Released: 2007, SPV
Reviewer: Metal-Rules.com Staff
Lord of the Wasteland: 4/5
Two things will immediately hit the listener upon hearing Kamelot’s new opus, GHOST OPERA. First, an abundance of mid-tempo tracks may leave many yearning for the band’s speedier days. “Silence of The Darkness” is the only track on GHOST OPERA that really races along…and that isn’t found until the final third of the album. Secondly, Roy Khan’s vocals have been augmented with a few too many effects. A voice this pure getting digitized on “Blücher” is akin to drowning a piece of prime rib cooked to a perfect medium-rare in ketchup. Still, Khan’s brilliantly understated performances on tracks like “The Human Stain” and “Rule The World” are strong without being ham-fisted. Snaky violins and Oliver Palotai’s exotic keyboard flourishes are used throughout generating lush, far-reaching soundscapes that pack a real punch. Many tracks take on a majestic, almost soundtrack/film score feel and with Mari Youngblood once again added to the mix, the dual male/female vocals work so well that few bands—with the exception of Evergrey—can pull it off successfully. Of course, Thomas Youngblood’s subtle guitar wizardry is a highlight of any Kamelot release but the driving riffs on “Up Through The Ashes” and the smoking solo unleashed on “Mourning Star” cement Youngblood’s position as one of the forgotten heroes among American metal six-stringers. Darkly melodic and more progressive-leaning than on previous releases, GHOST OPERA finds Kamelot in their prime building on the path begun with 2005’s BLACK HALO. Even a casual listen will bear witness to the continuing evolution of Kamelot, as they become a more mature band eking out their rightful position as one of the classiest and most under-appreciated acts on the scene today.
KILLER KUTS: “Rule The World,” “The Human Stain,” “Up Through The Ashes,” “Mourning Star,” “Silence of The Darkness”
Kamelot’s new album GHOST OPERA is a great album and fans of THE BLACK HALO will no doubt lap this up. Some might find my 3.5/5 score a little low considering the 5’s and 4.5’s I’ve given their past albums…so here’s the deal. I’m rating this based on my personal taste and I prefer my melodic metal to be epic, bombastic, heavy, and most importantly...FAST. Mid-tempo songs and ballads are often filler…some are great and can even make up to about 40% of a good album. For me, the majority of the album needs to be somewhat heavy and fast. THE GHOST OPERA is an inverse of this. It seems to be 60%+ mid-tempo and ballads and maybe 40% faster stuff. It’s not that the songs are poorly written or hard to listen to, I still call Kamelot one of the best melodic metal bands, it's just a matter of taste. There is a conspiracy in melodic and some power metal I tell ya...they are cutting back back on the fast songs and the double kicks. Stratovarius, Sonata Arctica, Rhapsody (of fire), HammerFall etc. all have slowed down in the past couple years. So when people talk about “they could of played it safe and had an album full of double kicks and fast ripping guitars” I don't believe it! Playing it safe now seems to be slowing down and being all melodic. When a band like Persuader for example rips it up with speed and ripping guitars I am very pleased...not let down by the band 'playing it safe'. Speed and aggression is essential in some quantity. It's not that I want it fast all the time, just MOST of the time! Ha! All the music on THE GHOST OPERA is very well crafted, and sounds brilliantly mixed and recorded. Kahn as usual is a great an unique singer. The songs that get me moving the most are those the are the heavier and faster ones. I just don't think I'll be spinning this one as much as I did their past few releases. So I won't say I'm letdown, it's just one album in a brilliant career....I just hope they turn up the tempo and aggression a bit more next time.
Bands that can explore new ground from album to album, while remaining true to their sound and their fans, are rare and exceptional. Kamelot is a band that has really begun to fit this category. With GHOST OPERA, they prove once again that they are not satisfied with releasing more versions of KARMA or EPICA. Instead, like THE BLACK HALO, this new album, while being undeniably a Kamelot record, composed of majestic orchestrations, powerful musical arrangements, and enchanting vocal melodies, resonates with something new and fresh for them. Anyone who has had the pleasure of viewing their recent DVD release, ONE COLD WINTER’S NIGHT, will have noticed their flare for theatrical, bravura performance, a trait that is perhaps most perfectly portrayed on this new studio record. Like good opera, the album conveys drama through the grandeur and spectacle of varied musical ventures. Rather than conforming to the standard formula of their genre that demands constant double bass pummeling and lightning fast guitar work, Kamelot employs a sense of craftsmanship, choosing the tone, tempo, and style that best represents the emotional character necessary for each segment of the drama. What results is an expressive journey that swells and recedes with the rhythm of the story. A good example of this variety is seen in a song like “The Human Stain,” containing haunting verses, comprised of ominous piano, and seemingly discordant, heavy guitars, that lead to brilliant choruses. Another in the Kamelot tradition of great duets, “Love You to Death,” has unconventional verses as well that feature haunting female vocal accompaniment, all leading up to perhaps the most affecting and emotional chorus on the album. This track also contains one of the most moving guitar solos of this release. Overall, the album can best be described as a melting pot of styles. There are slower songs and mid tempo songs and faster songs, all of which highlight a lot of experimentation with orchestrations and arrangements, and all of it works. The songs are also a little more compact than you would expect. This, combined with the lack of overwhelming adrenaline heard in previous offerings, may disappoint some fans upon their first listen or two; however, there is a rich reward to those who return to the theatre for repeated performance of this masterwork. After a few listens, you will discover that GHOST OPERA is not really so far removed from the Kamelot sound, but rather it is an extension of their past works that emphasizes all of their inherent strengths. This artful album is truly a rarity among power metal, or symphonic metal, in that it reaches to exceed the narrow confines of categorization and ends with a record that should appeal to a diverse audience.
Firstly, where Kamelot are concerned, I’ve always been decidedly indifferent towards them. I thought their first three albums were terrible, and their KARMA/EPICA concept combo slightly overrated. I did enjoy THE FOURTH LEGACY, if only for the variation within it, and I thought THE BLACK HALO was very good, inspired even. But Kamelot never excited anything within me, so how best to approach this review of GHOST OPERA?
Well let’s start with the positives. Overall, the band has progressed slightly from their past albums. They have gained a slightly gothic ambience, but gothic more in the sense of dark and melancholy. They have become, if possible, even heavier, with kicking drums and monster guitars around a bass heavy, symphonic sound that ups the ante on the previous Kamelot epicness. And of course, Roy Khan remains in fine voice, emotional and expressive.
But all my old gripes about Kamelot still remain. They represent indifference to me (evidenced by how hard it is for me to write this review). Their songs are usually midtempo, not quite plodding but not quite Persuader fast either. GHOST OPERA is no different, possibly only the last song ‘Edenecho’ is the fastest with a nice galloping riff. The guitarwork, well, I have never found Kamelot to be overly technical in the guitar department. Thomas Youngblood shows some good riffing here, but not enough to make you sit up and go “whoa!”. The variation in the album comes from the interludes and orchestral breaks here and there, with amazing use of piano to bridge and connect passages in the songs. Kamelot has some of the best use of symphony in metal, and GHOST OPERA retains that nicely. The choirs and the orchestra fill in the aural soundscape nicely, giving that aforementioned epicness. They don’t go overboard with the symphony, thus avoiding any accusations of Blind Guardian-like bloatedness. And unless I’m very much mistaken, there are slight Irish touches on more than one of the songs on GHOST OPERA. Also, the intro is brilliant! With the mournful violin, it is certainly more than just a typical throwaway power metal intro. Seguing into the fist-pumping ‘Rule the World’, it is a promising start, unfortunately it doesn’t live up to the expectation.
And Roy. I always get the feeling that Kamelot writes the songs to show off Roy’s undeniable vocal prowess. We know he can sing, with precision (hitting the notes) and with emotion as well. But his voice never seems to quite fit the song; by this I mean the guitars, bass and drums seem to be playing one thing while Roy seems to be singing another. It may be the melodic lines, it could perhaps be his lack of accentuation on beats, but it always sounds a little disparate to me. He comes into his own while singing ballads, even though the piano-driven ballad ‘Anthem’ is really poorly written: “Sing me the anthem of life”...? The emotion and richness of his voice can really be showcased without being classified as vocal acrobatics. For uptempo songs, I’ve heard better singers.
What else can I say about this album. Nothing much really. In the song ‘Silence of the Darkness’, they sing: “It all sounds the same.” How apt.