KAMELOT - Far Beyond Eternity
May 2, 2015, 8 years ago
This year Kamelot celebrates 20 years as a card-carrying signed band, but it was just over 15 years past that they released a career game-changer, The Fourth Legacy. Their first two albums - Eternity and Dominion respectively - served to put Kamelot in the public eye, the third record (Siege Perilous) generated a buzz after they snapped up Conception vocalist Roy Khan to replace Mark Vanderbilt, but it was The Fourth Legacy that enthralled theit existing fans and roped in curious bystanders from far and wide. That momentum hasn't stopped in spite of the occasional potholes in the road forward. Khan's departure in 2011 could have destroyed the band - the fact he bolted a week before a major North American tour, forcing its cancellation, certainly didn't help - but they regrouped and released Silverthorn a year later to rave reviews. With new singer Tommy Karevik on board, the album and tour that followed made it clear Kamelot had regained their stride, and the new Haven album is a clear cut example of a band unafraid of trying new things and potentially freaking out their fanbase while remaining loyal to the sound that made them."A lot of people that have been following us since The Fourth Legacy days have said this is the album they've been waiting for," says guitarist Thomas Youngblood of Haven, easily the most diverse record in their catalogue. "Haven is more in line with what fans are used to with The Black Halo and even Karma, but it was really important for us to add new elements and bring the band a little bit more into today instead of giving them the symphonic thing from 10 years ago. That was a big part of it. We definitely didn't want the album to be overly symphonic and I think we achieved all the goals we had going in."
Truth be told Haven isn't an easy listen at first even for the diehard fan, but once inside it's very hard to leave. There are the signature attacks and flourishes one has come to expect of any Kamelot opus, but you get the feeling there was a meeting on the final day of mixing where the band members arm-wrestled their way bloody and broken to a final tracklist. Nothing about Haven is as one expects; some of the heaviest material ("Liar Liar" and "Revolution") is shoved to the back half of the album, the signature ballad rewrites what we know about Kamelot's penchant for pulling heartstrings, and much of the once-trademark symphonic attitude has been stripped back to make way for the band.
"Putting the heavier tracks towards the end, we kind of did that on purpose because a lot of bands will load up the front with the good stuff and just fill up the back. It felt like there were so many strong songs throughout that we really just wanted to pace it based on what each of the songs convey."
"Haven opens up with something different, too; just vocals and piano, which is something we've never done. We didn't want to do that orchestral opening thing again, and it was cool because when I got the rough vocal parts for 'Fallen Star' it opened up with the piano, and I thought that was just to show the chords and the chorus structure. I really liked the feel of it going into the intro and thought we should keep it like that because it's different and our fans will appreciate it."
Chalk up the "anything goes" approach to Haven to Karevik having made Kamelot his home, and writing duties not falling solely on Youngblood's shoulders."We had a really good songwriting team between me, Oliver (Palotai/keyboards), Tommy and Sascha (Paeth/producer), which was really cool for me because for years it's just been me and the singer doing everything. It's cool to have that extra influence and it takes a bit of the pressure off my back. The cool thing is we've been able to create a sort of style that is Kamelot. We have a guest writer on the album, Bob Katsionis (Firewind) who wrote parts of 'Liar Liar', and he'll send me some musical ideas and say 'Hey, this reminds me of a Kamelot song...' (laughs). It's cool that we've been able to forge this 'sound' that's signature to the band. That's something every artist strives for and we're really happy to have been able to do that."
Kamelot has the distinction of being one of those rare bands that forged ahead with a new singer and wasn't crucified for doing so. There were some petulant sandbox flame wars at the beginning as jilted Kahn fans tried to dumb down Karevik's efforts, which was to be expected, but the soft spoken Swede won virtually everyone over by the time the Silvethorn tour had drawn to a close."Our goal was never for anybody to forget Khan and his past," says Youngblood. "We've just moved on in the last four years. It's just that simple and anybody who is hoping to relive that past is wasting their time. It isn't something that anybody in Kamelot chose, and nobody decides my path for me whether it's somebody I might have worked for or a colleague. I think that's an important reminder not to let someone else change your so-called destiny. Take everything into your own hands and go full blast towards the goal you want to achieve."
At this point in Kamelot’s career guest vocalists are an (admittedly) expected part of any production at their hands, whether it’s an album, festival show or full blown tour (headline or support). Their new album, Haven, satisfies those expectations with the return of vocalist Alissa White-Gluz (Arch Enemy), new voice on the block Charlotte Wessels (Delain), and multi-instrumentalist Troy Donockley, all of whom appear at select points during the latest Kam-epic’s run. They are a welcome element in the band’s musical tapestry that would be sorely missed by many if they weren’t involved."I never want to feel like we have to have female vocals on an album and who knows, maybe on the next record we won’t. People forget that on The Fourth Legacy we had two songs with female vocals, so it wasn’t like we jumped on some bandwagon. We did that 15 years ago. The difference now is that we’re lucky enough to have some super-talented friends that also work perfectly within the Kamelot structure. Somebody like Alissa for example, who isn’t really known for melodic metal or power metal or whatever you want to call it, the way she works with us is so natural and organic it’s just amazing."
Alissa’s appearance on Haven – for "Revolution", and growls + clean vocals on "Liar Liar (Wasteland Monarchy)" – is something of a surprise given her top priority commitments to Arch Enemy, which have kept her on the road for well over a year. Alissa has made it clear time and again, however, that she’s prepared to step up for the Kamelot camp in the studio or on the road as her schedule allows. That dedication speaks volumes of the chemistry that has existed between her and Kamelot since first coming on board in 2012.
"That’s a great thing," Youngblood agrees, "and the success that she’s gotten recently with Arch Enemy makes us so proud of her. Of course it means she can’t tour with Kamelot as much, but she deserves all the success she’s getting. We played in Philadelphia with her former band a number of years ago – I would watch her every night on tour and see how hard she worked – and I distinctly remember seeing her watching our set and thinking this girl has so much talent, she needs to be more well known, she should be at a higher level. When she got the Arch Enemy call we were so happy for her."
"Linnéa Vikström (Therion) is going to do a lot of touring with us in North America. She’s really an amazing singer and very young, we can’t wait to showcase her talents for the Kamelot family. I think you’ll see Alissa join us on some shows as well. I’d love to have Alissa on the European tour if her schedule opens up, and she’s already told me that she’d like to join us if she has the time."
Donockley's contribution to Haven is also an eyebrow-raiser given that Nightwish was busy working on their own new album, Endless Forms Most Beautiful, while Haven was under construction. Chalk it up to his own personal relationship with the Kamelot crew forged during the chaotic North American tour that saw former Nightwish vocalist Anette Olzon replaced by new singer Floor Jansen during that road trip.
Wessels, meanwhile, fills the clean vocal role previously adopted by Mari Youngblood, Simone Simons (Epica), Amanda Somerville (Trillium, Avantasia) and Elize Ryd (Amaranthe), for "Under Grey Skies"."We were working on 'Under Grey Skies', and we already had Troy’s part,” Youngblood says of her coming on board. "As we analyzed the song there was a section that we felt would be perfect for Charlotte. Delain has toured with us several times and I really felt that Charlotte has a unique voice in the symphonic metal scene. Luckily she had time, even though she was on tour, to record her parts. In the end I think it came out really really cool."
Circling back to Kamelot’s tour plans for Haven, Youngblood offers some insight into what the fans can expect when the band is on the road this time around"I was talking to Tommy about the setlist and we’re definitely going to shake it up.We’ve been doing 'March Of Mephisto' as the last song for I don’t know how many years now, so that’s probably going to change. There’s going to be three or four new songs on the first round of touring: I’d like to pull something from the back catalogue that we’ve either never played or we haven’t played with Tommy before. It’s going to be difficult because we’re going to be adding new songs, so what are we going to take out, 'Forever' or 'Center Of The Universe'? I don’t know. It’s impossible for Tommy and the other singers to do a three hour show, and if you have two or three bands opening up in some places it’s a long night, so we’ll try to stick to the 1 hour 45 minute mark. I’m really looking forward to getting out there with this new album.”
Reflecting on Kamelot's success, Youngblood says the aftermath of Khan's departure wasn't as bad as he'd expected but admits it was a frightening time for everyone involved. He's the first to say Silverthorn was the band's saving grace that ultimately led to Kamelot being able to create Haven.
"We knew with Silverthorn there weren't going to be any hiccups. We kind of got a little bit stagnant but we're really growing as a band now. We hit a wall with the Poetry record so it's really refreshing to have started this new era. With Haven, I already seeing offers for more touring, cover stories... it's all growing."
"When you and I first met (in 1996) this band was a hobby, and it was around The Fourth Legacy that I began thinking that I either had to take this hobby 100% seriously or do it as a band that never tours. I had a full profession at that point, and you can't do two things at that level effectively. You have to put one of those things aside and just go for it. In hindsight it was a little bit crazy but luckily everythig worked out. Fifteen years later and Kamelot is its own entity."
"It's amazing how time flies. The Black Halo came out 10 years ago and I can remember all these little nuances of where we wrote 'The Haunting' and the riff for the title track. I even remember wher I was when we wrote 'Sailorman's Hymn' for The Fourth Legacy, so all these special moments just seem like they happened a few years ago."
"The Fourth Legacy was a crucial turning point for the band. Working with Sascha and Miro was a huge leap for us, and when you compare it to the record before you can really tell it was a new era for Kamelot. The Fourth Legacy is a milestone and The Black Halo was the next stepping stone. And of course Silverthorn was the next turning point."
Youngblood takes nothing for granted knowing Kamelot could have found themselves travelling a much different, far less enjoyable path."It's amazing, and when I think about the opportunities we've had to travel the world and meet super cool people, that's also a huge payment for what we do. There are trade-offs, don't get me wrong, but we're in a cool place with regards to being selective about where we tour and for how long. We can make sure we're not the kind of band where the members never see their kids, for example. That's really important and goes into the spirit of the Kamelot extended family."