Album review: Kamelot – “Haven”

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KAMELOT

“Haven”

2015

Rating: 83%

Time flies. My love affair with Kamelot started in the halcyon days of 1999, when I stumbled upon a copy of “The Fourth Legacy” at a now-defunct Tower Records. I must admit – it was an impulse buy, prompted as much by trying to find new underground metal as it was by somewhat titillating album cover (I was 18, don’t blame me!). What I discovered was one of the better power metal releases of the era, made even more impressive by the fact that the band was American rather than European (with one notable exception, but I will get to that in a minute). For a youth whose flirtations with underground metal at the time did not much deeper than Iced Earth and In Flames, “The Fourth Legacy” was an eye-opening find, a melodic metal gem that owed its success to both strong songwriting, prominent use of symphonic elements and vaguely Middle Eastern melodies, and unique vocals of Norwegian singer Roy Khan.

While I felt that follow-up “Karma” was not as strong, the band upped their ante with “Epica” / “The Black Halo” conceptual duology, and continued the streak with solid “Ghost Opera”. By that time, Kamelot developed a very distinct sound, taking on elements of goth that proved to be somewhat divisive with their fan base, especially on 2010’s controversial “Poetry for the Poisoned” (for the record, I rather enjoyed those forays, though I can understand some of the backlash from the older fans).

Fast forward to 2015. Roy Khan has long departed, and his replacement, Swede Tommy Karevik, is on his second Kamelot album as a lead vocalist alongside Kamelot mainstays Thomas Youngblood, Casey Grillo, Oliver Palotai, and Sean Tibbets. While 2012’s “Silverthorn” served to introduce the fans to the new man behind the microphone, it was a transitional album of sorts, and perhaps a safer choice from songwriting and performance perspective as the band stuck to its familiar style, scaling back on some experimentation to produce a good, but not necessarily groundbreaking record. As such, it falls to “Haven” to show what the new and reinvigorated Kamelot could do.

First things first. “Haven” is not the second coming of “The Black Halo” or a clear shout-out to “The Fourth Legacy” or its three largely forgotten predecessors. At the same time, it has enough elements from those days to remind even the most jaded fan that yes, this is still the same band, and they have not lost a step. The symphonic element is as strong and as prominent as ever, and if anything, it is even more accentuated on most of the album’s tracks. The vaguely Middle Eastern melodies and the sense of dynamics which separated Kamelot from many hyperspeed power metal acts during their formative days come to the fore on tracks like “Insomnia”. The overall album pace, however, is probably in the mid-tempo territory.

There are two ballads, which are, as one would expect from Kamelot, good. “Under Grey Skies” made me think of something John Lennon could have conjured up, though it might have been due to lyrics making some pointed nods in the direction of Lennon’s “Imagine”. Both that song and “Here’s to the Fall” are strong, and sound sufficiently distinct to justify their inclusion.

This is not to say that “Haven” entirely lacks in speed. “Veil of Elysium” is as power metal as they come, fast, melodic, and an excellent choice to release as the first glimpse of the album. “Liar Liar” alternates fast and atmospheric mellow parts to great effects, and though the opener “Fallen Star” is more moody than fast, it is not without a degree of aggression. “End of Innocence” is pure symphonic metal magnificence with its orchestral arrangements, transitioning perfectly from short instrumental “Ecclesia”. Though Kamelot’s membership in the confines of the power metal genre might be more tenuous these days, it is good to see this venerable band maintain a clear connection to where it came from, and create music at least partially reflective of its roots.

There are, of course, nods to the more recent Kamelot works, which may prove to be more controversial. Several songs maintain a harder edge that is not, strictly speaking, bearing a lot of resemblance to power metal (“Beautiful Apocalypse” with its modern metal riffing and electronic touches, or “Revolution” with its flirtations with extreme metal). Simpler, slower Dio-esque “Citizen Zero” sounds like it could have fit on “Poetry for the Poisoned” (case in the point: “Necropolis”), at least until the operatic choir section in the middle changing the feel of the song. “My Therapy” is not a million miles removed from “Silverthorn” in that it makes a good use of poppy melody, creating a catchy chorus that would not have been out of place on any modern rock station.

From performance standpoint, there is nothing to fault. Karevik continues to fill Khan’s shoes with vigor and enthusiasm, sounding close enough to maintain Kamelot’s unique vocal approach, but adding enough of his own personality to be able to tell the two apart. Where Khan’s voice often took on aspects of operatic, Geoff Tate-esque dramatic pathos, Karevik adds some rock sensibility and grit while still capably hitting every note within his extensive range and alternating between silky smooth crooning, power metal heroics, and unbridled aggression when the songs call for it. The rest of the band plays like the consummate professionals they are, not missing a beat. As always, Kamelot brings on board several guests, including lead singers from Delain and Arch Enemy to provide female vocals (and, in Alissa White-Gluz’s case, adding an assortment of harsh growls on “Revolution” and “Liar Liar”).

The songs generally carry a darker mood, though this time, it is less about Faustian tragedies and more about the nature of human existence, the contemplative dirges about social ills and dystopian nightmares. In my opinion, it made for a different feeling from any Kamelot album past, as fantasy and mysticism are largely amiss in favor of the real world. The album is, therefore, fairly consistent in feel, and has a definite flow, with several standout numbers drawing attention.

That said, “Haven” is not without some flaws. I applaud Kamelot for continuing to experiment, but the results of said experiments range from stunning (“End of Innocence”, the closest “Haven” gets to a single focal point) to questionable (“Revolution”, which somehow feels less coherent as a song). There are no tracks I would want to skip, but while the strongest songs are easily as good as anything from the band’s classic releases, there are few weaker tracks – “Citizen Zero” with its plodding pace nearly breaks the momentum, and “Beautiful Apocalypse”, while not bad by any means, has the misfortune of being bookended by two of the album’s strongest tracks, therefore seeming lesser by comparison. The aforementioned closer “Revolution” feels somewhat forced during transitions between parts of the song, and its extreme metal stylings seem out of place on a Kamelot record.

Even with these misgivings, it is hard to argue that Kamelot have created a strong record. It grabbed my attention, and though it is less immediate than some of the band’s catchier material, I suspect that it will get more plays from me than anything since “The Black Halo”. It ranks in the upper half of Kamelot’s discography for me, and confirms that they are still a creatively viable band. Good stuff!

Now in print!

Just a quick post to remind you that this blog is still alive, and… oh, did I mention that I am now in print? My J. Ellington Ashton Press debut, “Bring Out the Dead”, is available now for only $10.99!

https://www.createspace.com/5315927

Also, I have a story in the “Inanna Rising” anthology from J. Ellington Ashton Press. Pick up your copy if you have not already done so – available in print and on Kindle!

The mandatory annual reflection post

JEA Convention - January 5th through 11th, 2015

JEA Convention – January 5th through 11th, 2015

Yes, this is that season again, when annual updates and reflections are customary and replete with resolutions for the upcoming year. I suppose I am no exception to the rule, so I shall keep it brief.

On the balance, 2014 was a good year for me. I reached the all-important milestone of signing my first publishing contract, and am looking forward to seeing my novel and some short stories in print in the coming year. While it has not been as productive on the literary front, it saw me complete several short stories, get some good work done on “Graveyard Empire”, write and record a decent amount of music, and learn much personally and professionally.

It was not the easiest year. I found that going back to school was more difficult than expected with a family and a job that routinely exceeds 50 and sometimes 60 hours per week. Thankfully, it is a relatively short-term commitment compared to the degrees I earned in the past, but it cut heavily into the time available for other endeavors. It was, however, a lesson to treasure and better organize the time I do have, and to make the most of it.

There is much that can be said about both accomplishments and challenges of 2014, but the past is past. And the future shall bring many, many exciting things.

In the immediate term, I am excited to participate in the online convention hosted by J Ellington Ashton Press between January 5th and 11th at http://www.jellingtonashton.com. This should be a great event for both readers and writers alike, with many authors in attendance to talk about their works, life, universe, and everything in between. I hope to see many of you there!

Later in the year, my debut novel “Bring Out the Dead” should see the light of day through J Ellington Ashton Press, and my short story “The Great Bear” will be featured in the “Altered Europa” anthology from Martinus Publishing. The long-awaited (or, rather, the long-delayed) solo album will finally see the light of day, and the fourth Midgard record should be finished and released. And who knows… there might be a few more surprises down the line!

With this, I would like to wish all of you a happy New Year. May 2015 bring you health, success in your aspirations, and, for all you fellow creative types, productivity. I cannot wait to see what you create, and to share my own creations with you. Here is to 2015, and all the great things that it will bring!

A very exciting announcement!

Certain announcements are never easy, not when they are the culmination of a dream many years in the making. So, I might as well get it over with: my supernatural horror novel “Bring Out the Dead” has been picked up by J Ellington Ashton Press, with the tentative release date in 2015.

I am extremely excited to announce this, and hope that you enjoy the novel when it is released. After all, what is there not to like about frozen Siberian mining towns with dark secrets, supernatural forces hidden beneath the permafrost, and the innocent (?) people caught between them?

Now, on to the editorial process, and to hard (but extremely fulfilling) work associated with it!

Published! (again)

More exciting news – my short story “The Great Bear” has been picked up by Martinus Publishing for inclusion in the upcoming Altered Europa anthology, due in early 2015! Per publisher website, the anthology will “feature stories of alternate history where something changed in European history as we know it.”  The short story collection will appear both in print and electronically.

Good news indeed, especially since Martinus already published works by some authors I hold in very high regard (and some of whom might also be featured in the book) – I am honored to be a part of their anthology!

Now, time to do something sufficiently celebratory.

Graveyard Empire – new (?) novel announcement

This novel is, as of right now, more than two years in the making.

A long time ago (early 2012, to be precise), I sketched out the basic idea behind Graveyard Empire here, here, and even here (a very early snippet of the prologue). For some reason or the other, the novel never got off the ground, even though I did manage to finish few other projects in between.

Well, that is about to change.

This is the last age of Man, the age of extinction. The galaxy-spanning empire is no more, and all that survives is an echo of a once-great civilization. Upon the remaining worlds of the Sphera Humanitas, the last descendants of humanity huddle closer against the coming of night, surrounded by the ruins of bygone eras and addicted to escapist dreams. Their slumber is guarded by the few Custodians with their machine armies, and the last Seraphs, irreplaceable products of forgotten science who watch over their wayward charges as the light dies. But the night brings more than mere darkness, for there are things in the dark space that are covetous and hungry. Things that are growing impatient. Thing that will not stop until the night is all that remains.

Interested? Watch this space…

 

Book review – Flashing Steel, Flashing Fire, a short story collection by Matthew Quinn

I have been introduced to Matthew Quinn’s writing some time ago through a very enjoyable Lovecraftian homage of “Beast on the Bosphorus”, and was therefore highly intrigued by this collection, which gathers ten of his short stories into a single, easily accessible package. While the stories themselves range from dystopian alternate history of “Coil Gun” to high fantasy adventure of “Lord Giovanni’s Daughter” and straightforward horror of “Melon Heads”, the standard of storytelling remains consistently high throughout. At times, the stories are nothing short of chilling, as evidenced by “Coil Gun” and its description of apocalyptic global conflict through the eyes of the participants, who are presented as having real human concerns and emotions no matter what side of the conflict they find themselves on. “Picking Up Plans in Palma” is set in the same universe, and is a thrilling spy romp through that story’s quintessential “evil empire”, again adding humanity to the characters who in the hands of a lesser author might have become one-dimensional villains. Here, the characters have depth and are interesting to read about.

The same qualities surface once again in “Nicor”, an imaginative (and quite unique) story inspired by legend of Beowulf, set in the era of Norse raids against the shores of Britain. The protagonist here is not a fantasy stereotype of all-conquering warrior, but a frightened youth on his first raid, full of doubt and fear even as he tries to present a strong façade in front of his fellow raiders. The author once again displays his gift for humanizing the characters in “Illegal Alien”, which is a peculiar play on words in the context, and a very solid story to boot.

“I am the Wendigo” stands out a bit from the other stories, as it provides the titular monster with a viewpoint, while “Lord of the Dolorous Tower” is another high fantasy story with some post-apocalyptic leanings. As the author notes, it was written as a prologue to a longer work that never got finished, and as such, the ending feels a little abrupt, but the world it created is captivating, and it made me wonder what that longer work would have been like. “The Westernmost Throne” is a different kind of a dark fantasy tale, wrapped in a modern setting, and ends the collection on a high note.

Overall, “Flashing Steel, Flashing Fire” is an imaginative collection which provides a good representation of this up-and-coming author’s writing. The stories are diverse, well written, and play well to Quinn’s strength of writing likeable, relatable characters throughout. My favorite would probably have to be “Nicor”, but all of the stories are enjoyable and worth reading. Highly recommended!

Vacation time! Which means…

…it is time to catch up on writing. At least 10,000 words is my minimum goal, and if I can go back to the “day job” with 20,000 or more words written, I will be one happy camper. More to come as this writing thing actually starts to happen!

Innovate magazine – now available in print

Innovate magazine – now available in print

That is right – the latest issue of Innovate magazine, featuring my short stories “The Great Bear” and “Exile”, is now available in print from Amazon:

http://www.amazon.com/Innovate-Issue-4-Grey-Wolf/dp/1499687664/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1402309219&sr=1-1&keywords=1499687664

UK listing:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Innovate-Issue-4-Grey-Wolf/dp/1499687664/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1402309219&sr=1-1&keywords=1499687664

CreateSpace listing:

https://www.createspace.com/4826044

You can also still get the electronic version at:

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00KKUPJO2 (Kindle version)

http://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/innovate-e-magazine-issue-4 (Kobo version)

http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/441883 (Smashwords, ePub format)

http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/Innovate-E-Magazine-issue-4-arts-and-literary-publication-/261489789805? (PDF version – will be e-mailed to you shortly after receipt of payment)

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/innovate-e-magazine-issue-4-grey-wolf/1119608680?ean=9781498919814&itm=1&usri=9781498919814 (Barnes & Noble / Nook edition)

 Check it out!

Published! Two new short stories in “Innovate” magazine

 

 

Exciting news! Two of my short science fiction stories appear in the “Innovate” magazine’s April/May issue. If you want to see what all the hoopla is about, you can get the issue for only $1.99 at the below links:

KINDLE http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00KKUPJO2

KOBO http://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/innovate-e-magazine-issue-4

EPUB at Smashwords http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/441883

PDF http://cgi.ebay.co.uk/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=261489789805

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