As it happens, one of the few things that manage to frustrate me about my favourite bands is the fact they can’t release awesome new albums more often, say, every year. Most of them take two or three years to write and record the new output, which is understandable of course, and somehow those patterns are intertwined in a way that one year there are almost no releases from the musicians I actively follow, and next year nearly all bands come up with their fresh and exciting new material. 2015 here clearly follows the latter option , and with all these announcements and upcoming albums from so many bands I love, I was determined to get some of them to review. That wasn’t easy, mind you, because it just happens I’ve got similar tastes with most authors on Lady Obscure Music Magazine, so I had to get into some serious wrestling match to claim this one.
So, Kamelot. This band has a lot of history, being founded way back in 1991 by guitarist Thomas Youngblood, playing riffs and solos and also doing backing vocals for Kamelot for all these 24 years and counting, and drummer Richard Warner, who left the band after the release of their second album in 1997 and was replaced by Casey Grillo. Both Thomas and Casey appear on Haven, as does the bassist Sean Tibbers, another member of original lineup who returned to the band in 2009; and Oliver Palotai plays the keyboards there. The lead vocals are provided by Swedish singer Tommy Karevik, also known as the frontman of Seventh Wonder. As most of you surely know, Tommy took that place after Roy Khan’s departure in 2011, the event which caused serious disturbance among the ranks of Kamelot fans, with a lot of people claiming the band is changing for the worse, that no one can ever replace Roy and other statements like that; and in my opinion, Kamelot soundly proved them wrong with the following release of incredibly strong and mature Silverthorn in 2012. After that Tommy Karevik seemed like a perfect fit for the band, and the only question left for the next few years was about the future direction for the team. What’s next? Where will the subsequent Kamelot album take us? And Haven definitely provides the answers, even if slightly unexpected ones.
Haven feels like a logical continuation to Silverthorn, yet these two albums are strikingly different at the same time. On Silverthorn the band went with the tried and true melodic approach, utilizing their capability of writing fascinatingly catchy vocal melodies, and spotlighting the slightly darker side of Tommy’s voice; and while the concept was quite grim and sad, the melodic edge of the songs themselves worked in Silverthorn favour, making the record considerably lighter than its two predecessors. Now, Haven reaches back to more dark and gloomy approach, mixing the melodic side of Silverthorn with sinister vibes from Ghost Opera and Poetry for the Poisoned, while also leaving the room for some experimental, modern twists in the music. While the somber mood can be unmistakably traced throughout the whole record, the album feels quite diverse, especially in its second half. In fact, Haven’s structure almost instigates the listener to divide the album in two imaginary parts, with that short interlude track right in the middle; and both parts have their distinctive traits. Or, well, at least that’s my take on it.
The first part is a run of perfect Kamelot songs with the atmosphere darkened severely for some numbers; I bet some of those tunes will instantly become live classics here. The mighty opener, Fallen Star, isn’t ominous or anything though. Instead, it’s melodic Kamelot in all its glory, and this song would’ve got along all the masterpieces on Karma or Epica just fine. Fallen Star serves as an intro to the album too until the main riff comes in, and then everything in this tune becomes simply outstanding, be that the vocal melodies, guitarwork or the subtle vocal delivery. Tommy adds a unique flavour to this song, switching from his soaring, longing delivery to the unexpectedly soft, tender tone in the most wonderful moments, and he’s doing it two times on the chorus alone. With the magnificent bridge complementing this song, Fallen Star is my favourite song from Haven, and also one of the best openers Kamelot have ever had, rivaling Forever and Center of the Universe.
The mood shifts to less cheerful with Insomnia, the track that successfully combines the heavier approach with the accessible chorus, with the quite technical guitar solo in the middle. The verses are going on a leveled pace and being drawn-out a bit, somehow managing to convey the feelings of being unable to fall asleep; instead of being predictable, the melodies are going into not-so-sound direction, intentionally coming up a bit awkward. Insomnia is as good representative of Haven sound as it gets; it’s nearly impossible to pick one song for this position, but Insomnia would’ve been my choice if I had to make one. However, it’s not the darkest tune on the album by far; Citizen Zero descends into even grimmer vales of sound, starting with its ominous keyboard intro and upholding the mood with the pounding riff and ragged verses and pre-chorus lines; then in the chorus Tommy goes into a seriously low range with his vocal lines. All in all, this song has some great sing-along lines, and at the same time it’s the most gloomy tune on the whole Haven, with all the whispers and gritty vocal delivery.
Next comes the first single from the album called Veil of Elysium. This one can be described as “Kamelot by numbers”, being a standard double bass power metal track; yet it works surprisingly well in context of the album, coming up after two heavier tunes and scaling the tension back a bit just before the first ballad on Haven makes its appearance. When compared to such a ballad masterpieces like, say, Abandoned or Song for Jolee, Under Grey Skies may actually seem to be quite an uplifting song, but at the same time it definitely succeeds in evoking a powerful feeling of longing and wistfulness, even if it comes with some evident dose of sugar on top of it. Charlotte Wessels (Delain) also sings on this song, making it even better experience, for her voice works wonders both when she sings alone and when she’s doing harmonies with Tommy on the last chorus; and of course, the presence of another guest musician, Troy Donockley (Nightwish), adds another folkish layer of authenticity here. The way he quietly plays his parts in intro and outro enhances the song considerably.
The next song, My Therapy, concludes the first half of Haven with some more Kamelot goodness. While the mood of this tune reminds me of Insomnia, the melodies are more of a callback to Silverthorn songs; the first chorus line “Come and take me off my daily dose of pain” has some similarities to My Confession chorus, and the “Please don’t go” ad-lib line strongly reminds me of “Hear your name” line in the end of Solitaire. Those moments don’t make the song any less better though, and the main riff featured throughout the track is yet another highlight here.
While the first half of Haven is seriously amazing, it’s still relatively safe in the musical approach; the second half displays some interesting experiments with the songwriting instead. Kicking off with the short instrumental intro called Ecclesia, the album presents the first, however small, surprise in the form of End of Innocence. After all the somber, heavy tracks we’ve heard before, this more or less cheerful song totally caught me off guard on my first listen. It’s also interesting how while most Kamelot songs have their choruses as the absolute highlight, End of Innocence mostly relies on verses in this regard; they’re swift, catchy and melodic, flowing along through the track naturally and seamlessly. More experimentation and surprises are coming with Beautiful Apocalypse, one of the weirdest tracks on this record. The band apparently tried to entwine their usual melodic part with some alternative metal elements, hence the title of the song. This kind of juxtaposition is jarring here to say the least, and while I can believe this tune is about apocalypse, I can’t distinguish the beautiful part here, unfortunately. The attempt is quite fascinating, though.
Now, Liar Liar (Wasteland Monarchy) is more of the usual power metal Kamelot self we’re all used to. A nice double bass track with some hooking melodies, this song loosely follows the structure of another Silverthorn track, Sacrimony (Angel of Afterlife). I mean, look, even the titles are alike! Jokes aside, the resemblance is quite uncanny, both songs have Alissa White-Gluz (Arch Enemy) as the guest female vocalist, therefore both songs have the growly part; both songs have the clean chorus with female vocals after that part. That being said, I think Liar Liar has stronger chorus, and overall this tune is another great rocker for Kamelot to have under their belt. And on a totally unrelated note, the line “Liar Liar on the wall” could have been taken straight from some horror movie about the maniac who’s nailing people to the walls if they dare to lie to him. What? No, I’m not weird at all.
The second ballad on Haven, Here’s to the Fall, is much more calm and darker than Under Grey Skies, and while the guitars were more prominent on the latter track, this one has the piano melody underneath. I must say, the chorus here is positively outstanding, with almost every line being chill-inducing, especially the soulful delivery of the title line and the resigned “Oh, we’re nothing but leaves in the wind” line that basically leaves me speechless every time. However, due to some dubious choices in the vocal melodies on the verses this tune doesn’t reach the heights of some other Kamelot ballads, like previously mentioned Abandoned, Song for Jolee or Sailorman’s Hymn, for example. Still, it’s quite a fine track, and since I didn’t even expect to find the second ballad on Haven, I’m thankful for this one.
The album started with my favourite track from it, Fallen Star, and it’s ironic it ends with the track I’m least fond of, Revolution. This is another example of the band experimental approach, adding more modern sound to the already existing formula, but sadly, all the growls and the shifts in the pace from the incredible verses to tension-filled choruses and then to the completely serene middle part aren’t working for me. The calm part itself is quite appealing, and the verses are the great material too, but with the growl parts and the chorus being the glue to hold the song together, this just doesn’t work. That doesn’t mean anything though; I bet a lot of fans will find this song to be amazing, I mean, it goes into the territories Kamelot hasn’t quite explored before, and it’s an interesting package all around, but being a fan of melodic approach myself, I’m slightly underwhelmed with this tune.
After the two minutes long title track Haven, which happens to be an instrumental outro in the vein of Continuum, the album comes to an end. And what an experience that was! This record is definitely more daring than Silverthorn, and as I said, it sacrifices some of its melodic parts for some experimentation and heaviness, while still maintaining the Kamelot vibe. Sometines this approach works for me, like on Citizen Zero, and sometimes it doesn’t, like on Beautiful Apocalypse, but I’m just one reviewer among the overwhelming sea of Kamelot fans all around the world (I also toyed with the idea to deduct one star from the rating because Kamelot never comes to Russia, but decided it’ll be too unprofessional), so my take on the album may turn out to be drastically different from other people. See, I totally loved Silverthorn (if you haven’t realized this yet), and while this album isn’t on the same level for me, I think it’s quite great Kamelot effort that will earn the band another portion of fans. Of course, there will be people who are severely disappointed with Haven, but judging on the quality of this record, they will be in the stark minority. There’s only one way to know if this album suits your tastes: be sure to preorder it or head to your local stores on the first week of May. Trust me, this is totally worth it.