I have a special relationship with the Tommy Karevik-fronted incarnation of KAMELOT, as I got into the band soon after he joined for 2011’s Silverthorn. Much as with that album’s successor Haven, I found the album generally enjoyable with a couple of standouts that I found myself coming back to again and again. Still, especially after witnessing their electrifying live show, I approached the new record The Shadow Theory, out now on Napalm Records, knowing I was in for at least a couple of great songs, but who knows what else? The album starts off with the requisite 90-second instrumental intro, which sets a bit of a mood, I guess. I’ll be skipping it every time I put this album on in future, either way. It’s more or less exactly what you’d expect. Unfortunately, the same could go for the first two real songs on the disc, both of which are pretty much by-the-books KAMELOT tunes. I started to worry that these two, clearly written with the intention to be singles, were going to be as close as this album got to standouts.
“Amnesiac” is a bit of a poppier song, dominated by keyboards with the occasional chugging guitar interspersed. Although “poppy” is usually a four-letter word in metal reviews, I think it works for them here and is a welcome change of a pace musically. Oh no, have I said too much? “Burns To Embrace” is another change of pace from typical KAMELOT fare…but including a children’s chorus? I have NEVER enjoyed listening to children sing on a metal album; it usually comes off cheesy beyond belief. Ask IN FLAMES how that, or anything they’ve done lately, has worked for them. Actually, it’s not bad here, though. It’s different enough without being off-putting that it might be a grower for some people.
“In Twilight Hours” is back to traditional KAMELOT, this one a ballad with a heavy female vocal presence as well. Not a bad song, but it feels more like an interlude than anything else. As “Kevlar Skin” bursts onto the scene, it feels like the band is done warming up and ready to scorch some earth with a double-bass barreling assault. Just as I’m about to get all amped up, the next song starts out with…pianos and strings? “Static” is actually really well written on the softer side of things, but the strings and vocal layering keep it interesting. The strings deserve special note, as they form catchy and memorable patterns and riffs unlike the orchestration on so many other albums with their tinny synthesized ones serving only as background noise. “Mindfall Remedy” benefits from this, as well as from the use of harsh vocals making it one of the heaviest songs on the album. If only it was paired with the intensity of “Kevlar Skin” instrumentally!
“Stories Unheard” is the second ballad, is utterly boring, and I don’t even want to talk about it. What I DO want to talk about is “Vespertine”, one of the album’s standout tracks. Eleven songs in and we’re cooking with gas! Huge hooks and a solo that reminds me of neoclassical Japanese power metal make this a total winner of a song. Backing chorus vocals are used to great effect here too. “The Proud and the Broken” is the kind of track that dips its toe into DREAM THEATER-esque progressive territory. It contains musically what has to be a first for KAMELOT…but I won’t spoil it! Take the trip for yourself, you won’t regret it. The final track on the record is one more instrumental piece that feels like it’s building to somewhere but ends up leaving you on something of an unfulfilled note.
Overall, The Shadow Theory has relatively few duds on it; it’s the kind of album where “mediocre” is as bad as it ever gets, and even then never for long. KAMELOT are obviously masters of songwriting, and two albums under their belt with their current vocalist has given them the confidence to start mixing that songwriting up a bit, to great effect. It doesn’t feel as cohesive as Haven does, but it feels much fresher.
STANDOUT TRACKS: “Amnesiac”, “Kevlar Skin”, “Mindfall Remedy”, “Vespertine (My Crimson Bride)”, “The Proud and the Broken”