Released by: Napalm Records
Release Date: May 5th, 2015
Genre: Symphonic Metal
Tommy Karevik – Vocals
Thomas Youngblood – Guitars
Sean Tibbetts – Bass
Oliver Palotai – Keyboards
Casey Grillo – Drums
Veil of Elysium
Under Grey Skies
End of Innocence
Liar Liar (Wasteland Monarchy)
Here’s to the Fall
Kamelot is a band I just don’t know what to expect from anymore, and while I still consider myself a fan of their music, I tend to treat them as more of a wild card at this point, always hoping for the best, but fearing the worst with each new album. After an impressive run, starting with the Fourth Legacy and ending with the brilliant two part saga that began with Epica and concluded with The Black Halo, the band seemed to be at an all time high, only to immediately go on a decline by trying to modernize their sound a bit too much, resulting in the solid but comparatively lacking Ghost Opera, and the at times absolutely dismal Poetry for the Poisoned. I was particularly crushed by the latter, as I had a hard time believing the band could recover from such an empty, soulless album, especially with longtime vocalist Roy Khan leaving in between albums. And yet they did return to form, just over two years later, with Silverthorn, an amazing album that combined the modern elements introduced on the previous two albums, with more of their classic power metal sound. Roughly two and a half years later, their eleventh full length album Haven has arrived, and while I had hopes that the band’s resurgence would continue, I’m sad to say they have left me disappointed for the third time in four albums.
First, let’s get this straight: Haven is by no means a bad album. In fact, I greatly enjoy some of the tracks, and I certainly consider it a better effort than either Ghost Opera or Poetry for the Poisoned, but when pitted against the best works of Kamelot, it lags far behind. After Silverthorn represented a stunning return to their speedy power metal days, I was hoping Haven would bring more of the same, but unfortunately that’s not the case. In reality, there is very little actual power metal on this album. Instead, it’s a largely symphonic metal album, with occasional prog leanings and only the very rare burst of speed. Of course, some of Kamelot’s better tracks over the years have been their mid tempo ones, but it seems they’ve gotten worse at writing these types of tracks over the years, which is obviously a big problem here, since most of the tracks on Haven fall into this category. I particularly find the darker, heavier tracks to be a bit overbearing at times, as it feels like the band is trying desperately hard to be atmospheric, but they go so far with it that it comes off feeling terribly forced, causing the songs to fall flat. The biggest offender for this is “Citizen Zero”, a painfully boring track that would have felt right at home on Poetry. Not even the epic choirs or orchestras towards the end can save a track that bad.
Moving on to the positives, one area where the band has not lost much ground is in the vocals. I was excited three years ago when Swedish vocalist Tommy Karevik was announced as their new singer , due to loving his work with Seventh Wonder, and he instantly excelled on Silverthorn, showing a mix of his typically epic higher register and soaring vocals, and the occasional attempt to sound more like his predecessor, all of which were quite successful. This time around he sounds even more comfortable with the band, and he’s given some fantastic vocal melodies to work with, as almost every track has a great chorus. Also nice are the guest vocals from Delain vocalist Charlotte Wessells, gives a very emotional performance on “Under Grey Skies”, a, unforgettable ballad which fully showcases Tommy’s capabilities.
As the previous two paragraphs would suggest, Haven has some very inconsistent songwriting, with some pretty major highs and lows. Things get off to a promising start with “Falling Star”, a track which opens with some nice vocals from Tommy and an extended orchestral section, before turning into a solid mid paced melodic symphonic metal track, enhanced by an excellent chorus. I would have preferred a faster paced opening, but this song does a good enough job of kicking the album off.
Unfortunately the album quickly loses momentum, first with “Insomnia” a decent but not very exciting mid paced track bogged down by plodding verses, which feature repetitive and boring guitar riffs, though at least the chorus is good and the solo section is pretty interesting. On the whole, though, it’s a heavy but kinda forgettable track, that would have fit in fine on either Ghost Opera or Poetry. Speaking of which, “Citizen Zero” is next, and well, I already mentioned the failings of that track. It seriously is one of my least favorite Kamelot songs ever, though “Revolution”, the last full song on the album, isn’t far behind, due to the annoying chugging guitar work and some ridiculously irritating growls, performed by current Arch Enemy vocalist Alissa White-Gluz. It’s the kind of overly aggressive ultra modern sounding track I’d prefer not to hear from this band. Lastly, the ballad “Here’s to the Fall” is the one track where I don’t like Tommy, mostly because he tries too hard to sound like Khan, and while he’s usually able to pull it off without it sounding forced, on this one track he fails big time. I also find the lyrics too overly dark and melodramatic for my tastes, but that’s more subjective.
Back to the positives, after “Citizen Zero” comes “Veil of Elysium”, the first real killer of the album. It’s an up tempo track, albeit one with slower verses, and it very much feels like a shortened version of Silverthorn’s lead single “Sacrimony”, with the chorus sounding particularly similar. Everything about the track works, though, so I don’t mind the similarities at all. The only other really blazing track on the album is “Liar Liar (Wasteland Monarchy)”, which brings back some of that classic Kamelot sound and enhances it with a bigger emphasis on the orchestra. Midway through, Alissa returns with more of her obnoxious growls, which brings the track down a notch, but she also displays some excellent clean vocals during the final chorus, so that helps make up for the one weak section. Other highlights include “End of Innocence” another very melodic track enhanced by the symphonic elements, and “My Therapy”, a slower, more modern sounding track that somehow works just because of how stupidly catchy it is.
Haven is an entertaining but largely frustrating album, featuring brief moments of brilliance that match some of Kamelot’s best works, as well as moments that are best left forgotten. On the whole, it’s a solid release, which features many tracks that fall in line with the darker, more modern sound they started on Ghost Opera and Poetry for the Poisoned, as well as occasional parts that may remind some fans of their earlier works. As a longtime fan of the band, I would not recommend this as a starting point for new listeners, but I expect most existing fans to find the album enjoyable enough, even if it’s not one of their better albums.
Written by: Travis Green