Kamelot, as though nothing has changed in seven years

Major changes often go hand in hand with a certain personal reassessment and usually highlight what really matters in life. Roy Khan is probably one of the best and most easily identifiable vocalists in the current heavy/power world. For twelve years he was Kamelot’s singer and co-composer (with guitarist Thomas Youngblood), and he’s undoubtedly one of the reasons the band has reached those heights. Therefore, it was indeed a major change for Kamelot when he announced in 2010 that he was leaving his friends of the Round Table.

After hiring Fabio Lione, Rhapsody’s vocalist (that would be the Rhapsody that kept “Of Fire” in their name), in the interim, the band finally welcomed a complete stranger, Tommy Karevik, to fill in the singer shoes. With his pretty face, not unlike that of his predecessor, and his involvement as a firefighter (we all know girls dig uniformed men), he has everything to please the lovely young lady in black on the album’s cover (more on that later). Even more importantly, the man, who fails from Sweden, can unquestionably sing. Bonus points: he can even sing the way Roy Kahn did. It would be too much to say his timbre is a carbon copy of Roy’s (even if the similarity is sometimes uncanny), but Karevik’s vocal approach and his gimmicks do create the illusion of hearing his Norwegian predecessor. If the band claimed that his Roy Kahn-style was not a very important criterion in the decision to hire him, we would have trouble believing them. In an interview published on the band’s Facebook page, guitarist Thomas Youngblood said that they picked the singer who fit best in terms of sonority, writing style and image. At least that’s coherent.

But was that really a smart decision in the end? It’s easy to think that dramatically different replacements have always been rejected by the fans. In our favorite genre, the wobbly history between Iron Maiden and Blaze Bayley tends to confirm this supposition. So does the successful replacement of the late Steve Lee by Nic Maeder and his very similar voice in Gotthard. But there’s also the case of AC/DC and Brian Johnson: his voice was very different from that of the venerated and lamented Bon Scott, and still, the first album he appears on, Back In Black, remains the band’s most popular record, along with Highway To Hell. And then there’s Ripper Owens, who, despite his widely recognized human and vocal qualities, and a voice as close to that of the Metal God as it was removed from Matt Barlow’s, was fired both from Judas Priest and Iced Earth. In short, there’s no rule in music when changes come about; there’s only worry and speculation, choices that work, and choices that don’t. Human emotions (the artist’s and the audience’s) make artistic choices complex, when they should actually be so simple: they should be driven by selfish desire, or by instinct.

When we listen to Silverthorn, Kamelot’s new album, the band’s choice is easy to understand. Changing the face and voice of the frontman is frightening enough, so staying on familiar territory is comforting. Said familiar territory starts with the artwork, which depicts a charming gothic young woman surrounded by crows. The lady is supposed to be 19th-century Jolee, the main character of the album’s concept, which tells the story of a family and a bunch of ghosts. “So cliché!” some would say – and they would be right. With this representation (pretty, but shallow and expected), Kamelot don’t seem to want to reach outside their usual audience: young people attracted by the gothic imagery. The power metal band have quickly developed these aesthetics through romanticism, heavy orchestrations and chiaroscuro themes. The artwork hints at what’s inside and, at first look, makes the album appear superficial. And yet, the record is not that shallow – at least not as much as Kamelot’s unconvincing attempts at modernizing their music found on their two previous.

Silverthorn is familiar territory in the sense that Kamelot are refocusing on what has worked best for them in the past, and on what is probably natural for them. In many respects, Silverthorn can be compared to the Epica album (particularly in terms of arrangements) and to The Black Halo: melodic power metal with an easily identifiable personality, romantic phrasing from the vocalist, chiaroscuro melodies and harmonies, smooth choirs and orchestrations… It’s all there, and it shows the same usual know-how (or almost). In this respect, “Prodigal Son”, the album’s epic title, with its organ and church choir, is a nice example of the band’s brilliance when it comes to arrangements. The talented producing duet Sascha Paeth/Miro, inseparable from Kamelot’s sound since The Fourth Legacy, probably had a part to play in that. But let’s not forget the obvious work of Oliver Palotai, who appears in the credits of every last song on the record. Once again, the album also welcomed a few guests, albeit anecdotal, since they mostly serve as arrangements. Elize Ryd (Amaranthe) does what Simone Simons (Epica) did in the past, except she doesn’t appear quite as often. As for Alissa White-Gluz (The Agonist), her performance is all about the dark roughness of her extreme vocals on the single “Sacrimony (The Angel Of Afterlife)”, and follows in the wake of Bjorn “Speed” Strid (Soilwork) or Shagrath (Dimmu Borgir).

This is why the choice of Tommy Karevik, similar to Roy Kahn, as a frontman is easy to understand. With Silverthorn, in the aftermath of parting with an emblematic singer, Kamelot deliberately chose to go back to their essence – and they weren’t about to spoil it with a widely different timbre and vocal style. Kamelot have managed to give the illusion that almost nothing has changed for them since the release of The Black Halo in 2005. And who knows, Roy Khan could feel like coming back to the music business (which he’s left for good, according to Youngblood) one of these days… Even if some people would prefer to see him back in Conception. But that’s a different story altogether!

Silverthorn, released October 29th, 2012, by Steamhammer/SPV

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