Review by Jeff Maki
It’s seems unimaginable, but Kamelot has existed for more than 25 years, survived a change in its vocalist and arguably is enjoying the most prolific period of its career. Kamelot is a name everyone sees if you keep up with metal, but the band’s popularity has been on the rise thanks to the genre-defining albums:”Silverthorn” (2012) and “Haven” (2015). The band and its fans hope “The Shadow Theory” can live up to these albums and take the band to even further heights within the realms of symphonic and power metal.
I started to take notice of Kamelot with “Silverthorn,” but it was “Haven” that made me a fan. It wasn’t even until recent years that I realized this band—guitarist Thomas Youngblood, keyboardist Oliver Palotai, bassist Sean Tibbetts, vocalist Tommy Karevik and drummer Johan Nunez (recently replacing former longtime skinsman Casey Grillo)—is from Tampa, Florida. It’s strong European sound made that seem entirely unlikely. Karevik replaced Roy Kahn and joined the band for “Silverthorn” in 2012. Nothing against Kahn, who was beloved by fans, but Karevik has been largely responsible for opening up the band to its wider audience with the hooks, melodies and ongoing themes of these albums. (Read our recent in-depth interview with Tommy here).
The dystopian theme of “Haven” (on visual display in the video for “Liar, Liar”) seems to continue with “The Shadow Theory.” The description of the album states it’s a “dystopian glimpse at the complexity of the human mind and its place in an oppressive society—an obvious parallel to all of us, in the here and now.”
That’s pretty deep, guys. So how are the songs?
My first impression is “The Shadow Theory” is more melodic and moodier than “Haven,” and maybe less aggressive. It has less of the modern feel and maybe harkens back to styles of a few years ago. The first single, “Ravenlight,” is a darker, emotional song. While not entirely a representation of the album as a whole, it’s a good start.
“In Twilight Hours” features Jennifer Haben (vocalist of Germany’s Beyond the Black) dueting with Karevik, and her voice is nearly identical to Sharon den Adel of Within Temptation. Kamelot is known for taking multiple female guest vocalists on tours, so look for this ballad to show up in set lists to come. “Static” is another power ballad with backing synths and piano. Karevik’s vocals soar here in this sensual singalong, giving off a Scorpions vibe in parts.
Some progressive tendencies shine through and even contain some Blind Guardianisms, like in “Phantom Divine (The Shadow Empire)” and “Stories Unheard.” Storytelling, building instrumental parts and musical changes take the listener on a journey a la the power metal warriors of Middle Earth.
The hardest hitters are “Phantom Divine,” which is begging to not only be the album opener but also the live set opener of Kamelot’s upcoming world tour (see tour dates);”Kevlar Skin” (that title just sounds like it needs to be tough, doesn’t it?); and one of my favorites, “Mindfall Remedy,” featuring some awesome guest growling from Lauren Hart of Once Human—this one is comparable and nearly as good as “Liar, Liar” from “Haven” (featuring Alissa White-Gluz of Arch Enemy).
The band saves some of the best songs for the latter half of the album, highlighted by the more up-tempo, classic Kamelot-sounding “Vespertine (My Crimson Bride).” The six-minute-plus “The Proud and the Broken” is a condensed but fantastic symphonic metal opera (think Avantasia). The multiple sections eventually allow guitarist Thomas Youngblood to cut loose with some mesmerizing solos, while Karevik shows his wide vocal range, even laying some semi-growls toward the back end of the song.
Where “Haven” was good for multiple listens because of its catchiness and more streamlined, accessible style, “The Shadow Theory” will require multiple listens to ingest the deeper, more timeless material. While not as heavy as its predecessor, this album is an emotional, melodic, haunting ride through several chapters of Kamelot’s career, while introducing a different side, as well.
Napalm Records, April 6, 2018