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Review: Kamelot - The Black Halo
The Black Halo

Label: SPV
Year released: 2005
Duration: 57:23
Tracks: 14
Genre: Power Metal

Rating: 5+/5

Review online: February 19, 2005
Reviewed by: Sargon the Terrible
Readers Rating
The Black Halo

Rated 4.65/5 (92.95%) (88 Votes)

On one level "The Black Halo" is no surprise at all, as it is the logical continuation of the sound Kamelot evolved into from "The Fourth Legacy" through the stunning "Epica". But on another level, their eighth full-length album is a complete surprise, because I didn't think they could pull this off. When a band comes out with an album as good as "Epica", you expect them to miss the mark at some point, you expect the follow-up to be a step back from greatness. But the truth is that ever since Roy Khan joined the band they have been getting consistently better, and this latest album is no exception.

Yes, this is a sequel to "Epica" in every sense of the term – both conceptual and compositional. The dark, introspective treatment of the Faust theme is carried into even deeper territory, and the style of the music is intact, yet raises the bar on complexity yet again. Kamelot keep adding layers and subtlety to their sound, without slipping into genuine prog territory, or losing focus. In the hands of less sure songwriters a sound this rich would become an overloaded mess, but from the first song you can relax, comfortable that you are in the hands of songwriters who know exactly what they are about and are not settling for 'good enough'. The guys have, over the last 4 albums, grown beyond the confines of Power Metal and into their own sound that is as unique as it is distinctive. Lots of bands pile on the orchestrations and synth effects, but very few bands approach their songwriting like genuine composers, and what I love about Kamelot is their complete respect for both their music and their audience. They write serious music and they take it seriously, they never dumb down what they are doing to make it easier to get. I love they way their music insists upon being taken on its own terms, and relies on nothing else. Kamelot works are self-contained and self-sustaining.

The album opens wide with the magnificent, pounding "March Of Mephisto", which shows off both the intricate layering of sound they engaged in for this recording, as well as the darker, heavier riffs the songs are built on. By going for more aggressive, direct riffing as well as more complex melodic and vocal constructs, they managed to be both more detailed and more accessible at the same time. As on "Epica" the first three songs serve as a kind of opening suite and come together strongly. One thing I really like about "The Black Halo" is that the 'interlude' pieces are shorter and are kept very low-key, placed just so to let the album breathe a little, rather than slow it down. Also, for those who pay close attention, there are melodic reprises from "Epica" scattered throughout, some overt, some very subtle. "Moonlight" is a killer song, as is the title track, and the stunning closer "Serenade". But really you can't pick out tracks here, as the whole album is integral, and demands to be considered as a complete entity. Very rarely does an album finish out and seem completely finished, and no further elaboration is needed or possible. Much, much more than a CD full of songs, "The Black Halo" is a complete album.

And the performances! First of all the production is nothing short of jaw-dropping. I don't know if I have ever heard a band sound this good. How they added so much depth to the sound without losing any details in the mix is a marvel. Every little instrumental bit, every note is there to be heard, yet nothing overwhelms. Thomas Youngblood gets my nomination as one of the greatest guitar players ever, simply because he never lets his ability get in the way of the songs. His innovative riffs and understated leadwork never call undue attention to themselves, and his kind of restraint is almost unheard of in a guitarist. Casey Grillo's drumming is once again eye-popping in its deceptive metrical complexity. And Roy Khan, my Gods, what a voice. He sounds better every time I hear him. His charisma, his tone, his phrasing – he is technically one of the best two or three singers out there, and yet he has such feeling and emotion, almost like an actor rather than a simple vocal performer.

To say something like 'Kamelot have done it again' would be a disservice to this band, and to the album they have created. In a sense this is classic Kamelot, but really they have done nothing quite like this before. "The Black Halo" is everything I hoped for and more than I thought I would get. Kamelot have taken their sound to dizzying heights, and I remain in awe, waiting only to see if they can and will take it higher yet. I think they will. I'm calling this the album of the year, and I don't think I'll have to eat those words, I really don't.

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