Kamelot – The Awakening Review

I don’t really feel nostalgia for Kamelot. I tried getting into them when they released The Black Halo in 2005, which, though widely regarded as their best work1, bounced off my DragonForce-pilled adolescent mind. To me, Kamelot was slow and boring, a brand of power metal that sacrificed the genre’s trademark excess in a bid to win over music intellectuals, socialites, and critics. Older and much wiser was I when the excellent Silverthorn dropped in 2012, which rekindled my interest in Kamelot as I devoured their back catalog. And then came the slow decline, the band’s promising Tommy Karevik era dimming with a series of retreads that brought the band more closely in line with my original impression of them. The Awakening clearly aims to break this cycle. Though uneven (and occasionally downright misguided), its infrequent highlights make for some of Kamelot’s best material of the last decade.

Opener “The Great Divide” sees The Awakening putting its best foot forward with one of Kamelot’s most anthemic tracks in ages. It’s a triumphant stamp that ends the band’s five year drought with confidence, boasting an instantly memorable chorus and a rhythmically propulsive verse. Tracks like this, where Kamelot sticks to what’s always worked for them, are the record’s main strength. “Eventide”‘s driving pace and emotionally affecting vocals would have been right at home on Silverthorn; the dramatic “Opus of the Night (Ghost Requiem)” sounds like a lost track from Ghost Opera; and best-in-show “The Looking Glass” is so dynamic and gorgeous that it could stand toe-to-toe with just about any cut from The Black Halo. Had the whole record been as good as its best offerings, The Awakening could have been Kamelot’s best post-Khan release. Unfortunately, that’s only half the story.

For every winner that The Awakening chalks up, a dud is dumped into its back half. Its final three songs in particular absolutely refuse to leave any sort of impression in my memory. The anthemic broad strokes of “New Babylon” are barren of hooks; “Willow” is an immediately forgettable ballad, especially when stacked against the folk-y, playful “Midsummer’s Eve”; and “My Pantheon (Forevermore)”2 goes for aggression yet ultimately comes across as plodding, and unintentionally funny with its Haunted Mansion-ass melodies. And then there’s “One More Flag in the Ground,” which for my money is unquestionably the worst song of Kamelot’s career. Its utterly vapid melodies invoke Pyramaze covering Imagine Dragons, and its lyrics feel intentionally devoid of intent, cynically and synthetically constructed as a philosophical void into which listeners are meant to slot their own ideals.

I’m almost as mixed on Tommy Karevik’s vocals here as I am with The Awakening itself. On one hand, I feel like he’s finally escaping Roy Khan’s shadow and resolving to do his own thing; there are no notably forced Khan-isms present on this record, allowing Karevik’s natural talents to shine through. On the other, it sounds like he’s starting to strain to hit the songs’ highest notes, and some tracks (hello, “Willow”) utilize autotune in a way that’s more obvious than the album’s engineer probably thought. Other tracks use autotune sparingly for seemingly stylistic purposes (“Opus of the Night”), and I don’t detect it at all on most tracks, but it’s annoyingly distracting when it does rear its head. Otherwise, The Awakening is a decently produced piece of modern power metal, glossy and bombastic without being blindingly synthetic, and largely devoid of irksome electronic elements.

“One More Flag in the Ground” notwithstanding, I find The Awakening more satisfying than many other late-career records from long-running power metal bands. Where, say, Sonata Arctica’s albums sound soulless and obligatory at this point, I get the impression that Kamelot really enjoyed working on The Awakening, even if the end result is only half of a good record. Non-fans need not apply, but veteran listeners should find it worth a listen for its highlights, and I personally would love to hear its best songs performed live. I would be almost as happy to hear live renditions of “The Great Divide” or “The Looking Glass” as I would any deep cuts from Epica. If nothing else, these songs prove that Kamelot can still excel when they apply themselves, and I’m hopeful at the possibility of another record on par with Silverthorn come their next release cycle.

Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: n/a | Format Reviewed: Stream
Label: King Records (Japan) | Napalm Records Official | Bandcamp (Worldwide)
Websites: kamelot.com | kamelot.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/kamelotofficial
Releases Worldwide: JP: 2023.03.22 | WW: 03.17.2023

Show 2 footnotes

  1. Real ones will know that their masterpiece is actually Epica, its direct predecessor.
  2. This might just be the most Kamelot track name in the band’s entire history. Could any other band have come up with this title?
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