American / European giants Kamelot aren’t a band that require a lengthy introduction, especially for followers of power and symphonic metal. Putting out genre classics at the turn of the century, the band has since gone through several changes in personnel and musical inspiration. The quitting of long-term, much-beloved Norwegian vocalist Roy Khan was met with much apprehension among the fans but with Tommy Karevik now at the helm, some, if not most, of it had been assuaged after the previous records of ‘Silverthorn’ and ‘Haven’. As established in a recent interview, Thomas Youngblood, guitarist and primary songwriter, reminds us that the newer material musically and lyrically will move on from fantastical elements to newer endeavours. Recent records have shown that the they are now walking the line of power metal, symphonic metal and even some industrial. ‘The Shadow Theory’ is a hybrid concept album, in the sense that there is a connection between several songs, primary deriving from its futuristic outlook to society, without the typical overarching storyline of concept albums.
After a short symphonic introduction, ‘The Shadow Theory’ commences with the scorcher “Phantom Divine”. Including dynamic riffs, a signature Kamelot chorus, some cool electronic effects and well-executed vocal layering from guest vocalists Lauren Hart (Once Human) and very briefly Jennifer Haben (Beyond the Black) – The song reminds me very much of “Sacrimony”. Karevik sounds, more than ever, like Khan here, as he switches from low-range verse introductions to the occasional high flourishes during the chorus. As the chant of “I am the empire” echoes in the background, you can’t help but sing along “Under a phantom divine“. Much of the first half is filled with similarly fun yet safe songs, ones which fans would surely lap up without a blink. Pre-release “Ravenlight” features some screamy riff finishes you’d find on ‘Haven’ (On “My Therapy”, for example), a few Karevik falsettos, an audible bass section and eventually a guitar and keys duet. “Amnesiac” gets a bit poppy even with over-simplistic riffs; but I’m not complaining as it is a fun listen.
The best of the bunch is “Burns to Embrace”, very cinematic in its introduction and climax and with plenty of wonderful production touches such as a prominent and buzzing beat during the chorus and a bagpipe-sounding riff: they make the track quite different from a usual Kamelot one. The abrupt bridge starts off with a menacing riff before releasing into an excellent solo, Youngblood’s highlight contribution on the record. The chorus beginning with “We are the last to walk to Earth” will ring in your head for days to come, albeit it is repeated one too many times, the last two times even by an ensemble of singing children. It is connected to the album’s pre-closer “The Proud and the Broken”. “In Twilight Hours”, the now expected ballad in a Kamelot album, with Hart and Karevik singing off each other, is a good listen even though it didn’t touch me as much as “Song for Jolee” did, for example. Five songs in, the production (Produced by Sascha Paeth and mastered by Jacob Hansen) deserves a thumb up: The riffs sound polished yet lively, the electronic effects accentuate the concept, the bass is audible, and the vocal layering is achieved to perfection.
The album unfortunately takes a turn for the worse for the rest of the album. In general, I find the album, aside from a few scream-y touches in the initial few tracks, devoid of riff inspirations. No number of solos can cover up this deficiency in composition, with the solo on “Kevlar Skin” being particularly showy yet purposeless in my eyes. I consider memorable riffs of cardinal importance towards an album’s re-listenability and thus the second half is a deal breaker, as even the catchy choruses and production effects from the first half taper off. The lyrics have never been a forte of Kamelot, and while this hasn’t changed drastically on this album, I thought they were slightly better than usual, building adequate mystery and transmitting emotion when needed. A special mention is deserved for “The Proud and the Broken”, which has one of Karevik’s best vocal performance during his short tenure with the band, bringing out all his untapped energy and vocal range during the “Broken” section. Aside from a nice piano melody, the rest of the elements do not match up in quality.
‘The Shadow Theory’ is another fun yet safe album by Kamelot, aided by excellent production and an increasingly-influential Tommy Karevik behind the microphone. Aside from a few tracks, the album is ultimately let down by a lack of adventure in composition, a negative especially evident in its second half.