This is not going to be an objective review, no way. As a Kamelot fan eagerly waiting for this album to drop, I was pretty much expecting to give The Shadow Theory either a nine or a ten. As soon as the 6th of April rolled over, I immediately powered up the stereo, set the volume to ‘stun’ and drank deeply from the Cheese Chalice™. If you’ve got this far, you’re either into Kamelot, or want to get a serious schooling in power/symphonic metal. If so, read on.
VIGZ’S KAMELOT WISHLIST
Before we start, just like Xmas, I’ve been compiling my wishlist since their last album was released, so let’s see if Kamelot managed to get it right.
A KNIGHT IN SHINING ARMOUR
Opening with a theatrical, cinematic instrumental (giving me mental images of those amazing mountain flybys in Lord of the Rings) we’re off, straight into “Phantom Divine”, the first track proper. It’s a fast tempo rocker with a super memorable chorus that gives a taste of some more modern sounds on guitar and voice that pepper the rest of the album. It’s nothing super different, but I imagine that this track will work well as an opener on their forthcoming tour (just like Maiden who always started with the first track of their latest release).
There’s no let up as “Ravenlight” and “Amnesiac” thunder from the stereo, giving me no time to even take a breath. This is exciting, bombastic and with all the ‘pomp’ that a fan can want. The effects used in “Ravenlight” in particular show a slightly more modern approach from the band, an extension of their existing sound if you will, which I quite like. It gives the album a distinctly different feeling compared to their previous albums.
You can’t have a good bit of symphonic metal without a ballad and Kamelot show off their special brand of theatrical leanings with “In Twilight Hours”. As a duet between Tommy Karevik and Jennifer Haben (Beyond the Black), it’s simply stunning. The intertwined voices work perfectly together, and the near mic’ing brings out the amazing subtleties of their performance. A very intimate experience.
All good symphonic metal bands are built around a killer vocalist, and, in that, Kamelot excel with Tommy Karevik. I’ve been addicted to his voice since discovering his first band Seventh Wonder. I even have whole days where I listen to Seventh Wonder, Ayreon and Kamelot on heavy rotation just to keep hearing him.
With Karevik, the band have finally managed to reach a new level in writing and performing, becoming one of the key players in this genre. Many fans of the original vocalist (Roy Kahn) might not agree, but they are wrong. Karevik is probably the best hard rock vocalist out there at the moment. Originally from the celebrated Seventh Wonder, he’s cut from a different cloth. Where LaBrie, Lande, Allen all come from the school of hard rock (à la Gillan / Dio / Dickinson), Karevik has more in common with The Phantom of the Opera than Slip of the Tongue. There is a reason why Arjen has this guy on speed dial. Sure, the theatrical nature of the performance and writing is not everyone’s cup of tea (or cup of cheese perhaps!?) but it makes them something different – a band charting their own course and everyone else be damned!
TO THE POINT
After the obligatory ballad, in comes the aggressive “Kevlar Skin” (great title). It’s like being on horseback, bolting through a medieval village with the drummer, Johan Nunez, double-peddling those peasants in the face as if his life depended on it!
Other standout moments include “The Proud and the Broken” with its anvil-heavy riffing and face melting solos juxtaposed with a ballad-y middle section. The cinematic instrumental “Ministerium” brings the album to a lovely close, echoing the feel of the opener and letting the listener finally relax.
Apart from two other tracks, there is no song over 5 minutes on this album. Inconceivable! Kamelot seem to have honed their writing skills and this album offers a powerful, concise and high energy affair rather than the meandering prog-a-thon style that power metal can be burdened with. Even though I love a bit of extended solo action, you know what? This laser focus works perfectly. They hit hard, hit fast, never lose sight of the melody, and take you on high-class rollercoaster ride. Even with these short structures, they manage to cram a lot in, even including a children’s choir on “Burns to Embrace”.
Even for a hardcore Kamelot fan, a few tracks near the end start to feel a little samey and bordering on filler (“Mindfall Remedy”, “Stories Unheard”). Luckily, the short, concise arrangements and super commercial melodies keep things moving at pace, giving the listener a back-to-back adrenaline-fueled experience that is fun and bombastic.
THE KING OF KINGS
Comparing this album to their previous classic, Haven, is pretty tough on the band. Haven, for me, was a ten out of ten affair, even in retrospect. The Shadow Theory is still a fantastic example of great power metal, and shows that, with Karevik at the helm, Kamelot have officially risen to be the kings of realm. Don’t take it too seriously, enjoy the stellar performances and dig your air guitar out of the closet – it’s time to get classy. The other good news is, now that this is released, Seventh Wonder should be along in October with a new classic.
Notable Tracks: “Burns to Embrace”; “Ravenlight”; “In Twilight Hours”; “The Proud and the Broken”
FFO: Nightwish, Ayreon, Seventh Wonder, Symphony X, Gorgonzola, Cheddar, Game of Thrones