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Power metal is a very love it or hate it genre. To its fans, power metal is full of epic songs with top-notch musicianship. To its detractors, power metal is cheesy and overdone, with overly fast guitar, and generic fantasy lyrics about slaying dragons. However, Kamelot has largely escaped the typical criticism that most power metal bands get, largely due to their successful albums Karma, Epica, and The Black Halo. Kamelot are even sometimes cited as one of the best bands in their genre. However, if someone were to listen to their debut album Eternity, they would fail to understand why.
Eternity is not a poor album. On the contrary, in most respects it is a decent album. Thomas Youngblood, while not being the guitarist he would one day become, still provides solid riffs throughout most of the songs, and has several entertaining solos, such as on "Red Sands" and "One of the Hunted." Richard Warner is a solid drummer that, while never really standing out, does a good job of keeping the band together and keeping the beat. His best work is showcased on "Warbird," where he plays some quite entertaining patterns in the beginning and end. Bassist Glenn Barry and keyboardist David Pavlicko mostly blend into the background, but still have their brief moments. All this would normally be acceptable, especially considering that this is that band's debut, and thus minor flaws and uneven points can be forgiven. However, one thing that cannot be forgiven is the vocals.
Vocalist Mark Vanderbilt is primarily responsible for the weakness of Eternity. He sounds like a complete Geoff Tate wannabe, while being not even close to Tate's quality. That wouldn't be so bad, but Vanderbilt is simply not a very good vocalist. He frequently sounds shaky, and when he attempts to pull off high notes, it sounds absolutely awful. The worst part of this is that he drags the whole band down with him. There are several moments on this album where is sounds as if the band will begin to rise above "decent", and then he comes back in with his awful high notes, such as in "Warbird" and "Fire Within". His sole passable vocal performance is on the ballad "What About Me", which is easily the best track on the album.
The other aspects of the album vary in their quality. One weaker aspect of the album is that most songs have some noticeable tempo change take place. While sometimes that changes are executed well, other times, most notably on "The Gleeman", the change is very sudden, and it can be rather jarring to hear it. The lyrics range from good to passable, never managing to stand out in either a good or bad way. Occasionally, the album suffers from lack of variety in the music, making some bits a bit tedious to get through.
Ultimately, Eternity shows how one member can seriously weaken the entire band. However, if the listener is willing to forgive Vanderbilt for his worst moments, Eternity is a solid debut record that features decent performances and songwriting, while leaving plenty of room for improvement.
(Originally written for sputnikmusic.com)
I’ve often questioned the weight that a person should give to a variant on the concept of originality that critics and reviewers often babble about, mostly because it tends to get thrown out as a way to rip on music that is otherwise quite enjoyable. Is something simply bad because it’s written in a style that has been done before? For me it seems more of an issue of whether you like the style or not, and if so if you like the quality of the product, since outright plagiarism doesn’t tend to get very far in the musical realm.
The first thing that one should understand about Kamelot’s “Eternity”, which is actually a rather excellent debut, is that it does not seek to push the limits of the genre in any way, shape or form. To the contrary, an album like this is stylistically more befitting of the year 1984 rather than 1995. If this album had been released then, this band would have been heralded as Brandeton Florida’s answer to Queensryche, rather than becoming an early rebel in the midst of a musical great depression. For any who doubts that this band had an uphill battle, consider what was considered to embody metal at the time (Metallica, Pantera, et cetera) and then look at the band pictures on here; these guys probably got booed off of many stages.
Not only do they look the part of a mid-80s Power/Progressive outfit, their music fits it to the point of being an 11 song cliché. Mark Vanderbilt’s voice is mostly pure Geoff Tate worship, especially on the opening title track and “Proud Nomad”, although he doesn’t quite have the ability to belt out high notes as often as his inspiration. On slower ballad sections of certain tracks and throughout “What about me” he sounds a bit more like Midnight (Crimson Glory), and occasionally on rougher edged vocal performances like “Warbird” he has a sound pretty much his own.
Thomas Youngblood, however, is the true point of intrigue in this outfit on this release. His lead playing isn’t really anything groundbreaking, mostly sounding like a slightly more technical version of Chris Degarmo with some occasional hints of Malmsteen. His riffs, on the other hand, are among the best crafted I’ve heard within the entire metal genre. There is a strong attentiveness to detail and a good sense of continuity between the riffs and their relationship with the other instrument parts, particularly their primacy over the keyboards (as opposed to being on equal terms with them, something more prominent in late 90s power metal). The greatest example of Youngblood’s signature riff approach is the main guitar line of “Call of the Sea”, a classic that currently enjoys the most live play of all the songs on this album.
The tricky thing about this album and the one that would follow it is that it is quite a far cry from the band’s work with Kahn. In truth, stylistically it is quite far removed from what is currently called power metal, which today looks more to influences from Helloween, Stratovarius and Blind Guardian rather than the old guard from the early to mid-80s in the United States and the United Kingdom. If you’ve heard nothing but this band’s well known work with Kahn, this music sounds like it’s from a completely different band cut from a different era, devoid of the constant double bass attack or the progressive instrumentation.
For fans of early Queensryche, Judas Priest, Fates Warning, Crimson Glory and Helstar, this is a faithful mid-90s homage to that seemingly still forgotten sound. It gets kudos from me for the year it came out, a year where playing 80s influenced metal was not only unfashionable, but often the subject of constant ridicule and derision. It is proof against any argument that Kamelot was ever a commercially oriented band, and are instead a success for their refusal to conform to the whims of the moment the way Dokken and Queensryche were all too willing to do at this point in history. But above all else, the songs kick ass and are well done. There was a Kamelot before Kahn, and unfortunately too many people shelf this album as being either derivative or obsolete, it is clearly neither.