Even though Kamelot chose to record their fifth and easily their best album, Karma, in Germany, it's with great pride that I can proclaim this Florida-based power-metal band is American made. Founded in Tampa, Florida, in 1991 by guitarist Thomas Youngblood and ex-drummer Richard Warner, Kamelot gets better with each album. While demonstrating European metal influences, Kamelot performs with a distinct accent-free sound (despite singer Roy Khan's Norwegian background). Plus, the U.S. version of Karma, not the Japanese or European versions, gets a bonus track - albeit a track sung in French, "Ne Pleure Pas." How cool is that! Noise Records has made this record its "most important" release of the year. Here's why:
Karma is not your typical power-metal album. Only one song, "Forever," really qualifies as the melodic speed and double-bass drumming anthem that has become so typical of the genre. Instead, Youngblood and Khan write distinct music, lyrics and arrangements that make each song on Karma feel like a new world to explore. The moving acoustic ballad "Don't You Cry" is an homage to Youngblood's father, who died when the future guitarist was 12; the title track explores Middle-Eastern rhythms and New Age inspirations without losing any of its gusto; "Wings of Despair" soars with a catchy yet complex and life-affirming chorus; and "Elizabeth," a trilogy of tracks that tells the story of 14th century countess Elizabeth Bathory, reflects the emotions associated with a woman who legend holds killed more than 600 people and drank their blood in an effort to gain eternal youth.
The hands of producers Sascha Paeth and Miro (Rhapsody, Angra) lovingly mold all of this wonderfully orchestrated metal, and both also contribute to the album as instrumentalists. Olaf Hayer (Luca Turilli) and Robert Hunecke (Heaven's Gate) provide additional backing vocals. Khan, by reining in his voice a tad more than usual, comes off as a more disciplined and gifted singer than on his previous Kamelot outings -- Siege Perilous, The Fourth Legacy and the live document, The Expedition -- and the rhythm section of bassist Glenn Barry and drummer Casey Grillo sounds tighter than ever. Everything has fallen into place for Kamelot this time, making Karma one of the most refreshing and rewarding power metal discs of the year.