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Kamelot – Silverthorn

Kamelot – “Silverthorn” (2012)

It was over two years ago when Kamelot cancelled its North American tour.  This came as a surprise because Kamelot had just released its latest album, Poetry for the Poisoned, and appeared to be a band on the rise.  The reason for the cancellation was singer Roy Khan who had to bow out due to an extreme case of exhaustion or burn-out.  Months would pass and eventually Kamelot would hit the road in Europe with Rhapsody of Fire vocalist Fabio Lione filling in for Khan, but everyone who loved the band was concerned for its future.  Eventually, the fears of fans were confirmed when Khan announced he was leaving the band in early 2011.  Rumors flew around the internet regarding why Khan chose to leave, but in the end it didn’t matter why:  Kamelot had lost its voice.

After months of searching for a new vocalist, Kamelot finally settled on Swedish singer Tommy Karevik.  Karevik was a popular choice amongst the internet community.  He has spent the last several years fronting the progressive metal act Seventh Wonder where he displayed impressive range and a powerful voice.  In many ways, he’s very similar to a young Roy Khan but different enough that fans won’t feel as if the band is pulling a Ripper Owens on them.  Karevik is also no stranger to the Kamelot back catalog as he had joined the band for several gigs here and there over the past year.  The fact that the band was able to keep Karevik’s joining the band a secret all throughout the recording of its latest album is pretty impressive.  Kamelot is obviously not going to attract the sort of attention popular acts will but in today’s 24/7 media coverage it’s still a challenge to keep anything under wraps.

Now with a new album under its belt, Kamelot is ready to unveil its new frontman to the metal community.  Much to my surprise, it appears that Karevik wasn’t just brought in at the last moment to belt out some tunes.  He receives a writing credit for each song on the new album and apparently is already an integral part of the band.

Kamelot with new vocalist Tommy Karevik front and center.

The new album is Silverthorn, and if any fans were worried about how Kamelot would fair without the melodious tones of Roy Khan their fears should be allayed.  For even those who fail to connect with the new material should be able to concede that Karevik fits in nicely and is a welcomed addition.  Longtime fans of Kamelot will probably feel right at home anyway as Silverthorn is equal parts new and familiar.  It plays like a culmination of Kamelot’s prior works with elements of the complex melodies of Epica and low-end of Poetry.  There’s also plenty of new, with the song “My Confession” sounding like nothing in the band’s back catalog and a stronger emphasis is placed on the keys and general orchestration present in many songs.

Like Epica and The Black Halo, Silverthorn is a concept album.  The tale here is of little importance when it comes to enjoying the record, but knowing it does add another layer.  As the cool tones of the cover suggest, it’s not a happy tale.  Listening and reading the lyrics are sufficient enough to get a basic understanding for the story (or viewing the video for the lead single “Sacrimony”) but for those willing to spend a little extra dough on the special edition, a booklet containing the album’s story is included.  The inclusion of a story helps to act as a glue for the songs which flow and complement each other well.

After being a regular in the live show over the past two years, Elize Ryd got to add her vocals to a Kamelot album for the first time.

There are some throwback style tracks and some big moments.  Kamelot long ago ceased to be a straight up power metal act.  The band still finds itself classified as such, but that’s mostly out of routine.  There’s symphonic elements to their sound as well as some traditional down-tuned strumming.  The first single is one of the album’s more spectacular moments.  “Sacrimony (Angel of Afterlife)” is both typical and atypical for the band.  It sounds like a Kamelot song but has a pretty big presence.  It features the album’s most infectious chorus which makes it the logical choice for lead single.  “Solitaire” is another catchy track that’s short and sweet while “Ashes to Ashes” is a bit more rudimentary and heavy.  “Veritas” is very reminiscent of some of the heavier numbers on Epica and “Prodigal Son” is the required long one.  It’s a bit more demanding of the listener as it’s composed of three distinct parts.  They work well together and the structure is very similar to Karma’s “Elizabeth” with the more up-tempo part saved for last.

I was a bit surprised to see that Silverthorn did not feature any guest vocals from long-time collaborator Simone Simons of Epica.  Simons had been featured on each of the past three albums in some capacity but perhaps the band wanted this album to feel new.  Or they just wanted to reward their recent touring vocalist Elize Ryd of Amaranthe by giving her the role of Jolee, the Angel of Afterlife.  Ryd’s a strong vocalist and a natural fit for the band.  She has a more conventional sound than Simons but it works.  She’s featured most prominently on the single but has some other small parts.  The rest of the album is not short on guest work.  Joining Ryd on “Sacrimony” is Alissa White-Gluz of The Agonist who does some screams.  Album producer Sascha Paeth does some heavy vocals and plays guitars through-out the album and noted keyboardist Miro does some work as well. For string arrangements Kamelot recruited the quartet Eklipse who certainly fit the Kamelot style.  The box set version of the album contains the bonus track “Grace” which features vocals from Apollo Papathanasio (Firewind) and guitars by Niclas Engelin (In Flames).

The box set comes with a lot of stuff, none of which is really all that essential. For the collector only.

The album features sterling production by Paeth who has developed a strong relationship with Kamelot.  His glossy, clean approach suits the band’s sound very well.  This is an album that’s easy to digest with well placed slow moments to counter-balance the up tempo tracks.  The length is just enough that it doesn’t feel short-changed but leaves the listener wanting more.  The box set contains a second disc of instrumental versions of all of the album’s standard tracks, plus two additional ones:  the instrumental “Kismet” and the previously mentioned “Grace.”  “Grace” is just an okay track and once heard it becomes obvious why it was selected as kind of a throw-away bonus track (the Japanese version of the album is said to contain a bonus track as well, “Leaving Too Soon,” that I have yet to hear) and isn’t anything that should be considered required listening.  The instrumental versions of the songs are also non-essential making the box set more of a collector’s item than anything else.  It does come in a nice, sturdy box with two hard-bound books inside, one housing the album and the other the story (with some pictures).  The bonus disc is housed in a paper sleeve which is kind of odd as they could have put it in with the album.  There’s also a poster but that’s likely to only appeal to younger fans, possibly female ones.

What it all comes down to is this is a nice album and a new beginning for the band.  It doesn’t reinvent the band’s sound but does move it forward in a logical fashion.  And no matter who is fronting the band, fans only care about one thing:  is it any good?  And the answer is a resounding yes!  The high points on Silverthorn may not shine quite as bright as some of the ones from Karma or The Black Halo but it fits in nicely with the back catalog and is likely to please new and old fans alike.  The departure of Khan was certainly a bump in the road for Kamelot who’s star was on the rise, but there’s no reason why the band can’t resume its climb with Tommy Karevik leading the charge.

Top Tracks

  • Sacrimony (Angel of Afterlife)
  • Torn
  • Veritas

Epica – Requiem for the Indifferent

Epica - "Requiem for the Indifferent" (2012)

I love Epica!  I have all of their studio albums, (except the instrumental one) plus their live album The Classical Conspiracy, and each one is fantastic.  The band is a relatively new obsession for me but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t looking forward to their latest effort, Requiem for the Indifferent, which was released this past week in the US.  Oh, and if you hadn’t heard, it’s good!

Probably like a lot of the band’s fans, I was introduced to Epica through Kamelot.  The band actually began as Sahara Dust, but changed it to Epica after several of the members heard Kamelot’s album of the same name.  This must have got back to the members of Kamelot, as soon they were taking Epica on the road with them.  Epica’s primary vocalist, Simone Simons, did a guest spot on Kamelot’s follow-up to Epica, The Black Halo, on the song “The Haunting.”  Simons would join the band on stage for live performances of the song, and Epica’s other vocalist and primary song composer Mark Jansen, would also show up to do the death growls featured in the song “March of Mephisto.”  Kamelot’s then vocalist Roy Khan would also appear on Epica’s sophomore release, Consign to Oblivion, on the track “Trois Vierges.”

This relationship has continued on to this day.  Simons even began dating Kamelot’s keyboard player, Oliver Palotai, which has made working together fairly easy.  Palotai has even played with Epica when their keyboard player Coen Janssen was unavailable.  Simons has had a vocal part on all of Kamelot’s albums ever since The Black Halo and was part of the band’s most recent tour where she not only sang her parts from various songs but also performed lead vocals for the Kamelot song “Don’t You Cry” at several shows.

Simone became a regular part of the Kamelot live experience following her appearance on the band's album "The Black Halo."

It was love of Simone Simons’ vocals that got me to ultimately pursue Epica.  Her early appearances with Kamelot mostly added color and character to the tracks she appeared on.  Her voice was basically in the background, but on Kamelot’s latest effort, Poetry for the Poisoned, she was moved into more of a duet type of role and really shined.  I had checked out some of the band’s stuff on youtube and had a muted experience.  Epica is a symphonic metal act at it’s core but adds dashes of death metal as well, mostly through the vocals of Mark Jansen.  I like all metal to some degree and have written about acts that use death growls with great admiration like Opeth and Children of Bodom.  That said, I found Jansen’s vocals off-putting.  They sometimes sound like they exist just because someone in the band feels that they must.  There’s usually little melody to how they’re presented and are very monotone.  It didn’t help that I was checking out Epica primarily because I enjoyed the work of Simone Simons with Kamelot and mostly wanted to hear her front a band.  Eventually I decided I needed to give the band a real chance though, and picked up their album Design Your Universe.

As with most things, repeated exposure to Jansen’s vocals softened my opinion of them.  I gravitated towards the tracks that featured them minimally, but then I started to enjoy the others as well.  Design Your Universe is a great, fantastic album.  I’m still not a big fan of the use of death growls, as they sometimes just don’t fit, but they don’t bother me.  The musicianship and composition of the songs stood out to me, as well as the work of Simons.  I soon sought out the album that preceded DYU, The Divine Conspiracy, and found it hard to decide which I enjoyed more.  I stopped there for awhile, as Epica’s other albums are a pain to locate in the US, but eventually I ordered the remaining ones off of amazon and have enjoyed them all.  I really can’t pick a favorite, though the debut album The Phantom Agony is probably my least favorite.  Not because it’s bad or anything, it’s quite good, it just sounds like a band still finding its voice.

Which brings me to the latest effort from this Dutch outfit, Requiem for the Indifferent.  At it’s heart, Requiem is a natural extension of the last album, Design Your Universe.  There’s a metal base to the record that’s accentuated with classical and Hollywood style orchestration.  There’s a bit more ambition this time out in terms of song structure.  Even the album’s lead single, often the album’s “safest” track, experiments with interesting time signatures.  It’s a bit more of an aggressive lead over something like “Never Enough” from The Divine Conspiracy, but also a superior track.  This lead single, “Storm the Sorrow,” is arguably the album’s best song which is a rarity for a single.  This makes the album a more challenging listen, but a very rewarding one.  Epica is the rare band that seems to get slightly heavier in sound with each subsequent album.

The album begins in the same fashion as the last few, with an instrumental that leads into a soaring epic.  “Monopoly on Truth” is an excellent choice for an album opener as it serves as a pseudo preview of the whole, but still is a viable song on its own merit.  It’s one of the heavier tracks, and there are quite a few of other such tracks.  “Internal Warfare,” dedicated to the victims of the terrorist attack in Norway last year, is another heavy and bold track that gives the head-bangers something to get excited over.  There’s also plenty of softer moments.  “Delirium” is the token ballad of the bunch where a pleasant composition is content to stay in the background while Simons does her thing upfront to really drive the song along.  The US exclusive track “Twin Flames,” is another similar ballad though distinct enough from “Delirium,” and a very capable ballad at that.

The band is often at it’s best though when it can intertwine the heavy and the serene.  The title track is one such instance.  It begins with an unusual (for Epica) “jangly” guitar riff that soon introduces a sitar before the song gets going.  There’s a soaring chorus and lots of extension as the song finds a

There are a few special releases for this album. Pictured is the double LP on white, 180 gram vinyl which is limited to 150 copies. It contains both bonus tracks, "Nostalgia" and "Twin Flames" plus a poster of the album cover.

way to fill eight minutes without feeling long.  Epica is quite fond of exceeding the six minute mark with its songs, and usually does so capably.  “Deep Water Horizon” is a song most will probably find stuck in their head.  It contains an almost out of place chorus, but it’s so good that the song makes it work.  It intertwines the dark and the light and is the kind of song that temps the listener to immediately “rewind” and listen to again upon completion.  The closing number (not including bonus tracks), “Serenade of Self-Destruction,” is the album’s most ambitious song and possibly it’s brightest moment.  Every aspect of the song works well in it’s favor and the chorus has an appropriately “epic” feel to it.  For the track, Epica makes liberal use of choirs and Simon’s more operatic vocals while Jansen adds some brutal undertones with his grunts.  There’s even a spoken word section, something Epica would probably do well to make less use of, that doesn’t derail the song’s momentum as it doesn’t stop to let the speaker speak.  The CD version of the album was actually released without the final version of this track and the lead vocal tracks are missing.  Nuclear Blast, the label for Epica, wisely corrected this error by releasing the song for free over the internet in both .mp3 and .wav formats.  Future pressings will most likely include the full version of the song, but the instrumental version is still an engaging listen and allows the listener to appreciate the composition.  The chorus is so expertly crafted that it works just as well without the lead vocals.

Requiem for the Indifferent is another excellent release from this now firmly established Dutch outfit.  There are moments that do not shine as bright as others, but there is not a single bad composition here.  The production from noted producer Sascha Paeth is fantastic.  The drums are full, the guitars distinct, and the bass audible where it needs to be.  This is Epica’s best album in terms of guitar playing and composition.  There are some great lead riffs and just a ton more variety than their previous albums.  Vocally, Simone Simons is excellent, as always.  There is slightly less ambition as most songs are content to keep her in mid-ranges.  There’s no “Tides of Time” moment, but she stays within herself and when she does push her range it’s with great effect.  It’s much too soon to declare if this latest release is Epica’s best, but the fact that it’s already in the discussion is a very good thing.  Don’t sleep on this one, folks!

Top Tracks:

  • Storm the Sorrow
  • Deep Water Horizon
  • Serenade of Self-Destruction

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