It can be a herculean challenge to replace a vocalist synonymous with the core sound of a band. Judas Priest and Iron Maiden certainly couldn’t do it, but AC/DC and Accept managed it quite nicely. With Haven, album number two with “new” singer Tommy Karevik (Ayreon, Seventh Wonder) replacing Roy Khan, it seems safe to add Kamelot to the latter group. Following in the footsteps of the surprisingly good Silverthorn, Haven manages to do a lot of the same things right, and they’ve crafted yet another platter full of tasteful prog-power frills and finery. It’s still the same Kamelot you know and love (or hate), and it continues to appear that the shake up in the vocal department lit a fire under their dignified arses, as they’re still writing material more urgent than what appeared on those last few albums with Roy Khan.
As always in Kamelot Land, the watchwords are: polish, class and refinement. These guys have always taken themselves and their music very seriously and unsurprisingly, Haven is full of metal that could play at Lincoln Center with only a few monocles dropping in shock. Opener “Falling Star” delivers their rich, mildly neo-classical pomp with just enough metallic oomph to get it over, and Tommy sounds like his voice was made for this kind of music. The chorus offers cognac-smooth bombast and everything seems like business as usual in the upper crusty neighborhood Kamelot calls home.
Subsequent tracks build nicely upon one another, with “Insomnia” as the album “single” offering more actual metal woven into the band’s classic sound and Tommy sounds particularly good here. Yes, he also sounds exactly like Roy Khan, but it works and the chorus is a winner. This segues into the much darker and ominous “Citizen Zero” which is like the edgier material on Silverthorn, and that’s the sweet spot where the band truly shines. This is the standout in my book, with a heavy stomp akin to “March of Mephisto” and a wickedly dark energy that blends perfectly with their more grandiose tendencies.
Other highpoints include the traditional power metal gallop of “Veil of Elysium,” which is this album’s “Wings of Eternity,” the urgent, Operation: Mindcrime like darkness of “My Therapy” and the industrial-tinged heaviness of “Revolution” where Alissa White-Gluz of Arch Enemy drops some harsh snarls and roars.
The obligatory ballads are respectable, with “Under Grey Skies” coming across best thanks to the lovely vocals of Charlotte Wessels (Delain), but neither really blows me away. Haven also runs a bit long at 53 minutes, and though the material is of high quality, I found my attention waning by the ninth track or so. I suppose with such ostentatious fare, it could have ended up much longer, but it’s a lot of pageantry for one session.
My biggest issue with Haven is that they dialed back the heaviness and (relatively) gritty edge present on Silverthorn. It isn’t a major shift, but that album definitely had a darker vibe that really worked. That darkness surfaces at times here, but this is much more a “typical” Kamelot album in mood and atmosphere.
Musically, these cats are snotty Euro-conservatory ready. Thomas Youngblood is a gifted guitarist and his playing and writing drip with class and decorum. Paired with the keyboards of Oliver Palotai, his riffing and soloing form the neo-classical lace doily center of the Kamelot sound and it sounds as good as ever. Sean Tibbett’s bass is less prominent this time out and the interesting, discordant flourishes from Silverthorn are nowhere to be found, which is a shame.
Naturally, most of the attention will focus on Tommy’s performance, and he does a great job. He has a powerful, versatile voice and uses it to the full advantage of the songs. Still, he does continue to mimic Roy Khan a bit too much and though he’s certainly no Ripper Owens [Insert AMG tirade here], he needs to add more of his own style or risk unfair comparisons. The man has a ton of talent, seems to have brought new life to the band and I was sold on him last time out. His work here merely reinforces my favorable opinion.
A slight step down from Silverthorn, but Haven is another glossy, slick and highfaluting outing from the royalty of American prog-power. Dress properly, light some candles, open some respectable wine and let Kamelot take you to a place well above your meager social station. Be home before midnight though, or you turn into a shameicorn.