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This settles it – Kamelot is just one of the best bands of our time. They hit an all-time peak back in the early 2000s with Epica and The Black Halo, so it was understandable that following works like Ghost Opera would be less engaging, even if that album was really, really good at what it was trying to do. Their previous album Poetry for the Poisoned was enjoyable too, though I can’t say I would rate it as highly now as I did back when it came out – it lost a lot to repeated listens. After losing singer Roy Khan, though, everybody was skeptical – he was what made the band; he was the big defining point that sold them to audiences beyond the niche metal ones they had gotten in their early career. A voice like that doesn’t come around more than once. Would Kamelot be able to retain even a little bit of their huge edge over every other band in the scene without him?
Well, Silverthorn says yes, yes they can, because this is a band that transcends the surface aesthetics of a singer’s voice through great songwriting. Not that I really had that many doubts that they could still be good without Khan; certainly I had that much faith in them, but I didn’t expect them to put out something this good, is all. I didn’t expect them to be able to reach the heights of something like The Black Halo without him. But they are a versatile and smart band and know their sound like a crucial part of their internal bodily systems. They hired new singer Tommy Karevik from Seventh Wonder to replace him, and while I’ve never been big on Seventh Wonder, it turns out that was just the right choice.
Karevik has a smooth, likable voice like Khan did, although notably less showy and dominating. I loved Khan’s voice, but the addition of a more down-to-Earth singer has an interesting effect on the music in that it forces the band to compensate for the loss of Khan’s domineering presence. Where before they put Khan’s silky, otherworldly croon at the forefront, here they mask its loss with an ensemble of Karevik’s powerful midrange and spellbinding lows, a host of gorgeous female vocals and big, ominous choirs that create a varied and powerful sound…certainly more engaging than the computerized effects on Khan’s voice on the last album…anyway, the band is really smart and works the other aspects of their sound full-well to make up for the loss of its most shining element in the past. That shows a hard working, relevant and clever band that I think deserves respect.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt at all that Karevik’s youthful, bright tones allow the music far more breadth than Khan’s diminishing range did on the previous two albums. This is still very much in the vein of their gothy, midpaced material of late, but it has more variety and verve to the sound and the band sounds way more adventurous here. I have to say I still miss the heavier, denser guitarwork from Black Halo, which still hasn’t returned, but the band produces really catchy, emotive melodies that dig deep into your brain with ironclad hooks. On songs like “Sacrimony” or the lush harmonies of “My Confession,” they sound alert and lively. The album still has a very dark and somber feel, though, and I’d say this is perhaps Kamelot’s most hopeless and bleak album ever. Everything about this just feels so dark and sorrowful that it’s like the band’s collective heart is breaking. It’s some kind of concept album about death separating two lovers and what extents the surviving party goes to to be with his lover again, and the lyrics are very poetic and not straightforward enough to give a clear idea of what the story is beyond that, but the music is powerful and raw in its emotion, and the whole thing together just masterfully bleeds pain and suffering. Very affecting.
But really the main strength with this album is that the songs kick ass. The lead single “Sacrimony” is a bustling, anthemic power metal bruiser with a good old Fourth Legacy style chorus. The keyboards are big and kind of silly, sure, but the song is done with a lot of energy and so it comes off as really powerful. “Ashes to Ashes” is a clear album highlight with its dark, punishing riff and mournful vocal lines…Karevik really does do a great job on this one and shows that he can match Khan’s elegance with pure grit and style, delivering an unforgettable chorus with a ton of drama. “Torn” is another old-school power metal blazer, but it’s probably the weakest song on here…however even the weakest song here is still hooky and enjoyable, so it’s good.
“Song for Jolee,” though, is one of the best songs on here with its wistful melody line and beautiful balladry. One of the great things about the new Kamelot is that they have really done more work with these quiet, sensitive moments than in the past. This is the last time I’ll make a Khan comparison, but while his voice was gorgeous and he sang on some great songs, there was always this overpowering grandiosity to everything he sang no matter how soft the music got. With Karevik you don’t get that, as he lowers his voice to this calm, quivering soft note and delivers one of the most honest and poignant performances on a Kamelot song since classics like “Wander” and “Abandoned” way back when – they’re all great ballads, but “Song for Jolee” is great in a new and fresh way.
“Veritas” is the most intense song on here with its riotous choirs and stomping riffs, and “My Confession” shimmers with that classic Kamelot-style brilliant melody. Both of these songs are sure to be live favorites. The title track is a creepy number with some of the more inventive vocal lines on the album. It’s a very hopeless and even sinister sounding song that will probably evoke lots of different things in various people; none of them very happy…more along the lines of stalkers from beyond the grave and scorned ex-lovers with death wishes. ”Falling Like the Fahrenheit” and “Solitaire” are more classic Kamelot tunes, with the former being a down-tempo dirge with a killer chorus and some great lyrics. “My cyanide in paradise…I will never see another sunrise in your eyes…” Great stuff. The latter is a killer speedy number with a heavenly melody line like a clear, running stream through a smoky mountain crevasse.
“Prodigal Son” is the token epic number that Kamelot always has on their albums, and it starts off beautifully with some choral singing and beautifully delicate, fragile moments that I don’t think they would have done in the old days at all – this is new territory for them. When it kicks up into a rousing power metal epic, the payoff doesn’t quite deliver from its gorgeous beginning, but it’s still good – just not AS good as some of the great songs on this album beforehand. It’s just a little too cerebral and lacks in the visceral emotional punch that a great album ending should have. It’s a well put together song, but it doesn’t quite catch fire. The last song “Continuum” is just a fluffy bit of orchestration that doesn’t really do much…oh well.
Overall I love this album though, if you couldn’t tell from the previous dozen paragraphs of raving about it. It’s just an incredibly emotional and well done album from a band that has produced some of power metal’s greatest works, this being among them now. Kamelot is good because they have a great sense of melody and can write plain old unstoppable songs; it’s that simple. On Silverthorn the big hook is that this is the most atmospheric they have ever been. When I listen to this album I get this huge overpowering sense of love and death and love after death – the undying and destructive power that compels humanity’s greatest tragedies. Love gone awry is the greatest fodder for a tragedy and has been since the beginning of time, and that is what this album evokes – pure, undiluted sorrow and misery. If you want to hear something uplifting, maybe this isn’t for you…but if you want to get lost in the dark and experience the rawest human emotion, well, Silverthorn wouldn’t be a bad place to start.