Thursday, May 7, 2015

Album Review: Kamelot - Haven

Kamelot has managed to do two things that should not coincide; they have become possibly the biggest name in power metal, while at the same time disappoint people at every turn.  It started with the last couple of albums with Roy Kahn falling into too similar a pattern, then continued when Tommy Karevik replaced Kahn, but sounded too much like he was trying to mimic his predecessor.  When fans are always grousing about what you're doing, it stands to reason that the band would be receeding into the shadows, but that's nto what has happened here.  Somehow, Kamelot has managed to expand their profile, despite the criticism, which illustrates a skill that I can't quite put my finger on.  Now with their second album since Kahn has left, I have to imagine the grace period is over, and they have to deliver on their promise.

"Haven" doesn't stray far from the Kamelot playbook, with another dozen or so songs of dark power metal that chug through simple riffs and Gothic atmospheres.  If you think you've heard it all before, you're not exactly wrong.  Kamelot isn't reinventing the wheel, because there isn't a need to do so.  They still have mileage to get out of this sound, and to be fair, asking them to abandon a sound that they pioneered isn't rational.

Musically, Kamelot has never offered up a mix of tantalizing and interesting ideas.  The guitars usually chug out simple note sequences, or strum chords through choruses.  This isn't a band you listen to for the great guitar playing.  It's all well-executed, but there is rarely a riff in a Kamelot song that you're going to have playing through your mind on an endless loop.  What makes Kamelot great are the songs, the sweeping melodies that you can sing along to and always feel uplifted, despite the somber tones.

And that is why Tommy was the perfect choice to be Kamelot's singer.  As we've all heard in his other band, Seventh Wonder, he is capable of writing earworm melodies in the most complex of metal, which is much harder than it sounds.  Kamelot's music is such that it depends entirely on the vocalist to breathe life into the songs, to carry them with charisma and melody.  To that end, Tommy does a fine job, bouying the songs with melodies that are warm and inviting, throwing more of his personality into the mix.  If "Silverthorn" was disappointing for any particular reason, it was that Tommy had been relegated to playing the role of Roy Kahn.  Here, he is given more room to be himself, and it makes a huge difference.

"Citizen Zero" is a highlight, with a modern, heavy edge to the guitars that could have been written by Zakk Wylde, if he knew how not to overdo every trick he knows.  It's interesting, but can easily go downhill, except that Tommy uses that to set up a chorus that completely turns the song inside out.  It's a beautiful bit of songwriting, and is what Kamelot does best.

In fact, from top to bottom, "Haven" is as melodic and catchy an album as I've ever heard from Kamelot.  Part of that lies in the fact that I never succumbed to Roy Kahn's charms the way so many other people did, but most of it has to do with the fact that the band has put together a rock solid album here.  Every song has a chorus that reaches for the brass ring, even if they don't all quite get there.  "Liar Liar" is a bit weak, but songs like "Under Grey Skies" and "Beautiful Apocalypse" can't be denied.

The only issue I have with the album is that, like all Kamelot albums, the darkness of tone makes it hard for me to really embrace what's going on here.  I don't need, or want, the music to be fluffy pop, but there's only so much enjoyment that can be wrung from the darkness.  I would like a bit more brightness to the mix, just to make it sound more fully fleshed out.  If it's supposed to be a punch, the production takes the sharpness out of the jab.  But other than that, "Haven" is a definite improvement over "Silverthorn", and makes the case for Kamelot's popularity.

"Haven" is a strong record, and Kamelot fans should be quite happy with it.

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