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The Hunger Games Goes Metal - 55%

Dragonchaser, March 27th, 2019
Written based on this version: 2018, CD, Napalm Records

I love Kamelot, and it’s not easy for me to trash them, but this album is hot garbage. I’ve been a fan for a long time, and when they put out ‘The Black Halo’ in 2005, I thought it was an excellent excursion for them, unsure but excited about where they would go next. Nowhere, it seems, as they have been chasing this style ever since, putting out six albums of this shit. The problem sank in long before Roy Khan’s departure. ‘Ghost Opera’ was the first crap album of this era, and it just got worse from there. Now, obviously, ‘The Black Halo’ was their most successful album at that point, and it got them so much attention that Thomas Youngblood just thought that was what they had to do to be a touring band with a horde of adoring fans. Except, the fans they now have are all special little snowflakes, goth girls, guys into sky-pirates, nerds that like anime, steampunk, and cosplay. This gothic, quasi-dark sound has turned Kamelot into a brand, and let’s face it, they are just more popular playing this shallow shit than the melodic power metal that brought them fame during their classic run from ‘The Fourth Legacy’ to ‘Epica’. Watching the videos they made for this album, it’s obvious who this is supposed to appeal to. This stupid teen/young-adult dystopian future drivel makes this look like the Hunger Games of metal. Is this the same band that put out ‘Karma’? Far fucking from it.

I say all this because actually, some of these songs are good, especially opener ‘Phantom Divine’, which could actually be a real Kamelot song if not for the blatant attempt to sound like one, instead coming across like a parody of what this band once was. It’s all very poppy, very likeable, full of female vocals, screams, groovy riffs, and melodies that sound just like what Khan put down in the past, only sung by the great imitator Tommy Karevik, who I fucking love, and who is selling himself short by being forced to actually play Roy Khan in this ludicrous pantomime. ‘Silverthorn’, his first album with the band, was a return to form, but even then, Youngblood was just using Tommy to make up for Khan’s absence. If they had, you know, actually thought about their careers as artists, knowing Tommy’s abilities as a vocalist, they would’ve realized, shit, this guy has a great voice, higher than Khan’s, generally. Why don’t we make an album like ‘Karma’ where he can really shine? But no, we have shit like ‘Kevlar Skin’, again, decent, but a mockery of the established Kamelot sound post-2005. ‘Static’ isn’t too bad, but holy fuck, listen to ‘Amnesiac’. What an abomination. No wonder this band is on Napalm these days. Kamelot used to be the classiest power metal band in a scene full of cheesy dragon slayers; now this band is mentioned in the same breath as Delain, Within Temptation, and Epica. Femme metal bands. Says it all.

This isn’t Tommy’s fault. He is still an amazing singer (just look at the latest Seventh Wonder), but with Kamelot, he is still just play-acting, impersonating Khan to pay the bills. It saddens me. Despite all this, ‘The Shadow Theory’ isn’t the worst Kamelot album. I think that prize would go to ‘Poetry For The Poisoned’. But it’s the weakest and most obvious during Karevik’s reign. And I don’t see it getting any better from here.

Poetry for the Poisoned: Karevik Edition - 75%

LycanthropeMoon, May 21st, 2018

First things first, let me just say that there are few replacements for legendary vocalists as perfect as Tommy Karevik. The man can sing his ass off, and his range reminds me of a younger Roy Khan (think The Fourth Legacy). All the way back in 2012, when he was announced as Khan's replacement, the incredible fear and dread I'd felt magically vanished. I was already into Seventh Wonder, the progressive power metal band he also happens to sing for, and have admired this guy's vocal chops for quite some time. When Silverthorn came out, I wasn't disappointed. It had a couple clunky moments, but was shockingly an improvement over the two albums before it. Haven was even better - Karevik had clearly found his place within the band, and this led to overall tighter, smoother songwriting.

And now we have The Shadow Theory, in which Kamelot decided to downtune things and get dark again, like on 2010's polarizing Poetry for the Poisoned. Silverthorn and Haven had me convinced they were slowly moving back to a more straight forward, major key-oriented power metal sound, like in the band's old days (think Epica), but judging from this, that ain't gonna happen. This seems to be the direction Thomas Youngblood - guitarist and main songwriter - truly wants to go, considering various interviews that have been conducted with the man. While I respect his wish to pursue whatever sounds and textures he pleases, the results on display here are far from perfect. Not outright bad of course, but noticeably rote at times.

The two biggest offenders would be the singles. "Ravenlight" just isn't that good of a song. When they dropped that track, I find myself incredibly bored. The chorus is bland as hell, which isn't a good thing if you're wanting to make catchy, accessible symphonic power metal. You're gonna need a strong chorus to succeed in this genre. It's essentially a much weaker version of "Insomnia". "Phantom Divine (Shadow Empire)" fares better, being less boring and actually having a catchy hook, yet at the same time it's essentially a dead ringer for "Sacrimony (Angel of Afterlife)" from Silverthorn. Also, Lauren Hart's contributions to this song are completely and utterly pointless - she sings the chorus once and does a few backing growls. It's nothing to write home about, which is a shame, because I enjoy her work with progressive groove metallers Once Human. The next big offender would be "Static", which is just a gigantic piece of shit with a super annoying theremin added in (or perhaps a keyboard imitating a theremin, whatever). It's honestly one of their worst songs since "Black Tower", which is basically a meme amongst this band's fanbase (HOOOOO BLACK TOWAAHHHHH!).

Anyways, time to focus on the positives. "Vespertine (My Crimson Bride)" is an utterly fantastic song. Boasting the strongest chorus on the album and the quickest pace, it harkens back to that glorious time in the early and mid 2000s when this band could do no wrong. This track would not at all be out of place on Epica or Karma, and simply makes me think of all the wasted potential this thing had. Tommy Karevik is perfect for this kind of music, this is the kind of stuff that they should focus on, this is what feels most inspired. "Burns to Embrace" is a playful, progressive song which shows that maybe Kamelot having a dark side can work quite well when they really want it to. The one gripe I have with it is the child choir at the end, but it doesn't ruin the rest of the song. "Stories Unheard" is also pretty damn creative, they haven't done anything else quite like it. It's one of their best ballads since at least "Love You to Death" from the Ghost Opera days. The industrial elements on "Amnesiac" mostly work quite well, and word on the street is this is going to be the next single. This isn't surprising - it's got a hell of a great hook to it.

Most of the other songs sound like a darker take on what they were doing on Haven. The other ballad "In Twilight Hours" basically sounds like "Under Grey Skies" without the tin whistle, and I'm just not that fond of Jennifer Haben's voice or her dull-as-dishwater band Beyond the Black (even if they're named after an awesome Metal Church song). "Mindfall Remedy" is basically "Revolution" cut in half. "The Proud and the Broken" is another "Liar Liar", though some of the keyboards (oddly enough) make me think of Damnation and a Day-era Cradle of Filth (the beginning of "Serpent Tongue" comes to mind). There's nothing wrong with these songs, I enjoyed them while they were on, but they aren't anything earth shattering either.

This is an album I'd mostly recommend to hardcore fans of the band that are going to listen to it anyway. If you're new to them, do not start here. Pick up The Black Halo, that album is as close to perfect as power metal gets - it is, in fact, my favorite album in this genre. Once you're more familiar with the band, go ahead and check this out (though I'd suggest listening to it on Spotify before purchasing it). It's essentially another Poetry for the Poisoned - this is Kamelot attempting to be heavy and dark. Most of it's fine aside from some obvious hiccups, and there are a few pretty neat standout tracks on here, but I wouldn't call it a great album by any means.

This is just sad. - 46%

Empyreal, May 14th, 2018

This is not a good album. That pains me to say, as Kamelot were one of my first metal bands and albums like their Epica and Black Halo saga are still staple listens for me, exploding with vibrant melodies and powerful guitars and vocals. At their best, there was no one else like Kamelot. Which is why it’s so sad that The Shadow Theory is an unquestionably below average album for this band.

I think they’re just uninspired. They have been putting out albums like this for years, in the same formula as their breakout hit The Black Halo. They’ve had numerous albums structured like this, with a regal mid tempo opener, some faster songs and the requisite ballads - hell, they practically wrote the book on this style, and I bet they influenced countless modern power metal bands following them. But after so long, it now just feels like they’re going through the motions. The guitar playing feels stilted and familiar, and you’ve heard these vocal lines before. It’s identifiable as a Kamelot album, but this is a case where the style has strangled the life out of their music, making every note rote and predictable and banal. For whatever reason, they seem to feel they have to be married to this Black Halo-lite style, and it's killing anything interesting about their music.

These songs are saddled with flat, uninspiring chorus lines and melodies and structures that are gloomy and ponderous for no real reason. You might get a good riff to start some of them off, but by the end of the song it’s like they’re just following Mad Libs, cannibalizing their own past glories in a much more mechanical, dull fashion. The opener track “Phantom Divine” has a weak hook, but it’s still one of the more memorable songs. Later on, you get stale tracks like “Amnesiac” with its predictable structure, the utterly droll boredom of “Static” and “Kevlar Skin” and the limp ballad “In Twilight Hours.” Most of this stuff, you could guess what it’s going to sound like before even playing them, if you’re familiar with the band at all. “MindFall Remedy” doesn’t sound totally predictable. But instead it’s just relentlessly annoying and tries and fails to implement some slight harsher elements. A bad idea, like DragonForce tried last year, and a clear indicator of a band with nothing really interesting to say.

You get a few bright spots like “Burns to Embrace,” which is at least a little more ambitious. And “Vespertine” is a nice burst of speed, though placed inexplicably near the end of the album - really, you couldn’t have put this one earlier and spiced up the dreariness? But most of the other songs just start and then sputter and die quickly. It’s not interesting music. While none of it is particularly grating, there’s just such a tame, soft and lazy quality to the writing here that it does annoy me.

This kind of stuff is what’s wrong with modern melodic metal. There are no risks taken and everything is overly clean, polished and played-out until every ounce of spontaneity and excitement has been bled dry. It’s a shame. These guys used to be so good and I hope they can recapture a spark next time.

They've done it better before - 62%

Silicon Messiah, May 10th, 2018
Written based on this version: 2018, Digital, Napalm Records (Bandcamp)

One could easily call Kamelot a force of their own within the melodic prog-power scene, having previously released 11 albums within 20 years. The Shadow Theory is the twelfth full length album since starting up in 1991; the third album featuring Tommy Karevik (Seventh Wonder) and the very first featuring new drummer Johan Nunez (Firewind). After coming from a highlight of an album in Haven (2015) - which quite frankly might have been worth a higher score than the 66% score it received - it comes as something of a letdown to hear in The Shadow Theory something so same-y and retreading of what Kamelot have already done in the past.

First and foremost, there are a couple too many tracks, and the good ones generally aren’t long enough (with the exception of 'Burns To Embrace', which repeats the chorus a couple times too many), meaning focus is shifted from where it would likely need to be. Second, the songwriting is lacking, uninspired and generally doesn’t bring anything new or very interesting.

There are moments of greatness and a few highlights tossed in here and there, but the first wholly worthwhile track comes at number seven; 'Kevlar Skin'. Before then the album has been opened by your average power metal intro, followed by opening track 'Phantom Divine (Shadow Empire)', a dull tale of nothingness with the same structure and melodies as every Kamelot song ever, and a couple of bland tracks in 'Ravenlight' and In 'Twilight Hours'. In the latter Jennifer Haben of Beyond The Black delivers a more potent and emotive touch than main vocalist Tommy Karevik who makes his third album with Kamelot, yet still retaining a lot of the Roy Khan-isms.

No, it’s at 'Kevlar Skin'that there is suddenly an ignition; Nunez slamming those kegs like a force of nature alongside gritty riffage from main man Thomas Youngblood and Karevik pulling all the right strings and landing the entire thing comfortably yet stylish. Then there are some nice melodic springs and great harmonies care of Thomas Youngblood and keyboardist Oliver Palotai in tracks like 'Vespertine (My Crimson Bride)' and the aforementioned 'Burns To Embrace', as well as closer 'The Proud And The Broken' to bring the feel up a notch.

While lackluster, the songwriting isn’t bad per se, it is simply sub-par in comparison to what Youngblood is capable of. All over the entire runtime of the album there seems to be very little that actually feels like new material. Kamelot have done this before, and they’ve done it better. That’s not to say that the album is bad.

These boys know their trade and compared to some of the other names in the industry they’ve always kept a certain quality mixed with their innate charm and deliciously epic strokes tossed in shorter song runtimes to keep it accessible without losing the touch of what it is, sprinkled with the darkly majestic melodies mainly from mainman Youngblood himself that sometimes add that extra spice, and big sounding choruses that catch the vibes Kamelot have always so expertly caught. In that sense the album is acceptable at the very least; if you’re comfortable getting a non-explorative Kamelot album with little in the way of new groundbreaking or trying to outdo themselves The Shadow Theory will certainly deliver. Die hard fans will be satisfied.

Standout tracks: Kevlar Skin, Vespertine (My Crimson Bride), The Proud And The Broken

Frustratingly Mediocre - 55%

RedChimeraGhost, May 1st, 2018
Written based on this version: 2018, Digital, Napalm Records (Bandcamp)

I had high hopes for The Shadow Theory. Now that Kamelot has had 6 years to work with Tommy Karevik, one of the most talented voices in prog and power metal right now, the natural next step to take is to improve on Silverthorn and Haven.

Instead, I feel like this album is a frustrating step back for a band which has otherwise firmly established itself as one of the premiere power metal bands. Silverthorn was a bit rough around the edges, but it had its share of highlights and felt like a solid next step for a band trying to adjust to a new singer after working with Roy Khan for 6 albums. Haven wasn't exactly an improvement, but I still feel the songs on that track were better suited towards Tommy's voice, and it had plenty of highlights and even a few stellar tunes on its own (Revolution, Veil of Elysium). Instead, this record just does absolutely nothing for me.

The recurring theme with this album that frustrates me is that almost never have I found myself saying "well, this is new and interesting". Instead, listening to The Shadow Theory led to a constant case of "Wait, haven't they already done this song earlier? And better?" Say what you want about Poetry for the Poisoned, it was not exactly a magnum opus, but it at least had its share of interesting ideas, and I can still firmly remember a handful of tracks on it. In listening to Shadow Theory from end to end 5 times...I still struggle to remember much on this album. Admittedly, Kamelot has developed a few archetypes by now (Center of the Universe, Veil of Elysium, Forever, and now Phantom Divine all fit this niche of "fast drums and booming choruses" early on the record), but even those feel stale and don't live up to past successes.

Thomas Youngblood's guitar riffs and solos just feel completely banal on this record, very little stands out on the rhythm end, which is a shame because Casey Grillo is (or at least, was, since he left the band before the album released) genuinely a monster on the kit. And as much as I love Tommy's voice, I do not feel he pushes this album above mediocrity. He has his share of highlights, but every time I go back and forth between his work for Ayreon and Seventh Wonder, I can't help but feel something is amiss when listening to this record. Lastly, it's yet another Kamelot record with a few guest stars, and while they are used well, I can't escape this feeling as if a few songs just have them there as a gimmick. "In Twilight Hours" is just the same duet ballad with a guest female singer that they've done several times in the past...just on a new record, and not as good.

It's still Kamelot, high end production and musicianship is generally there, it's just that everything on this album feels super uninspired. Sure, I'm a fan who has been listening for this band for over a decade now, so maybe someone who has never heard this band will get more out of it than me, but at the same time there are so many better albums to recommend for anyone just getting into this band. The talent is there with this band, but this record just is all around really forgettable.

If I had to pick a highlight, the one I could maybe argue is Vespertine, which felt like a bit of fresh air to be honest. It's one of the more upbeat songs the band has done as a whole, and the use of keyboards at least makes this one stand out overall. Phantom Divine and Ravenclaw are the same catchy Kamelot that got me into the band in the first place, albeit neither song quite reaches the highs that this bands finer works do. I do also somewhat enjoy parts of The Proud and the Broken, but like a few other songs on this album, it felt like certain sections of the song were better than others, leaving the feeling of an inconsistent track.All around, this album feels like a giant mixed bag of recycled ideas with a few sprinkles of interesting material, which just leaves me frustrated as a fan of this otherwise fantastic band.

Slowly but steadily rising - 80%

kluseba, April 10th, 2018
Written based on this version: 2018, CD, Napalm Records

I have been listening to Kamelot for about a decade but despite the band's excellent reputation, I just couldn't find any access to it. Silverthorn was completely overloaded with symphonic elements while Haven sounded so saccharine that I had to turn the record off halfway through it. I still decided to give The Shadow Theory a shot and I'm glad I did. This is easily Kamelot's best album in a very long time.

The record focuses on catchy melodies, gripping riffs and mostly versatile vocals. It isn't overloaded with symphonic elements, sound samples or guest musicians and has a very coherent flow. The record finds the right balance between faster tracks with a melodic twist like ''Amnesiac'', moving ballads like the elegant ''In Twilight Hours'' featuring a quite vivid Jennifer Haben of Beyond the Black that complements Tommy Karevik's fragile voice perfectly and also intellectual epics like ''The Proud and the Broken'' that could also come from a symphonic metal act like Epica minus the bloated orchestrations and female lead vocals. The record has many details playing in its favor such as the choirs involving talented singers like Herbie Langhans and Cloudy Yang who have been involved in Avantasia just like the producer. The record also has a great production with an overall epic and vibrant sound without forgetting to make the guitar sound heavy and organic. The Shadow Theory has an elegant, epic and mysterious vibe which has become quite charismatic for the band.

Not everything is perfect on this release. The opening ''Phantom Divine (Shadow Empire)'' and ''Ravenlight'' are solid but ultimately power metal by the numbers and can't compete with this album's more playful tracks like ''Burns to Embrace'' with its decent and versatile folk elements or the stomping ''Kevlar Skin'' that mixes heaviness and melody perfectly. While Tommy Karevik does a solid job, his vocals sound too quiet and fragile at times and he has a slightly artificial manner to sing high notes, reminding me of Japanese power metal vocalist Kamijo. Some people might admire this particular vocal style but it isn't my cup of tea. While guitars. keyboards and even bass guitar sound versatile enough, the same can't be said about the drums. They are often fast-pasted except for the ballads and lack dynamics, inspiration and skills.

In the end, Kamelot's The Shadow Theory is a very good symphonic power metal record with an elegant, epic and mysterious vibe. It features some of the best songs the band has ever written with the creative ''Burns to Embrace'' and the intellectual ''The Proud and the Broken'' and comes around with some refreshingly heavy power metal in form of ''Amnesiac'' and ''Kevlar Skin'' and even the mandatory ballad in form of ''In Twilight Hours'' is more than decent. If the singer managed to do some training to hit the higher notes even better, if the drummer were a little bit more skilled and diversified and if the songwriting abandoned revisiting mellow power metal tracks the band had already written a decade ago, Kamelot could have the potential to release something even better. As it is, The Shadow Theory is recommended to power metal fans with a weakness for an intellectual, mysterious and symphonic take on the genre.