Although lacking progession, Kamelot hits the proverbial metal nail on the head with their eleventh studio album, Haven.
At the height of one of power metal’s most productive years, there’s been an unfortunate lack of balance between quality and quantity from the genre’s most prominent bands. However, with their latest album, Haven, Kamelot surprised fans with a return to style. Haven is fast paced, punch-you-in-your-face-and-sing-about-it style metal, following a familiar formula, but never lacking in consistency. And here at Reviews From the Other Side, consistency is a reviewer’s dream.
Disclaimer: I must admit, Kamelot is the band that brought me into the rich world of metal. So, forgive any fanboyisms that might squeek passed my lovely, Doritos infested keyboard.
Beginning as a bread and butter power metal outfit, their style later teetered on the edge of the epic genre, sometimes reaching progressive and gothic stylings, but never quite achieving either label. Here, the band paves way for the continuation of their patented genre bending.
As usual, the LP opens with a mystical intro in “Fallen Star,” led by Tommy Karevik’s emotional croon. Tommy laid down some interesting vocals on the bands previous outing, Silverthorn, but never quite found his own, instead adopting the hand gestures (fans, you know what I’m talking about), general feel, and even the vibrato of previous singer, Roy Khan. Yes, you didn’t think you’d read a Kamelot review without seeing Roy’s name, did you? “Fallen Star” shows a return to form for the Swedish vocalist, the voice he was known for in Seventh Wonder. At times, he delves into Khan moments, like ballad/power track “Here’s to the Fall” but never fails to belt out soulful, emotional phrases and driving passages. On Haven, Karevik accomplishes every replacement singer’s dream word: identity.
Following the piano intro, Haven reaches deeper into the talents of the band. Thomas Youngblood’s guitar, with its thick and heavy tone, is a highlight here. “Beautiful Apocalypse” hits hard with a dominating, heavy riff, not once alluding to the band’s most famous single, “March of Mephisto,” like previous Kamelot “heavy” tracks. More on that, in a minute. Technique wise, Youngblood’s lead guitar work is generally average, but his musical awareness and songwriting makes tracks like the LP’s single, “Insomnia” stand out.
The rhythm section, headed by bassist Sean Tibbets and “animal of the battery” Casey Grillo continues to pummel the listener. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Casey Grillo is one of the most underrated drummers in the metal scene. Through tracks like “Veil of Elysium,” “My therapy,” and “Liar Liar,” the drummer’s double bass and calculated precision push the songs into overdrive. Keyboards always were an integral part of the Kamelot machine, and Oliver Palotai offers some interesting layers to the tracks, including aforementioned beautiful piano on “Fallen Angel.” Although an interlude — which usually stands for “skip” on the iPod — “Ecclesia” highlights Palotai’s command over atmosphere and ambience.
Two complaints. First, the production. I’ve never exactly been in awe of Kamelot’s production. The band, from Black Halo on, voted for heaviness over clarity, bringing the guitars to the forefront without recognizing the fact that there needs to be bass for a song to be heavy. Vocals are the centerpiece of Kamelot, always has, always will be. Karevik’s contributions are sometimes muddled deep in the mix, as evident in the climax of “Liar Liar.” The singer rears back, Roy Khan style, and belts out a high, probably one of the most passionate moments in his career. But, that passion is thwarted by mixing chaos. I wanted to experience “Lunar Sanctum” explosion, but instead got the volume turned down. Why? Luckily, the band’s output outlasts its production. So, minor marks, Kamelot, minor marks.
Second, progression. Kamelot never quite moved on from The Black Halo. Ghost Opera, Poetry for the Poisoned, and Silverthorn each fell into the dreaded first-three-song hook, followed by balladry and mid-tempo explorations. Not dogging either of those because, let’s face it, some of Kamelot’s best recordings have been ballads and mid-tempo tracks. Non fans and casual listeners, though? They need speed, speed, speed, especially power metal fans who, let’s face it, dominate Kamelot’s market. However, the general feel and sound of the aforementioned albums followed a similar mold. And artistically, that shows diminishing vision. Haven breaks from the three song mold, consistently teasing the ears and providing enough layers to keep the mind interested. Yet, the album still sounds like The Black Halo, which can be either the album’s crutch or savior, depending on need at the time.
Musically, Kamelot knocked it out of the park with this one. Production and progression aside, the band stands behind consistent songwriting and excellent vocals, providing enough oomph to show why it stands on the forefront of power metal. Which is why I give Haven a solid 4/5.
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