Kamelot - The Shadow Theory

Kamelot The Shadow Theory cover
The Shadow Theory
Napalm Records
Modern metal has become a very standardized and business-like affair, with predictably business like choices and cycles and goals, but hardly any-spark or wish to upset well established “businesses”. In that spirit, Kamelot continue, bringing forth their 12th album, despite losing their longtime drummer, Casey Grillo, who is substituted with Firewind’s Johan Nunez. Only Thomas Youngblood and their original bassist Sean Tibbetts, who returned after a long hiatus, remain from the original band, yet despite adversity, the band has weathered the storm and continued, through lead singer substitutions and other ups and downs throughout the twenty seven continuous years of their existence.
Despite their high artistic merit and impressive orchestrations, the problem with Kamelot is familiarity. Much like the case of Axel Rudi Pell, spreading themselves much to thin with several albums, they have become pretty formulaic, after they peaked and do not seem willing enough to play outside their “comfort/safety” zone, instead opting to tinker with the style ever so slightly to sound more in tune with the times. So, they might add a few more modern guitar ideas, introduce a few “harsh” vocals, cause you know it works for Arch Enemy and it’s worked for them in the past too, but they always rely in the “Khan” like melodies that Karevik seems to carry so capably, despite trying to interpret them more and more with his “own” voice. Oh yeah and while Nunez covers Grillo’s parts convincingly, his playing is not really breaking the mold of how the band has sounded for most of the part of the past two decades. If Kamelot try to get inspired by someone in this album is their former selves, most probably, but there in lays a big issue. Self-plagiarism. Far too often, Kamelot sounds just like themselves from a few years ago and not for the better. When words and melodies become almost interchangeable, it should ring some alarms, but as long as people “suck it up”, why change a winning team-formula. It’s certainly a train of thought, but not one I subscribe to.
“The Mission” is a minute and a half intro, that’s unobtrusive and mysterious, leading to “Phantom Divine (Shadow Empire)”, a song laced with cliché Kamelot melodies and lacking inspiration.
“Ravenlight”, that follows it, is undeniably the leadoff single of the album and ups the game, but it feels so much as a pastiche of older Kamelot songs that the band could probably sue themselves for plagiarism and win.
“Amnesiac” in stark contrast tries to diversify itself, with some heavier guitars and a style that at least during the verses tries to recall some Kamelot of old, with slight douses of good ole Conception, around the “In Your Multitude” era, but fails due to a really simple chorus that lets you down almost completely.
“Burns to Embrace” has all the aural trademarks of Kamelot, but seems to be hauling in a rather folk melody underneath certain portions of it. Its verses are quite generic and even passable, but the band builds upon that “folk” melody a rather intriguing mega-verse that works like a chorus pretty much as it gets repeated. It’s actually nice to hear a guitar solo here, after some keyboard shenanigans that’s not quickly traded off but actually occupies a full section of the song. It feels, well a little less formulaic. Oh and I could have lived without that boys choir. It’s usually an ill-advised device that rarely sounds as good as people might think it does, mainly due to the timbre differences.
“In Twilight Hours” is a decent enough, duet between Karevik and Jennifer Haben from German symphonic band Beyond The Black. It’s fairly lyrical, but it doesn’t come within a mile of previous efforts by the band when it comes to sentimental impact, probably due to Haben’s by the numbers performance.
“Kevlar Skin”, I thought had a silly title, but for it’s silly title, it has some neat and heavy riffs, a trait of the band that usually is buried under orchestrations, or nearly absent, in other songs… it’s the closest Kamelot sounds like themselves, before they went a tad-gothic. Nice blast from the past and would not have felt out of place on an album more than a decade old.
“Static” tries to weave shitloads of keyboards together, with minimal guitars, in a bouillabaisse of sounds, some Kamelot, some pop, some nu-breed… I this an experiment to try and see if the band can branch out, or a song where the only part where you can hear a guitar is that forced in solo in the middle? Not terrible, but I guess, it’s only the chorus and the aforementioned solo along with a small keyboard melody that “do it” for me here and I’m not exactly ecstatic over it.
“Mindfall Remedy” is another song that while checking all the “trademark” Kamelot aural properties, seems to have a somewhat heavier and more prog feel. It’s the second song along with “Phantom Divine” to feature Lauren Hart of Once Human on growls.
On “Stories Unheard” things initially are very placid, it sounds like one of those delicate Kamelot ballads, it progressively gets a bit louder in a nice symphonic and pretty smart way, actually reminiscent of why you fell in love with bands like Kamelot, Conception and a handful of others in the first place.
“Vespertine (My Crimson Bride)” is actually heralded by a wild keyboard frill and actually has a simple but steady riff… this semi – throwback along with the daring keys and different vocal melodies, make it actually a rather welcome and long overdue change in pace and style, which “The Proud and the Broken” while it does revert back to a more usual K MO, doesn’t undo entirely, as it maintains a certain heaviness as well as a more theatrical and free vocal delivery. It’s actually breaking the confines set by the success of their previous material that makes some of this new material, interesting to hear. The near black metal, barrage of drums is an interesting touch, but thankfully it’s only done in passing more or less as a diversion, rather than a central piece of the composition.
Lastly, “Ministrium (Shadow Key)” is an outro of all things… instrumental with some choirs over it… and it’s been a while since I’ve heard one of those and frankly it does little to nothing to me as most of those intros that seem to herald obligatory double bass drum openers, usually in 4/4 for a lot of these power metal bands.
The second disk in the “special edition” offers instrumental versions of “Phantom Divine”, “Ravenlight”, “Amnesiac”, “Burns to Embrace”, “Kevlar Skin”, “The Proud and the Broken”, as well as a more prog and melodic song by the title of “The Last Day of Sunlight”, a song that might have not felt out of place in Epica if it were a little heavier. Pretty nice but probably it would feel out of place with the rest of the material in the main album with its echoey flangers and all.
Another chapter in the post-Khan Kamelot canon and one that might be the most decisive, as well as the most divisive, as they seem both unable to clearly leave the past behind, opting to “re-write” a few songs and melodies, just to be “safe” but also seem to be on a healthy mend that allows them to try and mix it all up and try relatively new things. Do they always succeed? No. Is this as good as “Karma” or “Black Halo” or even some of the other “high points” for the band… hardly. But in trying to go heavier in places and embracing some of their past facets, the band seems to sound renewed in a lot of way; now if only they manage to reignite the same fire and let the ghost of one Roy Khan exit Kaverik completely, it might be an interesting sight to behold.
“The Shadow Theory” is an album that will fail to disappoint, but also excite the listener; it’s Kamelot doing what’s expected of them, taking care of business. And they do it well enough, with the occasional moment where their love for the craft shines through…