April 4, 2023 Kamelot – The Awakening (Album Review)
When it comes to Symphonic and Power Metal, Kamelot has been blazing trails for decades. Their powerhouse performances have perked the ears of Metal fans and enchanted diverse listeners across several genres. Formed in 1991 by Guitarist Thomas Youngblood, Kamelot has had a journey and career as epic as their cinematic discography. After parting ways with original Vocalist Roy Khan in 2012, they began a new era with Swedish Vocalist Tommy Karevik when he made his appearance on the album Silverthorn (2012).
Now, after a five-year recording hiatus, the band has returned with their 13th studio album, The Awakening released March 17, 2023 via Napalm Records. A follow up to 2018’s The Shadow Theory, this new album is the band’s first with their current lineup consisting of Thomas Youngblood (guitar, backing vocals), Tommy Karevik (vocals), Oliver Palotai (keyboards, guitars), Sean Tibbets (bass), and newest member Alex Landenburg (drums, percussion). Does it measure up to their legacy or leave fans longing for the days of old?
Seeking to return to the grandiose, symphonic orchestrations fans have come to expect from them with The Awakening, Kamelot puts a lot on the line in pursuit of delivering something new but familiar. “The Great Divide” opens things up with heavy percussion that literally drives the ear into the heart of the song where Karevik’s vocals are there to lead the way with a steely determination. It is a driving anthem that explores light and dark. “Eventide” is an interesting track with an up-tempo that makes it surprisingly almost fun and inspirational.
Then there is “One More Flag in The Ground” which feels like what Kamelot thought they needed to do in order to garner some radio play. It has vague, demi-political calls to action that are just aggro enough to suffice for most metalheads to accept it and sing along, but generic enough to be plug-and-play. It’s energetic and palatable with the kind of catchy chorus that garners decent airplay for most bands. Probably its worst offense is that it doesn’t really feel as uniquely Kamelot as much as it could be any generic Metal band.
They make up for it a bit with “Opus of the Night (Ghost Requiem).” Here listeners are treated to the lovely and ethereal presence of Cellist Tina Guo and a fascinating cello/guitar duel between her and Youngblood. Guo’s guest appearance paired with the ghostly chorus resounding in the background in the second half of the song creates a mysterious ambiance that is reminiscent of Phantom of the Opera (1943) or Repo: The Genetic Opera (2008). It’s dark, complex, enchanting, and addictive. “Midsummer’s Eve” dances in featuring more gorgeous accompaniment by Guo. Feeling like something out of a fairytale, it’s soft, romantic, and charming. The grace and beauty in this song are enchanting and paint a picture with a sound that evokes imagery of lush greenery and medieval castles. The imagery and ambiance are charming and lovely.
This is while “New Babylon” features the vocals of Ad Infinitum’s Melissa Bonny bringing some balance to the highly charged and darker vocals of Karevik. It feels like a hymn made for war or revolution. The chorus and backing vocals paired with the intense string work and percussion create a deep and cavernous feel that is all-encompassing. Things really heat up when the bass kicks up in the chorus and the chords sharpen as the song progresses. The guitar solo in the bridge is eclectic and fiery.
Moving on, “My Pantheon” has the distinction of having a beautiful guitar solo in its final third to add some sparkle to a track that otherwise feels like it’s trying too hard. While Karevik’s vocals explore different areas of his range, there are moments where it falls short and there is a sense of strain. The rest of the song seems to be exploring several dynamics, jumping from softness to hard percussion and crunchy chords in a way that can be more confusing to the ear than interesting at times. It does have its beautiful moments and those are wistful and ephemeral. Overall, an interesting exploration of sound that occasionally feels like it lacks cohesion.
There is something hauntingly beautiful about the masterful way Kamelot creates music. It is the epitome of Symphonic Metal. With mesmerizing orchestrations comprised of Youngblood’s dexterous string work, Palotai’s gorgeously layered keys, Landenburg’s fierce drums and percussion, and Tibbett’s powerful bass paired with Karevik’s emotional vocals to make songs that can enchant or seduce the listener. For every stroke of brilliance on The Awakening; however, it seems there was also a misstep or overproduction. The fickle thing about genius is that sometimes it knows no bounds when it really should.
Overall, The Awakening is another captivating and alluring Kamelot record with a few touches in need of tightening up. So, for mostly being well-composed, artistically aesthetic, and a return to form, Cryptic Rock gives The Awakening 3 out of 5 stars.