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It pains me to do this, because I have nothing but love for this band and the genre-bending creativity shown on every release of theirs since The Fourth Legacy. Along with Hibria and Lost Horizon, they are truly among the elite of the non-extreme side of metal; bands that are not content with just plain kicking ass, but also keep the genre moving forward and developing. However, up to Kamelot's by now regular standards Ghost Opera is unfortunately not and I'd be lying if I told you otherwise. Now, to be fair, The Black Halo did set the bar especially high for them, being inarguably their most epic, grand and musically grown work to date. It was rightfully hailed by the majority as their finest and following up such a masterwork with a merely solid album isn't such a big deal in itself. No, what really bothers me about Ghost Opera is that it suggests that the band is running out of ideas. And in my experience, this is one of the surest signs that a band's best days are behind them, so this doesn't bode well for Kamelot's future at all I'm afraid.
One key thing I've always loved about these guys is that they're all about progressing their sound and pushing their own envelope between albums, and not just releasing basically the same stuff over and over. It's made them more interesting and exciting than a band like HammerFall or Motörhead and it's prevented me from ever getting tired of their sound. For instance, The Black Halo added a heavier and more prominent guitar base to their already meaty, dense and rich sound, but now with Ghost Opera, Kamelot has for the first time in their career made an album that doesn't really break any new ground for them. In fact, they actually seem to have backed down on the depth and complexity of the previous album in favor of, yes, increased catchiness and accessibility. Bad news.
This here is essentially an entire album full of "The Haunting" (chosen as the lead single off the last album for a logical reason)-type of songs; there's no lengthier epic number to be found anywhere and the prevalence of speedier songs is at an all-time low. So there's less variety than before, and worse yet, as is often the case with "catchier" music, it comes at the price of not being as rewarding in the long run. That is definitely the biggest difference between The Black Halo and Ghost Opera; the former took me a good ten spins before I ever began to grasp the whole thing, while the latter I fully got into from the very first spin. Not just because the music is in a similar vein and I don't have to get into the same album twice, so to say - this is simply a type of album where all the songs are solid candidates for single choices, and in Kamelot's case, that's not a compliment I'm afraid. For further comparison, one main strength of The Black Halo is managing to be simultaneously eleven amazing songs and one intriguing epic journey as an album. On Ghost Opera on the other hand, not only are the (nine) songs not quite as good, but since they're also much more similar to one another, they don't sound as good played back to back either. Could this be blamed on the fact that this is their first non-concept album in a while? Have they forgotten how to pull off those properly?
Now keep in mind that this is Kamelot we're talking about here, and relative to other power metal, this is certainly some of the best and least generic stuff you'll ever hear. It's actually a more original sound on display here than on (the already original) Epica and every release prior to it, so if you're into diversity in power metal, you're looking in the right place. However, relative to the quality I expect from Kamelot, and as a follow-up to The Black Halo, I can't help but feel a little disappointed. Okay, I'll go right ahead and say it: had this been the first release of theirs I'd ever graced my ears upon, the rating would've ended up considerably higher (still their weakest since Siege Perilous any way you cut it, though). But as it stands now, I hear this as "yet another Kamelot release, except more formula-ridden", which inevitably hurts my overall enjoyment of it and has me worried about the band's future. Now I'm just really hoping Kamelot won't turn into a band like Iron Savior, whose latest album bores me to tears so formulaic and self-recycled it is. I've reason to worry, because it's happened to and ruined many a band.
"The bigger they are, the harder they fall"...I gave these guys the Album of the Year award for 2005 dammit, so please don't let this be true for them!