Album Title: The Awakening
Label: Napalm Records
Date of Release: 17 March 2023
My relationship with Kamelot has been a rocky one. My personal discovery of the band occurred around the release of ‘Karma’, thanks to the skills of the owner of the best record shop in East Anglia at the time. As I walked in, this album began to play over the speakers and the rest was history. In the years following, we were treated to further superb albums, namely ‘Epica’ and ‘The Black Halo’, which remain on frequent rotation in the Mansion of Much Metal.
From there, though, things began to take a turn for the worse in my opinion. The change of vocalist, from the irrepressible Khan to Seventh Wonder’s Tommy Karevik around 2012 didn’t help, but even before then, the output from the band seems to wane. If anyone was going to step into Khan’s shoes and succeed, it was going to be someone like Tommy, thanks to his huge voice and tons of charisma. Unfortunately, it felt to me that Karevik was underutilised in the early days, with the band wanting him to simply be Khan 2.0. Plus, I felt like the band were treading water musically, with nothing hitting the heights of the material that drew me in from around the turn of the Millennium. As such, I don’t own any of Kamelot’s catalogue from 2012’s ‘Silverthorn’ to the present day.
This disappointing sequence, however, might just be at an end finally, thanks to ‘The Awakening’. Aptly titled, it feels like the band have woken up from a period of slumber and are back to somewhere approaching their best. It isn’t because Kamelot have drastically deviated from their core sound, though, so don’t expect anything completely new or different from the band. But crucially, some of the missing pieces over the past decade or so have been re-discovered.
For one, there’s an energy to the music here, as if the entire band have suddenly found the fire in their collective bellies. For example, Thomas Youngblood’s guitars are heavy, vibrant, and expressive, keyboardist Oliver Palotai laces the music with some beautiful sounds and epic orchestration, and drummer Alex Landenburg (Cyhra, Mekong Delta, Universal Mind Project) who took over from long-time sticksman Casey Grillo in 2019, brings back some of that thunderous attack within the rhythm section alongside bassist Sean Tibbetts.
‘The Awakening’ is also the album that sees Tommy Karevik stepping out of Khan’s shadow just a little bit more than ever before, too. He still sounds reminiscent of his predecessor in many places on the record, but it does feel like Karevik is being afforded more room to bring his own personality and style to bear. I’d always wondered what Kamelot might sound like with a full throttle Tommy Karevik front and centre, and ‘The Awakening’ starts to give a few hints at this along the way.
Interestingly, in addition, ‘The Awakening’ feels heavier and darker than previous efforts, giving it a much-needed edge. More recent albums seemed to be too easy, and too bland for my tastes, but this time around, I like the fact that the music isn’t all sweetness and light. There is plenty of melody of course, but much of it is wrapped up in darker soundscapes and lyrical themes which I happen to rather like.
Many of you, by now, will have heard the two advance tracks from ‘The Awakening’ and interestingly, they show two slightly different sides of Kamelot circa 2023, two sides that feature strongly throughout this record. On the one hand, you have ‘Opus Of The Night (Ghost Requiem)’ which is what I would term as ‘classic’ Kamelot thanks to the up-tempo pace of the song, the thunderous bombast, over-the-top theatrical symphonics, and a rousing, memorable chorus. It’s a beast of a song and reminds me of why I fell for the charms of Kamelot in the beginning. In the case of ‘One More Flag In The Ground’, we’re faced with a track that’s a little different from the Kamelot norm, but I’m not complaining. Interestingly, it is fast becoming one of my favourite songs on the album, even though it is unashamedly more of a radio-friendly melodic metal anthem. Normally, I might baulk at such a thing but in this instance, there really isn’t anything to get cross about. It’s heavy, punchy, and full of attitude, with strong lyrics about overcoming illness, and the strength we possess as humans. But additionally, it has a chorus so incredibly catchy and hook-laden, meaning that it is undeniably magnetic and powerful.
But worry not, because these two tracks aren’t misleading at all because ‘The Awakening’ is littered with plenty of high quality elsewhere. Take ‘My Pantheon (Forevermore)’ as a prime example of the heaviness that pervades on this album. Double pedal drumming, gritty riffs, and an almost snarling approach from Tommy Karevik at times underlines the heaviness too, accented by a momentary growl, and symphonics that provide an undeniable sense of darkness and slightly sinister intent.
Speaking of growled vocals, ‘New Babylon’ features guest vocalist Melissa Bonny of Ad Infinitum who laces the song with her clean, ethereal tones as well as some great growls that only further enhance the ‘dark’ description that I’ve already used so liberally throughout the review so far.
If, however, you want to hear material that is more immediately out of the ‘traditional’ Kamelot armoury, search no further than the utterly magnificent ‘NightSky’. It skips along with lashings of groove and intrigue, to then unfurl into one of the strongest and most beautifully elegant choruses, full of that classic symphonic majesty for which Kamelot have always been known. Or how about the ‘Karma’-esque ‘The Looking Glass’ which is another absolute beauty featuring brooding verses within which Sean Tibbetts comes alive, followed by yet another rousing chorus with tinkling keys and bold symphonics. Add to the mix some duelling guitar and keyboard lead breaks and it really does hit the spot for me. It’s at this point that I find myself thinking ‘welcome back, Kamelot!’ I haven’t even mentioned ‘The Great Divide’ or ‘Eventide’ either, another two excellent compositions that’ll have the band’s faithful slathering.
Known for their softer side, a Kamelot album wouldn’t be quite the same without a ballad or two. And, with ‘Midsummer’s Eve’, they hit a home run. Vaguely Celtic-tinged and featuring acoustic guitars, violins, and delicate instrumentation, it is the song where Tommy Karevik lets loose and sings with his entire range, but with subtlety and genuine emotion, emphasising the gorgeous melodies and sending shivers up and down my spine in the process. The tingles re-emerge towards the midsection of ‘Willow’ too, when Thomas Youngblood lets rip and produces one of the best solos of recent times. Well, it would have been had it have been longer. Why isn’t it longer? Damnit.
I hadn’t quite given up on Kamelot, but to be honest, I wasn’t far off. However, with ‘The Awakening’, I have been pulled willingly back into their warm, symphonic, and majestic embrace. It might be darker in tone, heavier, and occasionally toys with more immediate radio friendly compositions, but for me, the magic is back. The songs are so powerful and strong, the melodies so memorable, the performances so on-point, that it ticks just about every box I could want from a Kamelot record. And it feels like the band are firing on all cylinders, too, adding that important sense of authenticity to proceedings. I’m delighted, and thoroughly pleased to be able to say that this is easily my favourite Kamelot release for a decade or so. Welcome back, Kamelot, I’ve missed you!
The Score of Much Metal: 93%