Do you know why the 2017 Ensiferum record still did not get a review? It is not for lack of trying. The reason is the predictability of their product. This argument leads to ‘I told you so’ on style and execution. This almost divine anticipation that – most of the time – is right on target. And this drives everyone around the RMR officescape nuts.
And that’s the fault of these bands that grovel to the gods of the music industry and just say and do all the things the label will want to hear. So, whenever these records start turning, I am disgusted. And it is not that Power, Melodic, or Gothic Metal cannot be entertaining. Or be outright great, as Gloryhammer demonstrated so aptly. It is this inability to step out of the comfort zone and try new things that really gets on the wrong side of me.
Kamelot and their newest studio album The Shadow Theory almost fell through the cracks for that very reason. Yet somehow, it clung on by bare threads. Same as its 2015 predecessor Haven, this is a superbly produced and expertly executed album. The musicians remain at the very same astute level of quality and – from a technical standpoint – you can find little fault with this record.
Yet the record positively drips with this familiar, yet mysterious mushiness. Unsurprisingly, I found Sascha Paeth as producer again and the well-known Jacob Hansen in charge of the mastering. This will explain why I am always reminded of Avantasia and Amaranthe, when starting on The Shadow Theory. Hansen will do his very best to get great sound out of the mix. After all he is well known in the industry, not only for his work on the terrible Amaranthes of this world but also for early Delain for instance. But whenever Paeth comes in, things start to sound murky. The master of mainstream usually adds so much bleach to a tune that all will end up in some sort of bland porridge.
And this is exactly what we found in The Shadow Theory. For a high-quality interpreter like Tommy Karevik, the vocal performance is remarkably subdued. No hint of a metal scream anywhere, nothing out-of-place, no scratch to speak of. Kamelot styled this one so much that no cracks will ever show in between all that bleach-infested gel that is stuck to every track. The same goes for Thomas Youngblood, one of the most gifted guitarists of the metal multiverse. You can feel the vibes and power once he lets loose on Amnesiac for instance. Or in the epic duel with the keyboard on Kevlar Skin.
Yet more often than not keys and synths overwhelmingly usurp a place they don’t really deserve throughout the record. To the detriment of the guitars, which should be the lifeblood of any metal record. And despite the fact that Kamelot injected solos almost into every track.
On the other hand, the fact that Kamelot cut their concept album into more-or-less standalone songs does not really disturb. If anything, The Shadow Theory misses a bit of flow because of that, but nothing else. However, that they avoided a storyline type of album to please the streaming crowd fits straight in with the other findings on this review.
And what about the tracks themselves? Well, it appears to be this management by mushroom thing all over again. Nothing really stands out, as in outstanding or astounding. Yet, let me point out The Proud and the Broken, the track with the staunchest punch. To my surprise, Karevik actually gets out of mid-range and starts belting out a few lyrics. Add to that this unusually sturdy guitar work and you got yourself one of the best tracks of the album. Or again Vespertine (My Crimson Bride) that somehow piqued the RMR deck crew’s attention. That one gets kudos for the flow and speedy, pleasurable delivery on both vocals and guitar.
The funky, kinda folksy parts on Burns To Embrace for sure would also elevate this track some, stellar solo and all. Were it not for the overuse of the chorus, part of it with a kids choir to boot. It is also a pity that Kamelot misjudged the size of the cheese pile some on In Twilight Hours, the ballad with Jennifer Haben (Beyond The Black).
Music for the Masses, this is how The Shadow Theory comes across. With Paeth at the helm, Kamelot sails straight down the middle of that (main) stream, safely where the water is deepest. Apart from some stumbles amidst the second half of the album on songwriting, you’ll find very little amiss. Even the videos definitely shine with perfection (see below).
‘Tis a polished record that – for sure – will please the fan base and will return numerous glowing reviews. Also, I really want to go see them live. Their show – together with the sound – must be astounding. Yet, methinks that since Silverthorn, Kamelot‘s style encroaches ever more onto the realms of the politically correct, no sharp corners allowed anymore. And I deplore that.
Ed’s note: If you look for a true concept album that found our fancy, then try Winter’s Verge. It may not be as polished, but – boy – these guys are pretty good.