Thursday, 21 May 2015

Kamelot's 'Haven' - Album Review

Kamelot are one of my favourite bands. While I might sometimes go for months without listening to one of their albums, they always remain high on my list of favourite bands. I first got into the band in 2009 when I first heard their 2005 album The Black Halo and was blown away. There was something about their unique melancholic, dark power metal sound that spoke to me. At that point, I had not heard anyone that mixed the up-beat, melodic nature of power metal with a darker, gothic progressive nature. I gradually got the rest of the band's back catalogue (besides their 1997 album Dominion which seems to be very hard to get!) and they quickly became an enduring favourite of mine. From their humble beginnings on 1995's Eternity where they emulated Crimson Glory and Queensr├┐che; to 1999's The Fourth Legacy which really was the start of the Kamelot sound that we know today; to the epic album pairing of 2003's Epica and the aforementioned The Black Halo with their Faustian storyline; Kamelot went from strength to strength. With founding member and guitarist Thomas Youngblood and former frontman Roy Khan spearing the band's direction since 1998, the darker side of the music really came to a fore on 2007's Ghost Opera and 2010's Poetry for the Poisoned. The latter was the first album of Kamelot's that I heard new, and it blew me away. It has never been one of the band's most popular works, but I loved it from the off and still play it regularly. Khan left the band soon after, and Tommy Karevik (Seventh Wonder) joined the band in 2012 with the release of Silverthorn which proved their was life after Khan. That album harked back to their earlier work slightly, losing some of the darker trappings to emphasising the power metal elements again. It was another excellent piece of work, and one that proved to be very successful for the band. Roll forward three years, and we have Haven - the band's second album with Karevik. I would describe this album as a mix of Ghost Opera, Poetry for the Poisoned, and Seventh Wonder's Mercy Falls - as Karevik branches out vocally much more on this release. The darkness is back here, and in some respects, this is probably the heaviest album of the band's career. In some respects, the band have outdone themselves here, and I have a feeling that this album is going to be very successful indeed for them.

Foregoing the usual orchestral intro for a gentle piano/vocal combination, Falling Star soon really takes off with a soaring guitar lead from Youngblood and some powerful drumming from long-time drummer Casey Grillo. The verses carry a heavy groove and sees the guitars lock in well with Sean Tibbetts' basslines to give the song a modern vibe. Subtle orchestrations surround the piece, and occasionally break through with a dramatic chord or melody. The chorus is quite understated, but is all the more powerful for it, with Karevik crooning the melodies with real intent. Fans of the Ghost Opera album will love this song, as it picks up where that album left off. Insomnia is the album's lead single, and it follows the mould for Kamelot singles past. Oliver Palotai's keyboards and orchestrations dominate the intro as they swirl around the solid rock foundation from the rest of the band. The verses are bass-heavy, with Tibbetts' pulsing instrument standing out with a real growl. It is an extremely catchy song, but loses none of the darkness established on the first song. A demented guitar solo adds to this vibe. It goes for the crazy rather than the melodic, but this works well within the song's theme. Citizen Zero is a really dramatic song. Starting out with a dark, clean guitar line; the song soon morphs into a mid-paced heavy number that is similar in some respects to March of Mephisto. Again there is a distinct groove in the guitar riffs, but the chorus really explodes with a flurry of gothic strings and choral arrangements. There's a lot of Poetry for the Poisoned in this song too, and fans of that album will love this song. The symphonic mid-section is also great, with a huge choir piece, before Palotai takes over with an enjoyable keyboard solo. Veil of Elysium reminds me more of the more upbeat sound found on Silverthorn. It is a fast power metal song with lots of double bass drumming and uplifting guitar playing, as found in the song's intro. This is an instantly accessible piece with a very memorable chorus that has vocal melodies that you cannot help but sing along with. It is a very uncomplicated song, and is one I am sure will be included in the band's live set for quite some time. It also has a very nice guitar solo from Youngblood that takes the chorus melody and plays with it. Under Grey Skies is the album's first ballad, and features both Charlotte Wessels (Delain) on vocals and Troy Donockley (Iona; Nightwish) on whistles. Karevik and Wessels trade vocal lines throughout, and the result is spellbinding. I have always loved her voice, and she shines here. Karevik also sounds amazing, as he opens his voice out a little from the Khan mould. This joins the list of great Kamelot duets, and is well placed after four hard rocking numbers. My Therapy is up next, and this is probably the only song on the album that does not really resonate. It is another fairly upbeat number, but the melodies just are not as interesting. The heavy verses are good, but the chorus fails to live up to expectations. The lyrics are rather clunky, and it makes the melodies come across as forced. It is the only real misstep on the album however, as things pick up again soon after. 

After the short instrumental Ecclesia, we come to End of Innocence. Again, the Silverthorn sound is present here, and after a dramatic but upbeat orchestral metal intro - the song a real melodic feast with powerful verses and a soaring chorus. Songs like this are bread and butter for Kamelot, but they are still enjoyable. I really like the way Karevik's vocals float above the rest of the music in a way that Khan's never would. It is songs like this that he distinguishes himself from the band's former singer and makes the position his own. Beautiful Apocalypse is up next and is my favourite song from the album, and possibly one of my favourite Kamelot songs ever. Karevik channels his Seventh Wonder vocal stylings here, and this is extremely evident in the chorus. The Kamelot of old would never have written a chorus with such contrasting melodies; and the way Karevik sings this is fantastic. I could listen to that chorus over and over and never get bored, constantly marvelling at the originality in the melodies. Not to be overlooked, Youngblood also plays a blinding guitar solo - before another reprise of the chorus really hits home how amazing this song really is. Liar Liar (Wasteland Monarchy) is a heavy piece. Alissa White-Gluz (The Agonist; Arch Enemy), making her second appearance on a Kamelot album, lends her diverse vocal talents to this song and makes her presence known. Her harsh vocals add to the orchestral epic-ness of the bombastic chorus, which is one of the more powerful moments on the album. The verses are extremely dynamic too, with lots of varied drumming from Grillo; and the gentle pre-chorus sees Palotai rattle off some delicate piano lines. Youngblood really shreds here too, and lets rip with an explosive solo that is one of his best. Palotai follows this up with a fantastic keyboard solo of his own, and even tried to outdo Youngblood for speed in places! This is a real band effort, and brings out the best of everyone involved. White-Gluz dominates the song's end, firstly with a grinding harsh vocal section that is at her demonic best; before singing the chorus alone clean. She is a real enigma, and Kamelot have done well to include her again here. Here's to the Fall is a bit of a breather, and features Karevik singing alone with a beautiful orchestral and piano backing. Sandwiched between two heavy pieces only improves it, and it showcases a great 'less-is-more' attitude. Karevik sounds fantastic, and shows why he was picked to front the band. The final 'proper' song Revolution is one of the heaviest the band have ever done. White-Gluz is featured again, adding some harsh vocals here and there. The industrial riffing and furious drumming makes this song, and the energy never lets up throughout. An instrumental section mid-way through has the feel of a melodic death metal band to it, with dense riffs and pounding double bass drums. Kamelot have never sounded like this, but it works well for them and proves that older bands can still evolve. As the instrumental title track plays out, you reflect on what you have just heard. Haven is another winning album from the band, and one that stamps out a new, heavier path for Kamelot to take going forward. It is a real winner, and I think this album will be getting a lot of plays here in the future!

The album was released on 4th May 2015 via Napalm Records. Below is the band's promotional video for Insomnia.

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