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Since the release of the "The Fourth Legacy" and Roy Khan's jumping on board, Kamelot have slowly and steadily carved a niche of their own in the overcrowded power metal scene. With a steady lineup to aid and abet this process, the resuilts are in and it looks like they've done a great job at establishing a sound of their own. A hard thing to do in those circles, but Kamelot are not a band to settle for doing anything halfway, I've always found. "Ghost Opera" is no exception to this rule, I am pleased to say.
Khan as always runs the show with his signature smooth and pleasing vocals, his rich tenor a very nice contrast to the squealing approach favored by many vocalists in this genre. He doesn't go for the air raid siren style; rather, he lays down the lyrics in a carefully considered manner, often sounding as though he's caressing and savoring the words as they come out. Cases in point being the chorus of the title track and the verses of "The Human Stain", as well as the verses of "Love You To Death", he unfolds them lovingly as he goes along. He is in no rush and it shows in his deliberate yet passionate delivery.
The rest of the band matches him in delivery and skill, too. Casey Grillo is as always spot on the drumming realm at any tempo, and I can even detect a decided Led Zeppelin vibe in the music at times in no small part due to his precise yet grooving work. Even when in full on double kick mode, he is right there and moving right along, a la Nevermore's Van Williams. Thom Youngblood is his usual tasteful self on the guitar front, crafting meticulous riffs and melodies as well as brief and piquant solos. Much of the Zeppelin vibe comes from his writing, it seems like, with the sweeping epic feel that they were known for at their best, and he catches some of the mojo without submitting to the usual "big bluesy riffs/booming drums" approach that most folks claiming Zeppelin influence ape and never go beyond. Glenn Barry is his usual solid, stolid self on the bass front, how very John Paul Jones in his tight approach that even allows for a little bit more stepping out for him. And he does play a bit more than usual on this album, not too much but noticeably enough.
The album starts with an eerie violin intro backed by understated keyboards, an intro that is just a minute long and leads right into "Rule the World", with its syncopated riff and devastatingly funky drumming that makes my head start bobbing immediately. This is what I mean by Zeppelin vibe, the feel of how even though a song is all kinds of loud and heavy, it still has a swing to it, The title track is a furious double bass fueled charge that shows Kamelot can still step on the gas with the bets of them, alternating with slow verses and a full-on chorus featuring haunting female vocals.
Speaking of which, Epica's Simone Simons lends her beautiful voice to the chorus of "Blucher", one of my favorite songs on here. Khan's use of robotic sounding vocal effects is odd at first, and his yearning vocal on the chorus makes up for that oddness. Another woman, Amanda Sommerville, contributes some really sweet vocal work on several other tunes, too, and she is every bit as good as Simone is. "The Human Stain" is a haunting little number with lyrics concerning mortality and death, that states “No-one really wants to die to save the world,” and conveys a feeling of dreary sadness throughout. “Anthem” is a heartfelt tune about the beauty of life, in contrast, a reflection of how life is lent meaning when a child enters it and how you have to provide for them, teach them and nurture them and how it can leave one feeling hopelessly inadequate to the task as well as hopelessly in love with that new life. Sappy, you say? So what? It’s a great song delivered with conviction and meaning and I will forgive Khan for going the usual route of writing a song for his newborn son due to this song being so wonderful. Who says metal has to be depressing and serious all the time anyway?
The overall feel of the album is decidedly different for Kamelot, more stern and serious as opposed to upbeat, and they seem to have settled into this new direction well. In finding their own sound and style, they’ve largely abandoned the more traditional power metal trappings of their past and have forged a new sound with an appropriately grittier, less polished production to go along with it. It is still a clean sound, but slightly dirtier and deeper-sounding, not as clinically-produced as past efforts have been. Their tuning down to D is enhanced by this warmer, darker guitar tone and the bass benefits from a dirtier tone than has been the case in the past. Glenn’s earthy growl fills out the low end perfectly, especially on the verses of “Ghost Opera” where the guitar lays out and the intro of “The Human Stain” where the guitar parts are sparse and more in the background. The drums especially sound good, thundering away without triggers to lend that artificial edge expected of modern metal albums these days. The keyboards are unobtrusive and as such they lend a welcome blanket of ambience filling in the gaps between guitar and bass as opposed to dominating them a la Dimmu Borgir.
In short, this is yet another excellent masterwork of modern metal that proves the form still has plenty of life left it in it and still has ample room for creativity and ideas as opposed to angst and caveman mono-rhythm. Kamelot weigh in with their usual bouquet of taste and style coupled with melody and impeccable musicianship that avoids wanking in favor of strong writing, and intelligent, evocative lyrics. And as always it is worth serious listening and consideration to end up in my Top 10 CDs of the year as 2007 draws to a close.