Wednesday 10 May 2023

Kamelot - The Awakening (2023)

Country: USA
Style: Melodic Power Metal
Rating: 6/10
Release Date: 17 Mar 2023
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Not every power metal band from Tampa, Florida got stupidly caught up in the insurrection, but I don't think we can call Kamelot an entirely American band any more. Sure, Thomas Youngblood is still in place on guitar, as he's been since they were founded in 1987 as Camelot with a C, and Sean Tibbetts is there on bass, as he was briefly in the early nineties and has been since 2009, but every other member is European—vocalist Tommy Karevik is Swedish while drummer Alex Landenburg and keyboardist Oliver Palotai are both German—and only two of thirteen guests are American. It shouldn't be surprising that Kamelot probably sound more European than any other Florida band.

This is their thirteenth studio album but, like Holy Moses's thirteenth yesterday, it took a while to arrive, after the longest gap between albums that they've ever had. The Shadow Theory came out in 2018, so it's been five years. It's good to see them back but this does not feel like the first album back after a long break; it feels more like another album in a long string of them that's destined to end up lost among the rest. I enjoyed it while I listened to it and it's certainly professionally done, but none of these songs stuck in my brain, even if I thought that it might.

I found myself remembering moments rather than songs, especially intros, which are often strong points. Eventide has a quirky intro that's almost Victorian fantasy. One More Flag in the Ground is elevated by an opening vocalisation, presumably the "operatic ghost voice" of Kobra Paige, leader of Kobra and the Lotus and Karevik's fiancée. Opus of the Night (Ghost Requiem) also begins with atmosphere. Midsummer's Eve starts with Celtic folk, courtesy of Florian Janoske's violin, and an evocative soft section. Bloodmoon opens as folk too, a sort of eastern dance with a modern beat. Nightsky has synths and choral emphasis. The Looking Glass has electronica and melodious piano. And so on and so on.

It's not just the intros though. Cellist Tina Guo lends her talents to Opus of the Night and is better still on Midsummer's Eve. There are particularly strong melodies on One More Flag in the Ground and Nightsky. The Looking Glass gets neatly prowling in some sections. There are a couple of songs where the usually clean vocals get harsh, My Pantheon (Forevermore) adding in a fast section too that I absolutely loved. The other is New Babylon, featuring a couple of major guests lending their vocal talents: Melissa Bonny of Ad Infinitum and Simone Simons of Epica, a major band whose very name was borrowed from the title of a Kamelot album.

The problem is that these great moments don't necessarily make great songs. I'm on my seventh or eighth time through The Awakening in search of something that will make it stick but very little has. Of the traditional melodic power metal songs, I'd call out Nightsky, because its hooks seem to be much more likely to stick. It's not remotely original and neither is The Looking Glass, but they're both done very well indeed and ought to stand alone outside the context of the album, played in a radio show set or as discoveries on YouTube.

The only song I'd truly call a highlight though is New Babylon. It's has another of the strong intros that are everywhere here, a gloriously bombastic choral approach. It drops into electronica, with two of the three voices in play, and then builds, back to the bombast but with lead vocals soaring over it and eventually a harsh section. It has more emphasis than every other song put together, perhaps even counting the harsh fast section in My Pantheon. The guitar solos are a cut above the rest of the album too. Kamelot have released three singles thus far off The Awakening and this is not one of them. That probably explains as much as the rest of this review.

All told, it's not a bad album. It's just not a particularly good album either. I don't regret listening to it. I may regret listening to it so much trying to find something that clearly isn't there. However, it remained entertaining even after that many listens. It's certainly not a waste of your time, but it's mostly just there, providing a pleasant backdrop to your day, and Kamelot albums ought to be a lot more than that.

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