Managing expectations when you come to review an album is critical. On the one hand, one needs to be familiar with the history and context of the band, in order to better understand departures from established styles or continuity. On the other hand, each album deserves consideration on its own merits and to be judged fairly, free of prejudice. Thus, the approach to Kamelot‘s Haven was rife with questions: can a band who has stuck with their iconic sound for years now produce something original? Will the new album be a good creation in and of itself or will it just be a nod towards the past? The answer to both those questions was yes and no, making this review all that harder to write. But write it we did.
To begin with, it is undeniable that the band have indeed taken a new direction. The more symphonic elements of their composition have been toned down, giving room to much more dynamic and modern riffing to take the stage. Tracks like “My Therapy” or “Revolution” present Kamelot at their most energetic and heaviest. The latter especially is almost 80’s, echoing Symphony X on several parts but with heavier, semi-growled vocals.
However, too much of the symphonic elements were allowed in the mix, leaving them disconnected and disjointed without the overall, epic picture. String sections operate in the background, barely heard and hardly interactive with the rest of the instruments. The two ballads, “Under Grey Skies” and “End of Innocence” are oddly placed within the tracklist and end up being almost completely forgettable.
The saving grace of this album lies in the undeniable talent that lies within the musicians performing it. Take “Under Grey Skies” for example: while being completely displaced as far as tone in the general composition of the album, it still manages to be a moving and well performed duet. The rest of the tracks, faster and more power metal, are also very solid: the guitar work is never unnecessarily elaborate or technical, while the rhythm section performs the work traditionally assigned to it in a satisfactory manner.
Sadly though, the sheer amount of filler content on this album drags it down. Many of the tracks exhibit the same exact structure: semi-electronic build up, the main riff which then takes center stage and so on and so forth. No matter how well produced and performed these sections are, they’re still unoriginal and lack the spark which might have drawn fans to the band in the past. While it is obvious that symphonic/power metal is not the place to look for innovation and originality, it still irks the ear to listen to the same structure reiterated again and again.
So, at the end of the day, we have an album that leaves us split. On the one hand, it definitely contains an attempt to branch out and shake things up. However, because it does not commit fully to that effort, it’s left limping and crippled. The end result certainly sounds good at the performance level but fails to deliver at the general level, never quite entertaining or gripping enough to be remembered. Hopefully, the band can internalize the process started here and capitalize on their obvious talent and experience and make the next album something spectacular.
Kamelot’s Haven gets…