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Kamelot: The Black Halo
Yes, it's far too early in the year to make this kind of proclamation - but
this album must surely be an early candidate for the of top-10 metal CDs of
And yet - there's nothing new or imaginative here, nothing that tests any
boundaries. It's just good modern metal that is so very well done it will
set a new standard for the genre. Based in Florida but with a Norwegian singer
and a far bigger following in Europe than at home, Kamelot's output has improved
consistently in their 14 years and their eighth studio album serves notice to
the metal world: The Americans can still compete - and dominate - in the
world's metal markets,
Kamelot's previous studio album, Epica, was a concept piece based on
Goethe's "Faust" books which introduced the concept of a deal made for earthly
gain, but with a high ethical cost. Or in simpler terms, a 'Faustian' choice of
short-lived material benefits at a very high price. The Black Halo
continues to explore that theme, but this time it is flavored by the band's
personal, political and religious viewpoints. In addition, some melodic themes
are carried over from Epica, tempting you to wonder why this wasn't
simply called Epica II. Well - although the concept and some melodies
carry over the feel of the music is very different. The new album is an
altogether heavier, more mature body of work - less flashy, more aggressive
riffs, yet at the same time the vocal constructs are more complex .
The style of this music is a crossover between progressive and power metal.
It's more ponderous and a little heavier than most prog-metal, but the songs are
intelligently arranged and there are enough tempo changes and thematic
developments to keep us proggies glued to our seats. On first spin you might
dismiss it as a standard, rather simple metal record. But there's a depth and
texture to this music, the musicianship and the performances are meticulous, and
the production is world class. Roy Khan is deservedly recognized as one of
metal's top vocalists and his easy, unabashedly emotive delivery showcases his
tremendous abilities. And what a range! Thomas Youngblood's guitar work controls
most sections, yet it rarely falls into the trap of flash or showmanship - it is
omnipresent yet controlled. Besides the standard vocals / guitars / bass / drums
lineup, there are contributions from a stellar array of guest artists - like
Miro, Sascha Paeth, Jens Johansson, Dimmu Borgir's Shagrath, Epica's Simone Simons,
a 6-piece choir and a symphony orchestra.
"Memento Mori" is a a clear favorite, a 9-minute mini-epic that stands apart
from 13 other excellent tracks. It starts with a ballad-soft piano and
velvet-smooth low-range vocals and progresses through a series of artfully
managed shifts into sections that range from gothic beauty and the beast
through, wailing metal vocals, lush symphonic string passages and guitar-led /
keyboard backed walls of sound, to its gentle classically oriented conclusion. A
truly excellent track.
Kamelot's "Don't You Cry" from Karma, along with its French-language
twin "Ne Pleure Pas", have often been hailed as metal's finest power
ballads. "Abandoned" isn't in the same league, but it's a wonderful piece that
tears at the heartstrings. Also listen for the 3 'interludes', gentle one-minute
pieces that vary the pace with old fashioned singing and sampled effects
providing a brief breather while advancing the record's storyline.
The Black Halo isn't breaking any moulds. But it's so wonderfully put
together - so damned refined, so polished!
01. March of Mephisto
02. When the Lights Are Down
03. The Haunting (Somewhere in Time)
04. Soul Society
05. Interlude I - Dei Gratia
07. This Pain
09. Interlude II - Un Assassinio Molto Silenzioso
10. The Black Halo
11. Nothing Ever Dies
12. Memento Mori
13. Interlude III - Midnight/Twelve Tolls for a New Day
Added: November 26th 2005
Reviewer: Duncan Glenday
Related Link: Kamelot's Web Site
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|Kamelot: The Black Halo
Posted by Ken Pierce, SoT Staff Writer on 2005-11-26 08:42:32
As I listened to The Black Halo I felt a bit behind the times when I realized that this would be my first time hearing the music of Kamelot in a full sitting. Before this I had only heard samples of their last effort Epica, which is not to be confused with the Dutch band of the same name. It was pretty quick into this listen that I also realized that this was the type of band that I had been looking for when it came to intelligent Melodic Power Metal. The genre has a powerful ally as Kamelot most certainly deliver in an amazing fashion by using killer musical hooks that are all led by an incredible vocal range. On this release vocalist Roy Khan and the guys continue along with their running theme of using the literary classic "Faust" for the albums storyline. When the CD begins with the "March Of Mephisto" you are treated to one of the first guest vocalists on the album as Khan shares the duties with Shagrath, from the Norwegian Black Metal band Dimmu Borgir. It is the perfect role for Shagrath as he brings darkness to the tune. The second vocalist joining Kamelot on the album is the beautiful Simone Simons from Operatic Power Metal sensations Epica. She and Khan share the words on "The Haunting (Somewhere In Time)" and this is a stellar number. Light and Dark prominently featured on the same record a mere song apart from each other. If you are among those that enjoy slower tracks there is "Abandoned" and "Moonlight" with Khan handling them with a fine tuned degree of passion. There is nothing like a power ballad when it is done correctly. Should you be looking for lightning quick tracks then the band also provides a number of these for you to enjoy. The standouts in this area are "Soul Society", "When The Lights Are Down" and "Nothing Ever Dies". There is enough double bass patterns and intricate guitar work in these to satisfy the most discerning of Metal fans.
Kamelot is made up of Roy Khan (vocals), Thomas Youngblood (guitars), Glenn Barry (bass), & Casey Grillo (drums). Keyboards solos were handled on the recording by Stratovarius' own Jens Johansson while Miro added all the symphonic orchestrations, and all of this combined with the guest stars give you an interesting journey on The Black Halo. The band calls this a tale of "Love and Wonder, Life and Death" through the eyes of Kamelot and despite my citing several numbers of note I must inform readers that the CD is difficult to turn off when you begin to listen. The more I listened the more I felt that Khan was probably one of the best vocalists around today. Not an easy feat to make me think with Rob Halford and Geoff Tate still performing and touring. With The Black Halo there is a good chance that Kamelot has given us not only their career defining work but also one of the best Power Metal records for 2005. Fans that enjoy old Queensryche and Crimson Glory or similar bands that aimed to take you to different worlds with their music will definitely enjoy this group and find themselves also looking into their back catalog as I have begun to do. I look forward to the next chapter that Kamelot will bring to us. Until then reflect upon this piece and then join us as we wait patiently.
|Kamelot: The Black Halo
Posted by Murat Batmaz, SoT Staff Writer on 2005-04-17 07:22:57
Kamelot's 2003 release Epica was a powerful concept piece inspired by Goethe's Faust. It dealt with the battles between good and evil, and made a great addition to the band's catalog. The Black Halo is their seventh studio release, and from a lyrical standpoint, it is a logical continuation of Faust, but at the same time, it combines the themes of the story with the band's own experiences and political views, some of which touch extensively on the war in Iraq among other cultural and religious events.
As this album also takes its inspiration from Faust, there are some references to Epica, musically speaking. Every once in a while, a melody line will make its way into the mix, taking you back to the band's previous album, but it's all just for a brief moment. The Black Halo, as its cover art and Mattias Noren's beautiful work on the booklet pages suggest, is quite possibly the darkest and toughest album Kamelot have ever done. Although the classic Kamelot sound is still present, The Black Halo differs from the band's previous releases in some significant ways. "March of Mephisto" puts the band Kamelot, Shagrath of Dimmu Borgir and Jens Johansson (Stratovarius) in the same context, embodying the dark nature of the album, characterized by sinister atmospheres and emphasis on a dynamic guitar sound. Johansson plays a soul-torturing keyboard solo that is the diametric opposite of what we've come to expect from him. Shagrath also brings depth to the music, singing semi-growled lyrics to provide a striking contrast to Roy Khan's low vocals. I was utterly amazed when I heard this track that I was anxious to hear the rest of song for fear that they may might have gone back to their more forthright power metal style. Thank god I was quite pleased to discover that they'd chosen to retain the dark elements in their music for the whole album, therefore surprising me and many other fans.
Roy Khan's singing on this disc recalls his work with Conception; he mostly sings in a low-key, rarely attempting at impressing the listener with his already world-famous high screams. His low vocals allow him to impress us with his incredibly wide range. He is supported by various singers through the album; Simone Simons from Epica does an angelic vocal performance on "The Haunting" which is a mid-tempo track that offers layers of depth and beauty. Agile keyboard melodies are replaced by a charging guitar solo from Thomas Youngblood, whose restrained yet incredibly articulate playing is one of the main motives of this disc. Youngblood never overplays; he just gives the songs what they need, be it speed, melody or power. Together with Glenn Barry's bass, Youngblood serves us the classic Kamelot power metal anthems in the forms of "When the Lights are Down", "Soul Society", "Nothing Ever Dies" or the title track. Thanks to Sascha Paeth's brilliant production job, Youngblood's guitar sound has more crunch than ever, and Barry's bass is subtle on the whole disc, which isn't something too common in today's power metal albums. All the songs are interwoven with majestic speed, gripping melodies and crushing power riffs as well as blasting double drums courtesy of Casey Grillo.
After every four song (tracks #5, #9 and #13), there is a brief interlude section for about a minute. These interludes all help the storyline of the concept come across; they're very short, either it's someone lighting a match, walking on snow, or simply uttering indecipherable spoken sections. Track nine, however, is different, as it features Cinzio Rizza singing in Italian for about 40 seconds, but it's so amazing, you just have to hear it. All these interludes are anchored into one piece, given they serve the purpose of making the concept more clear. The songs are all multi-layered; Kamelot have put as much thought in the background as in the forground. On "Nothing Ever Dies", it's a hidden keyboard line played under Barry's bass; on "This Pain", it's a nifty acoustic guitar laid down beneath Khan's vocals. The level of artistry that went into this album is simply astonishing.
"Memento Mori" is the 9-minute epic of the album as well as the longest song in Kamelot's career. The band explores many different movements in this track, ranging from grand orchestral sounds, female choirs, beautiful piano and string passages, and shuddering guitar and keyboards solos. Shagrath returns to the fold with his sinister singing, before the Kamelot orchestra takes the lead and plays a stunning folk-laden piece that is right up there with Pain of Salvation's brilliant work on Be. I also seem to hear a secret folk-flavoured theme in the background of the song "Moonlight" where Khan perhaps does his most Conception-like vocals amidst huge orchestral arrangement and solid guitar riffs floating around.
"Abandoned", needless to say, is the album's soaring power ballad, graced by lush strings, pianos and female vocalists. Khan's canonical singing on this song is smooth, emotive and nothing short of heart-wrenching. The Black Halo is one of the best power metal albums and already a top 10 disc for 2005.
|Kamelot: The Black Halo
Posted by Jim McCafferty on 2005-06-29 10:00:52
Memento Mori has to be one of the most stunning epics I've ever heard. I'm actually hesitant to use the word Epic, as it gives the impression of long lazy bluesy instrumental solos or drawn out orchestral sections (why does Bon Jovi's Dry Country keep popping into my head? (not that its a bad song)).
Its obvious a lot of thought has gone into the layout of the song, as there are times it threatens to stray into stall mode, but Mr Youngblood's crunching guitar saves us from boredom.
Initially Roy Khan's vocals irritated me (they were getting in the way of the serious double foot pedalling/chugging action), but I couldn't help eventually respecting his vocal style.
Its a shame I bought "The Fourth Legacy" after this, as (in my opinion) "Halo" blows it out of the water.
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