Kamelot has established themselves as the big dog in the over-the-top, pompous, windbagy power metal genre. While output like Siege Perilous, The Fourth Legacy and Karma won me over with professional, energetic, classy power metal, things ultimately became too poofy and indulgent. As they steadily ramped up the self-important grandiosity, we reached a point where things felt more like an evening at the (ghost) opera with a bunch of wealthy dowagers than a metal experience. C’mon, you know its true. When you can blast an album and have your grandparents compliment the singer and the charming symphonics, you know you’re in dangerous territory. This endless symphonic mission creep made them sound more and more like Nightwish and caused me to drift further away from a band I once enjoyed. With the departure of mega talented vocalist, Roy Khan, there was plenty of reason to suspect Kamelot was about to meet their Mordred and go down amid tasteful pyrotechnics. In comes Tommy Karevik (Seventh Wonder) and here comes Silverthorn, their first non-Khan outing since 1998. Well, color me surprised. Not only is it a heavier, more energetic album than they’ve done in years, but Karevik confidently steps into the shoes of a singer many considered irreplaceable (indeed, it’s often difficult to tell he was replaced). The result is their most interesting and lively opus in years (from the perspective of a metal fan, anyway), and possibly the start of new and bright era for a band I felt had seen their best days.
After the required super dramatic intro, “Sacrimony (Angel of Afterlife)” explodes in a grandiose rage with more oomph than most recent Kamelot could muster. Its fast-paced, energetic and smooth-as silk and when Karevik comes in, many will do a double take at just how much he sounds like Roy Khan. He has a very similar voice and his delivery at times verges on a full on imitation of Khan’s style, inflection and vocal tendencies. When he sings “tell me every little detail,” I defy your brain not to hear elements of Khan’s singing during “March of Mephisto.” Making it even more likely, they employ black metal vocals just as that classic did. Regardless of similarities, the man can sing his balls off and the song is an instantly memorable hit in the classic Kamelot mode.
The songwriting here is much more crisp, urgent and aggressive than anything since Epica and songs like “Ashes to Ashes,” “Torn” and “Veritas” crackle with slick, Euro-power sensibility. While the symphonics are still in overdrive (especially on “Veritas”), the songs remain heavy, fast and metal enough to withstand their onslaught. Even better, the songs benefit from some of the best Kamelot-y sing-along choruses they’ve had in years. You know the type: they build to that big chorus and when it hits, you have to make big, Broadway-esque hand gestures (read as: jazz hands) and theatrical facial expressions (again, especially during “Veritas”). Even the enormously maudlin, overwrought ballad “Song for Jolee” works well due to Karevik’s amazingly sincere and powerhouse vocal performance. He manages to make the sappiness feel more tragic and haunting than you might expect and I was suitably impressed.
The middle section of Silverthorn rips with big hits like the massive title track (which could easily have been on The Fourth Legacy), the super hooky “My Confession,” which is one of the best Kamelot songs ever, and the mid-tempo, but powerfully epic feel of “Falling Like the Fahrenheit.” It’s hard to argue that the first eight tracks of Silverthorn represent the best run Kamelot has had in years.
Sadly, things don’t end on a high note as things close with the lengthy, but languid “Prodigal Son” and the symphonic reprise of “Sacrimony” during “Continuum.” These tracks harken back to the overly downcast and gloomy material from 2010s Poetry for the Poisoned and that isn’t necessarily a good thing. While the songs aren’t bad per se, they derail much of the enormous momentum built up through the first two-thirds of the album and its a drop off from the level of the rest of Silverthorn.
As even the casual Kamelot listener knows, this is a VERY talented group of musicians. They’ve always had the ability to make every note sound polished and ornate, and nothing has changed. The material is tasteful and high-class as always, but this time they let more metal spirit leak into the writing sessions. Thomas Youngblood’s riffs and neo-classical noodling are as good as ever, but have more punch and aggression. Sean Tibbetts uses some interestingly discordant bass lines at times to juice the heaviness and it’s a nice touch (0:22 of “Sacrimony” is a good example). The omnipresent keys of Oliver Palotai can still get oppressive, but for the most part, they don’t overpower the guitar this time and these songs don’t make me feel as if I should be donning a frilly shirt and monocle like recent albums did.
Naturally, all the brouhaha will be about Tommy Karevik and his performance as the new voice of Kamelot. I anticipate a spate of bashing heading his way for the very “Khan like” delivery he employs for much of Silverthorn, but I’m not going to be part of that. The band surely picked him for this similarity instead of going with candidates like Fabio Lione (Rhapsody of Fire, Vision Divine) and I support that decision. His warm, rich and engaging vocals make the material shine nearly as bright as Khan could have, and the songs maintain a sense of familiarity with him at the helm that I find quite comforting. I enjoyed the guy’s pipes in Seventh Wonder (a shamefully overlooked act) and I enjoy it here too.
Silverthorn surprised me. I had begun the writing off process for these guys even with Khan in the band and didn’t expect this to be as good as it is. In fact, this is the best Kamelot release since The Black Halo and its gone a long way toward bringing me back into the fold. If you prefered the early, more power metal-y material, this will be right in your wheelhouse. If you like more bombast and chamber music than metal in your metal, you may want to look in the Frilly Shirt Department of your local music store. Way to go guys, you done good.