Kamelot have a clear-cut mission statement according to guitarist Thomas Youngblood:
“We do what we do for the fans. That’s what it’s all about; taking care of the fans. And maintaining the integrity that I hope we’ve created each time out.”
By all accounts the band’s new album, Poetry For The Poisoned, has done just that even though it’s a different animal in comparison to their remarkably successful previous record, Ghost Opera. The band is as heavy as they’ve ever been, perhaps even a bit more progressive this time out, but the darker vibe threaded through the songs gives the record an almost melancholic air. Their fans are anything but turned off, however, judging the buzz surrounding Kamelot’s return to the trenches, making it clear that the band’s success up to this point is no accident. People appreciate them for keeping things familiar even as the band explores new territory from album to album.
“It’s the same every time at this stage,” says Youngblood. “The pressure to top the previous record isn’t there like it was before. That’s our goal but it’s not like we’re worried about it. I listen to an album and ask if we have everything we need, check to see if there’s anything missing. When we did this album, for example, we had a few extra songs which is a really nice luxury. The last song, ‘Once Upon A Time’, we weren’t sure if that one was going to end up as a Japanese bonus track or on the album. I really felt like it was a good way to end the album because it’s the type of song we would have done to give a familiar feel to it. There’s a lot of experimental stuff on the new album, but at the end of the day it’s a Kamelot record with all the qualities our fans expect.”
With regards to the new album’s darker-than-expected personality, Youngblood chalks it up to art imitating life.
“I think it just kind of happened, at least for the time we’re in right now. The things that are going on economically and politically these days, I think that mood is reflected in the music. It’s hard to write about unicorns and stuff like that right now with all the crap that’s going on around us. I don’t see us getting any darker than this. It’s a pretty dark-themed album, and Roy (Khan / vocals) and I have been talking about how we want to make sure this is not a direction. It was just an idea and a feeling for this album.”
“I think that whole aspect of it started with The Black Halo,” he continues. “We started fusing a dark verse, I guess you could call it, into what we were doing and it really felt natural, and it tapped into a different fanbase for us. Not that we were thinking about that; it just happened. We’ve kind of continued with that with the structure of the albums without going overboard with it. We don’t want to be a black metal band. We want to be whoever we and this is what we want. We don’t have any rules which is a great luxury for us because that’s what the fans love about Kamelot. We’re not going to be predictable due to a certain type of genre.”
Straddling the line between giving people what they expect while offering up something new so things aren’t wall-to-wall predictable isn’t an easy trick to pull off. Particularly nine albums into a career.
“It is tough,” Youngblood agrees, “and we look at ourselves first and say ‘Okay, is this something that we really dig?’ and if it is we hope the vision follows through with the fans. Not everybody is going to get into it, though, and we know it. When The Black Halo came out and we had all these great reviews, but the very first one I saw was something ridiculous like 4 out of 10. The guy came back later months later and said ‘Well, I’ve actually changed my mind about that…’ (laughs).”
“I remember when we did ‘Lost And Damned’ (for the Epica album). We were putting the accordion piece into it and I told Sascha (Paeth / producer) ‘This isn’t going to go over well.’ The album came out and people loved it, and I think it was that point where I really felt that as long as we did something well and kept that integrity the fans would get it. It’s a privilege to have that. I look at bands like Queen, Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin, those classic rocks bands, and they did all kinds of experimental stuff and people loved that. I don’t know where or why bands lost that freedom over the years, but we’re very lucky to have a fanbase that let’s us experiment the way we do.”
It’s fair to say Kamelot’s fans have also come to expect guest musicians to crop up from album to album, a tradition spawned when Dimmu Borgir vocalist Shagrath and Epica singer Simone Simons contributed to The Black Halo. Simons has become something of a staple on Kamelot albums, having appeared on Ghost Opera and Poetry For The Poisoned, and she’s joined this time out by Soilwork frontman Björn “Speed “ Strid and Jon Oliva’s Pain / Savatage legend Jon Oliva. Youngblood denies he and Khan write songs with guest musicians in mind as part of the Kamelot calling card.
“We don’t really worry about that and we don’t really care,” Youngblood insists. “If we find it interesting to use a guest vocalist there’s no issue. It wasn’t planned this way. It just turned out that we had these ideas and everyone we had in mind was available. Usually there are scheduling problems for stuff like that and you end up with half of what you wanted, but this time everyone was able and wanted to do it.”
Such as Strid, who went all out with his guest vocals on the ‘The Great Pandemonium’ – an unintentional bookend to ‘March Of Mephisto’ – the first official release from Poetry For The Poisoned. Youngblood explains how that came about.
“There was a spot after the chorus on ‘The Great Pandemonium’ where we thought about doing some heavier vocals, and Roy actually did some heavier singing on the demos for that part. We spoke to a couple people, like Howard Jones from Killswitch Engage, about putting vocals on it but in the end we decided that we wanted to have Björn do it. I’m really glad we did. He also did the video; he’s the guy with the fire in his mouth, he covered his body in black make-up for the shoot, went the whole nine yards for us on that one (laughs). I don’t know who else would have gone that far for someone else’s band.”
Youngblood and his bandmates are likewise well versed in going for broke, almost literally. In spite of the music industry taking a beating due to illegal downloading and assorted questionable business models, Kamelot make a point of turning out quality albums from the music to production down to the artwork and packaging. It’s anything but a cakewalk.
“People don’t understand how much time and energy it takes to make a record,” Youngblood says without a hint of bitterness. “We spent a year working on this one, and how much money does a person with an office job, for example, make in a year? You have to add that into the equation, because when band’s release something and the fans complain that it sucks or that the production is crap, that band doesn’t have any money left over to make a proper production, It’s frustrating, which is one of the reasons why for this record we didn’t send out any promos to the press. We did it all online. The record was leaked before the North American release because the Japanese release came out earlier, so next time we’ll make sure no one releases the record at different times.”
Sadly, mere days after this interview was conducted, Kamelot announced they had been forced to cancel their long-planned North American tour. During an interview conducted by the Norwegian daily newspaper, Østlendingen, shortly after the announcement, Khan claimed he was burnt out and that “a breakdown a couple of weeks ago gave me a serious indication that something was wrong.” At press time Khan was still at his home in Norway and Youngblood offered a brief update.
“The doctors advised another month off,” he reveals. “I haven't spoken to Roy too much so he can have some space. The rest of us are tighter than ever and are dying to get back on the road because the new disc has charted highest ever in all territories around the world.”
Youngblood adds that tour plans are indeed set up for 2011. The march continues…