Kamelot: Haven

Haven was released on May 5, 2015, and is available from the release’s official site.

I have a habit of falling in love with bands mere weeks before they lose their vocalists. In 2005 my life was turned around by the discovery of Nightwish, only to be bereft by the imminent departure of Tarja. Likewise in 2011, a friend lent me some Kamelot. I became quickly obsessed with the rich, emotive male vocals with the power to change from vulnerable to terrifying in a split second, only to hear a month later that Roy Khan was leaving the rock world for good. I am hardly a stranger to the journey from grief to acceptance of a new vocalist, but I’ll admit – this one is taking some time. Haven is Kamelot’s second album with new vocalist Tommy Karevik, and while his talent is undeniable, there is still something about the album that begs comparison to the band’s earlier offerings.

Perhaps this urge comes down to the fact that by and large, Karevik has still not quite found his own sound. For the most part he is a somewhat less-terrifying Khan, the similarities most striking on the power-metal heavy End of Innocence. He sticks for the most part to a solid mid-range, forgoing the disquieting lower moments that made Khan’s Epica and The Black Halo so shudder-inducing.

Karevik’s vocal control is laudable, as demonstrated by a well-placed smattering of grace notes and run-downs breaking the flow of otherwise fairly forgettable melodies – particularly in the up-tempo opening tracks Fallen Star and Insomnia. The former marks its territory with a trademark Kamelot instrumental intro, but is let down by a rather poppy chorus and occasional awkward falsetto. The latter is the album’s first single, and while it packs a proggy punch, the melody simply doesn’t inspire singing along. The same cannot be said for Veil of Elysium, the one anthem on the album that really captured my imagination with its thundering chorus, close harmonies and almost Celtic-sounding vocal hook.

In terms of instrumental power, Thomas Youngblood and Oliver Palotai maintain the closely interwoven perfection of previous albums – a sound that is so archetypal it seems impossible to better. Youngblood’s trademark pinched harmonics are out in force, particularly in the dark and stormy Citizen Zero, one of the album’s more forceful and full-on tracks, and Palotai’s melodies add an almost Eastern vibe to Beautiful Apocalypse and Revolution, while conjuring up pure Gothic gloom in the stunning interlude Ecclesia. In a sense, the backing feels almost too polished at times – as if the band found such a winning combination in Epica that they’ve little left to experiment with in new material.

It is perhaps worth remarking that during his time as vocalist, Roy Khan shared songwriting credits with Youngblood on every album except for his inaugural Siege Perilous. Just how crucial that partnership was is only truly evident in its absence – Haven features the same forceful sound as ever, but with less melodic complexity than Kamelot fans have grown to expect. Likewise, without Khan’s penchant for soul-rending poetry the lyrics fall somewhat flat, the rather contrived metaphor in My Therapy not touching the simple elegance of older ballads such as Abandoned.

Kamelot continue the tradition of well-known guest vocalists adding unique flavours, with Delain’s Charlotte Wessels and Nightwish’s Troy Donockley joining forces in Under Grey Skies – a pleasingly polished if somewhat saccharine ballad. Stealing the show in the album’s later tracks, however, is The Agonist’s Alyssa White-Gluz, a long-time member of the extended Kamelot family, who switches effortlessly between her trademark death growl and gentler, emotive melodies in Liar Liar and Revolution. The latter is the album’s stand-out track for me, packing in all the hypnotic fury that the album’s earlier anthems seem to be missing.

I think it is fairly telling that after listening to the album two or three times I walked home and caught myself humming Kamelot’s 2005 single The Haunting. While the material on Haven has the same unmistakable drive and bombast of that well-loved track, it simply lacks the vital ear-worm factor that sucked me into Kamelot’s world in the first place. The band has certainly proven that it can maintain a high standard of precision and production without Khan’s input, but I’m looking forward to seeing Karevik, and Kamelot’s sound in general, venture into some new territory.

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