grief, while Haven
danced around themes of loss, revolution and personal conflict. Unsurprisingly, The Shadow Theory
takes after its most immediate predecessor, so much so that you could almost get away with calling it a carbon copy. Nearly every facet that came to define Haven
has been replicated here, from the comprehensively unimposing instrumentation to the carefully treaded mix and glossy production. The album offers little in the way of showcase, preferring an approach of balance, restraint and predictability--one minute into each song and you’ll know exactly how it plays out. Fleeting moments of note do exist, such as the lead guitar riffs on “Amnesiac” and “Kevlar Skin,” along with the penultimate track “The Proud and the Broken” offering an ominous pinch against a soundscape that, as a whole, feels overwhelmingly safe.
To be clear, calling something safe isn’t necessarily saying that it’s bad, just that it’s not as good as it could’ve (or should’ve) been. Oftentimes in art and entertainment, material becomes or is labeled as safe because it utilizes what works and, in the best cases, works well. This is where the age-old argument about the merit (or lack thereof) in producing identical, iterative material tends to stem from. After all, if Kamelot found a groove that worked on Haven
, then can we blame them for essentially making a Haven
Pt. 2" One might insist that a new album should see a band explore their sound in new and creative ways, while another might argue that maintaining the status quo is fine as long as the quality is up to snuff. It seems that Kamelot would prefer their fans take the latter view, and while they have produced an album that is pleasing enough to the ears, it simply feels like an indistinct and unnecessary addition to their mostly impressive discography.
A big part of why Kamelot garnered so much respect on Karma
and The Black Halo
was because each album showcased the entire band in top form, unleashing their potential in a way that made each member feel like they were truly alive. Their passion was every bit as intense as it was infectious, even on slower tracks such as “Somewhere in Time,” the sheer level of power behind the music was strong and palpable. This is why Ghost Opera
and Poetry for the Poisoned
were seen as lackluster disappointments; the band slumped in a way that left fans feeling confused at best and empty at worst. Silverthorn
both offered glimmers of hope, as if demonstrating that Kamelot were ready to rebuild, slowly but surely. Unfortunately, The Shadow Theory
leaves one with the impression that Kamelot don’t want to push themselves any further. It is, by all counts and measures, a by-the-books Kamelot album with only the vaguest hints at something greater. Catchy, chorus-driven songs" Check. Power ballads with at least one featuring a guest female vocalist" Check. One or two lengthier, more ambitious tracks to break the monotony" Check. The problem with all of these routines isn’t that they’re adhered to, but that the band have either done little or nothing to innovate upon them.
Compounding the frustration that comes with analyzing The Shadow Theory
is knowing just how much talent exists in the band. Tommy Karevik has proven to be one of the most arousing singers in metal between his work in Seventh Wonder and Ayreon; Thomas Youngblood has been integral to Kamelot as both a guitarist and creative source since their inception; and even newcomer Johan Nunez on the drums is due some credit, having worked with Firewind and Nightrage beforehand. The level of potential that exists within this group brings to mind a popular expression by German philosopher Immanuel Kant: “ought implies can.” Basically, if one is morally obliged to do something, then they must be able to perform it. The band members in Kamelot may have produced a decent and listenable album, but it’s abundantly clear that they can do so much better, as evidenced by a combination of past and ongoing projects between the better part of the group. To not realize this isn’t just unfortunate, it’s a damn shame, and beneath what Kamelot are still capable of.