For the better part of almost 30 years (!), symphonic power metal titans Kamelot have been releasing quality music since their formation in 1991, led by founder and mastermind, guitarist Thomas Youngblood. From their humble beginnings as a rising force in the power metal genre and through various line-up changes over the years and 11 studio albums, Kamelot has continued to expand and experiment with their core sound, incorporating theatricality, symphonic bombast, the incorporation of black metal vocals, modern electronic elements, to create a unique and powerful sound that has only gained in momentum and popularity as time goes on. The band not only survived the departure of signature vocalist Roy Khan, they thrived in spite of it with the addition of Swedish singer Tommy Karevik (also of melodic prog band Seventh Wonder) gaining in popularity worldwide. The latest twist in the Kamelot saga came a few months ago with the announcement that longtime drummer Casey Grillo was leaving the band. Taking up Grillo’s mantle is renowned drummer Johan Nunez of Firewind, a worthy successor indeed. Grillo’s final recording with Kamelot, their 12th studio album, The Shadow Theory, has just been unleashed on the world.
The Shadow Theory sees Kamelot continue their long and successful partnership with producer Sascha Paeth (Avantasia) and mastering by Jacob Hansen (Anubis Gate, Kobra and the Lotus) to create another symphonic metal masterpiece. While not a concept album in the traditional storyline sense, The Shadow Theory concept leans on three pillars: The Shadow Empire (The global mind), The Shadow Key (The Resistance) and The Shadow Wall (The veil that blinds us from the truth). A dystopian glimpse at the complexity of the human mind and its place in an oppressive society – an obvious parallel to all of us, in the here and now.
The albums production is grandiose, lush, and beautifully dark as one would expect under Sascha Paeth’s masterful direction. Beginning with The Mission, a short yet grand symphonic instrumental passage, Kamelot introduce a new era to their storied history as the intro gives way to Phantom Divine (Shadow Empire), which harkends back to Kamelot’s past with a Ghost Opera-esque vibe with the addition of modern electronica sounds, and a mix of clean and black metal growls courtesy of guest singer Lauren Hart of Once Human. The chorus is instantly catchy with a sing-a-long refrain as well as Karevik’s repeating lyric of “I Am The Empire” which is ready made for audience participation.
Ravenlight is another strong mid-tempo with a dark vibe and heavy pulsing rhythms. Tommy Karevik’s emotive vocals are exceptional with his use of melodies and theatricality. Kamelot as a band is firing on all cylinders here. Amnesiac is a metal stomper with heavy chugging guitar rhythms, electronic elements courtesy of keyboardist Oliver Palotai, and a powerful and strong chorus. Youngblood’s guitar solos are skillfully done with the ability to shred yet make every note memorable and fit the need of the song.
The majestic bombast of Burns To Embrace is another symphonic masterwork with orchestral elements and a folk metal vibe in the main melody of the song. Karevik’s vocals are impassioned and charismatic, proving that, now on his third album with the band, he is the voice of Kamelot. Case in point, Karevik’s emotional vocal performance on the powerful ballad, In Twilight Hours, a beautiful and lush piano ballad duet with the exceptionally talented vocalist Jennifer Haben of Beyond The Black. Karevik and Haben’s voices blend perfectly to create a beautiful moment on The Shadow Theory and Haben joins an impressive list of equally powerful performers who have joined Kamelot on previous albums including Simone Simmons of Epica, Elize Ryd of Amaranthe, and Charlotte Wessels of Delain.
The power returns with the guitar heavy rhythms of Kevlar Skin, with a rollercoaster ride of tempo changes, chugging guitars, symphonic soundscapes, dueling keys and guitar solos, strong vocals, and pounding double-bass drums. Static is a groove-laden mid-tempo song with a strong melody and another memorable chorus and a fantastic performance from Karevik. Youngblood lays down another perfect solo that ties the song together perfectly.
Mindfall Remedy is a heavier track that once again features Aussie Lauren Hart, who can growl with the best of them, Hart was a perfect choice for guest vocals on The Shadow Theory because she can do it all. Stories Unheard is a melodic metal gem highlighted by strong vocal melodies. One of my personal favorites on The Shadow Theory is Vespertine (My Crimson Bride), the song captures everything that is uniquely Kamelot, heavy guitars, symphonic keys, melodic soaring vocals, and a powerful rhythm section of Grillo and bassist Sean Tibbetts. The Proud And The Broken falls into the category of classic Kamelot as well with Tommy’s dark and impassioned vocals, beautiful piano work, a massive memorable chorus, and melody for days. Ministrium (Shadow Key) is an instrumental outro signaling the end to The Shadow Theory. The deluxe edition contains instrumental versions of the album tracks as well as a bonus song, The Last Day of Sunlight, an eerie heavy, melodic, and strong song with a gorgeous chorus that could have just as easily made it onto the main version of the album.
With The Shadow Theory, Kamelot has started a new chapter with an album that delivers on every level, easily their best work since Ghost Opera. If you are a fan of Kamelot past and present, this album is highly recommended