Kamelot – Poetry For The Poisoned

     I read a review of this album (a few, in truth) and I cannot believe that anyone actually listened to the thing. They appeared to have read the lyrics but one actually stated that the song “The Zodiac” was about role-playing, as in sexual role playing. Nothing is as asinine as that assumption.

     What anyone needs to consider before listening to this album is that guitarist, founding member, and main songwriter, Thomas Youngblood, had a death in his family; that of his mother. 
     When my own mother died, and we were not that close, it brought up many questions about my own mortality and that is a place you don’t want to go but eventually everyone has to.
     Thomas and his mother were close. Hence, the music for Poetry For The Poisoned is more dark in nature compared to Kamelot‘s earlier releases. I am not saying the early albums were not dark, they had much darkness to them, but, the earlier albums were guided by conceptual idea’s whereas Poetry… is not.
     I am not going to say that every song is as strong as the next or one before it.
     Taking everything into account that other reviews said, I started listening to the album in a random order rather than the prescribed one (instead of The Great Pandemonium playing first, My Train Of Thought played as opener, or any other of the songs in the disc). It is funny how a song, considered weaker than another, has better momentum depending on when it is played.

     I have said it before about Kamelot and am saying it again, listen to the music, not one part of it, but everything as an entire.
     Take the song The Zodiac, it is about the Zodiac killer, who has never been caught. The song itself steps into the mind of the killer in a probable capacity; the many differing voices of the vocalists involved and the various emotions sustained throughout, signify that our man was a bit crazy. I think the usage is brilliant in its portrayal.

     So maybe Kamelot does have a problem, that being they are assuming their listeners are intelligent enough to figure out what it is they are trying to convey without the band having to give an explanation about every lyric, every melody.
     Then again, Kamelot has never had a drastic change in the course of their sound. Each album is different, but not so much so that long-time fans feel alienated by the band.
     Whatever the case may be, I listen to Kamelot for their well-roundedness (is that even a word?) and excellent songwriting. Metal doesn’t all have to be screaming over the same three power-chords with a dozen notes bent and sustained past the rhythm as some kind of lead. If anything, Kamelot reminds me of fellow Florida Metal band, Savatage – an excellent and proficient band that never got the respect they deserved… until they started making christmas music (TSO).

Track Listing For Poetry For The Poisoned:
01: The Great Pandemonium
02: If Tomorrow Came
03: Dear Editor
04: The Zodiac
05: Hunter’s Season
06: House On A Hill
07: Necropolis
08: My Train Of Thought
09: Seal Of Woven Years
Poetry For The Poisoned
10: Pt. I.    Incubus
11: Pt. II.   So Long
12: Pt. III. All Is Over
13: Pt. IV. Dissection
14: Once Upon A Time

Japanese release has the instrumental Thespian Drama as a bonus track
EU version has a cover of Nick Cave‘s Where The Wild Roses Grow
Supposedly, the U.S. version has an uncut version of House On A Hill. If it does it is not on my CD.

There are many guests on the album, including, Simone Simons of Epica, Björn “Speed” Strid of Soilwork, John Oliva of SavatageTrans-Siberian OrchestraJohn Oliva’s Pain, Gus G. of Firewind and Ozzy Osbourne, and Amanda Somerville of her own damn self.

     In all, as a fan of Kamelot, I was not, in any way, disappointed by Poetry For The Poisoned. I am disappointed that vocalist Roy Khan has left the band earlier this month.

Nightwish – Dark Passion Play

     This was one of two albums I honestly say I wanted to dislike. Tarja was no longer in the band and new vocalist Anette Olzen has a voice better suited to Pop or Rock; it has a bubbly, almost perky, upbeat sound to it.
     That Anette sounded nothing like Tarja, nor did she try to (ala Blayze Bailey and Tim “Ripper” Owens, the two that took over vocals for Iron Maiden and Judas Priest) was a saving grace. Anette had some big shoes to fill and rather than try to fill them with ersatz sound, she worked her own sound into music that, lets face it, was written with Tarja‘s vocal style in mind. Old habits die hard, eh Tuomas?


     However, vocals aside, the music became fatter sounding. Whether from palm muting or track overlaying, the rhythm guitar playing, coupled with the bass, sounded chunkier that it had ever sounded on previous Nightwish releases. This lent the music a more ThrashMetal style edge while still holding onto the symphonic elements that are synonymous with Nightwish.
     Bassist and male vocalist, Marco Hietala, took a more prominent role in singing. Two songs on the album have Anette singing back-up to Marco‘s lead, while other songs have him singing lead alongside Anette rather than just back-up. He does sing backing vocals to.

     One other thing about the music… It is dark. However introspective the lyrics get, the music finds its niche surrounded in darkness. Even the slow, more ballad type songs, have this darkness within them. It is not GothicMetal. It is Nightwish just, as Chuck Schuldiner once said, “Let the metal flow”, writing what was inside them. There are many elements and aspects to the music and what is peculiar about this is their ex-vocalist, Tarja, the same thing can be said about her second solo release, My Winter Storm.

Track listing for original release of Dark Passion Play:
01: The Poet And The Pendulum
02: Bye Bye Beautiful
03: Amaranth
04: Cadence Of Her Last Breath
05: Master Passion Greed
06: Eva
07: Sahara
08: Whoever Brings The Night
09: For The Heart I Once Had
10: The Islander
11: Last Of The Wilds
12: Seven Days To The Wolves
13: Meadows Of Heaven

All special editions had instrumental/orchestral versions of all songs. They are a bit different.

Platinum Edition had the single b-sides on a third disc
01: Erämaan Viimeinen*
02: Escapist**
03: Meadows Of Heaven (Orchestral)
04: The Poet And The Pendulum (Demo)
05: Bye Bye Beautiful (DJ Orkidea Remix)

There were also different versions of the songs in the demo process that were released on singles and as digital only downloads:
Reach (Amaranth demo)
Escapist (Instrumental/ Orchestral version)
While Your Lips Are Still Red***

     It is not that the album grew on me, but that it was so different in sound while remaining familiar too.
     Some of the astrix noted songs are bonus track or extra recordings. All are very good and worth getting.

* – Erämaan Viimeinen is the song Last Of The Wilds with lyrics sang in Soumi (Finnish) by Jonsu, the vocalist for the band Indica. The music is a bit different from the original instrumental release.

** – Escapist was originally a bonus track on the Japanese release of Dark Passion Play.

*** – While Your Lips Are Still Red is not, technically, a Nightwish song. It was written by Holopainen and performed by Holopainen, Hietala, and Nevalainen (3/5 of the band) for the Finnish movie Lieksa!
     Later, the band released it on the live release Made In Honk Kong (And Various Other Places).
     The music for the song is very simple, cut and dried. Lyrically, it is… I sing this song (cover) because it is such a great song and the lyrics are moving (only reason I would sing music by another band).

     Some of the songs are directed at Tarja and/or her husband.

Helloween – Keeper Of The Seven Keys Part. 1

     The latter part of the 1980’s was a good time for Metal music. Bands that were radio friendly were losing public interest after the phenomenon that was the original Guns n’ Roses stomped its way up the charts with music that was anything but safe. Among the new bands was a then little known Deutch (German) band that reminded people of Iron Maiden.

     Helloween, for as good as they were and are, never seemed to get the respect of MetalHeads until many years later. When it came to Metal from Europe the ThrashMetal bands took all the love along with the Scorpions. I tried in vain to get friends to listen to Helloween‘s Keeper Of The Seven Keys, I even explained it as the solo from Iron Maiden‘s The Duellists but played much faster.
     One of the main reasons they could not get into Helloween, and the reason they still give for not liking many of the bands I listen to today, is the operatic quality to the vocals and the overtly technical playing.
     For all there technical expertise, Helloween’s music was not lacking in emotion and it is still Metal. What they were really trying to say was it was not rock n’ roll enough for them, but that is because they never got past the first song and listened to the album in its entirety.
     I like rock, why wouldn’t I? Metal has it’s roots in many forms of music and one of them is rock. But Europe has a proud, and rightly so, tradition of making some of the best and well thought out music. Just look at the past… Beethoven, Mozart, Bach – the Baroque and Classical periods, the invention of instruments to play music on. 
     Helloween‘s leadwork was and is based more on theory while the rhythm is more groove based, and though many of the bands do write music based on rock or incorporate it into their sound, what can be said is, no matter the influence, see them perform live and they fuckin’ rock!

     Keeper Of The Seven Key‘s is a masterpiece of Metal. There was no PowerMetal at the time. Kai Hansen and Michael Weikath’s guitar sound together was unique and the trade off leads and harmonizing leads melded each players own personal technique together without clashing. That Helloween liked to have double bass kick when it came to drums is a relevent factor in considering their music an early form of PowerMetal as they weren’t heavier than other Metal bands and certainly much less so than the Thrash bands.
     For any patron of PowerMetal to know is Kai Hansen and vocalist Michael Kiske are considered legends in the genre. As of late, both have resurfaced playing parts in many Avantasia releases, forming new bands of their own and (excitement!) they are playing together in Unisonic.

 For any fan of PowerMetal or Metal, Helloween: Keeper Of The Seven Keys Part 1, is a classic album that cannot be ignored.
      The production is analog so the sound is a bit dated from production but the music is still relevant today as any Iron maiden release is.

             
Michael Kiske, Tobias Sammat, Kai Hansen performing as Avantasia.

Track listing for Keeper Of The Seven Key’s Part 1:
01: Initiation
02: I’m Alive
03: A Little Time
04: Twilight Of The Gods
05: A Tale That Wasn’t Right
06: Future World
07: Halloween
08: Follow The Sign
Bonus tracks on re-release in 2010
01: Victim Of Fate
02: Starlight (remix)
03: A Little Time (alt. version)
04: Halloween (edit)

     Melody, rhythm, harmony, and texture – Helloween is all these. That this release and the subsequent Keeper Part 2 have been major influences in many European Symphonic and Power Metal bands cannot be denied. Sonata Arctica, Stratovarius, DragonForce, Blind Guardian, Rhapsody Of Fire, Firewind… Helloween’s influence on their music and playing can be heard on any of their releases.

     At one point a rumor circulated around the Metal community that Michael Kiske was supposed to be the replacement vocalist in Iron Maiden after Bruce Dickinson left for a solo career. Instead, Maiden chose Blayze Bailey. Not knocking Maiden or Blayze (Okay, I am knocking them) but I think Michael Kiske would have been a better choice and who knows, the two albums released with Blayze, X Factor and Virtual XI, might have been accepted by fans.

Unsun – The End Of Life

     I am the type of person who goes to a bookstore and randomly picks books from authors I have never read within the many genres that interest me. So to do I do the same thing with music. YouTube is great for this, as is Pandora – put in a band and song title and let the randomizer go. Of course I am usually writing something while listening and not many bands can make me stop what I am doing and just listen. UnSun did.
     On YouTube I found a video for one of their songs, Whispers, and needed to hear the entire album.

     What strikes me is I have listened to the thrash/Death Metal band Vader of which UnSun‘s guitarist, Maurycy “Mauser” Stefanowicz, played with for ten years until leaving Vader to start UnSun.
    
Touted as a GothicMetal in press, you just cannot pin that one single monikor on this band.
     Upon first listening to The End Of Life I was struck by how American it sounded, especially for a band from Poland. Like Midnattsol, I’ve heard this before but can’t quite place it. There is the drop tuning bass popular with so called Nu-Metal bands, Industrial-style-noise, double bass drum kicking but in a more American Metal style (not EuroPowerMetal style), and even some Hip-Hop inspired drum tracks and funky bass line in one song. But, the use of piano and sometimes shredding leads, acoustic guitars, a bit of symphony…………………………………………….
     There is so much to this music. So many influences can be heard that it is hard to come up with a definitive genre to what the band is doing musically.
     Vocally speaking, Anna “Aya” Stefanowicz, can easily be compared to Amy Lee of Evanescence, or pretty much a whole slew of singers because like the music, she changes styles and pitch to match the music.

     UnSun as a GothicMetal band? They are to well rounded of a band to name so I will refer to them as METAL! 
     For a first album this is impressive to the point of being phenomenal. Had the band better marketing for the United States they would have been all over the rock and metal radio since this is the type of band many in the U.S. like for Metal that is not all angsty and angry.
     The point – this album has something for everyone. There is enough catchiness to the music that even diehard popmusic fans would eat this up regardless that is is not a pop release.

Track listing for The End Of Life:
01: Whispers
02: Lost Innocence
03: Blinded By Hatred
04: Face The Truth
05: The Other Side
06: Destiny
07: Memories
08: Bring Me To Heaven
09: On The Edge
10: Closer To Death
11: Indifference

    The vocalist and guitarist are married in case you were wondering about them having same last name.

Kamelot – One Cold Winter’s Night

     Like Queensrÿche, Kamelot is such a talented group of musicians that when you do see them live you tend to be there for their performance and not for a stage show. You’ll headbang, yes, but much of the time will be spent watching the band play.
     I say this because I have seen both bands perform and at each show the crowd energy was similar. There was reverance for the band and the audience stood enraptured by the musicians, for the most part.
     Maybe it has something to do with how reserved the vocalist is, after all, it does seem that Geoff Tate and Roy Khan are cut from the same mold – both are excellent singers and both use dramatic body language when performing.

     One Cold Winter’s Night took place on what turned out to be a cold winter’s night at Rockefeller Musichall in Oslo, Norway on February 26, 2006. Fans of Kamelot know that this is vocalists Roy Khan‘s backyard; where he was born, raised, and resides with his family – Norway.
     The venue is not immense (capacity is around 1,350 warm bodies) but the show has its share of ambitions and the band is tight.
     Although the band might be a bit reserved onstage, the editing of this concert (Patric Ullaeus) is on par with the live performance DVD Black Symphony (Within Temptation). The camera spins, moves over the crowd, and gets some great shots of Casey Grillo drumming and Oliver Palotai playing keyboards.

     There is a show in all this. A variety of onstage guests, a bit of pyro, alot of dramatics, choir backup singers…
     Sascha Paeth joins the band onstage to perform Moonlight. Kamelot guitarist Thomas Youngblood‘s wife Mari Youngblood sings and plays the role of Elizabeth Bathory. Snowy Shaw plays the role of Mephisto. Simone Simons sings Marguerite’s role on The Haunting (Somewhere In Time). Elisabeth Kjærnes performs on Nights Of Arabia and March Of Mephisto.
     Many bands would not put the time and effort into a live visual representation (other than a music video) but again, Kamelot is a band with ambition. And though many of the moments are small (but for Elizabeth I, II, & III) they add an extra professional touch and dignity to the stage.

Set list for One Cold Winter’s Night:
01: Intro: Un Assassinio Molto Silenzioso
02: The Black Halo
03: Soul Society
04: The Edge Of Paradise
05: Center Of The Universe
06: Nights Of Arabia
07: Abandoned
08: Forever
09: Keyboard Solo
10: The Haunting
11: Moonlight
12: When The Lights Are Down
13: Elizabeth
14: March Of Mephisto
15: Karma
16: Drum Solo
17: Farewell
18: Curtain Call

Plus, there are many extra’s on the second DVD as well:
Halo Vision. Interviews with various band members and Simone Simons. Casey Grillo at ddrum company. Videos for the songs The Haunting and March Of Mephisto (uncencored version too). Making of The Haunting. Serenade. A live performance of March Of Mephisto (Sweden). and the usual picture gallery, discography, and band bio’s.

Again, this is a fairly ambitious effort for a concert DVD since it is not a huge event. The money you pay for the DVD is the same as a ticket to see the band live (not at a festival).

Nightwish – Angel’s Fall First

     While I do believe that Oceanborn is, musically, the best release by Nightwish, so to do I believe that Angel’s Fall First is a special album, especially in the day and age it was made.

     How many performers now days put out an album that sounds like a first album? Almost none.
     Angel’s Fall First has a lackluster production sound and the album is better for it.

          I mentioned before that I only listen to Mötley Crüe ‘s first release, Too Fast For Love, and the reason I still do is because of the raw sounding energy not hidden behind glossed over production. Angel’s Fall First has this energy.
     This is the epitome of a first album – thrown together from a bunch of demo’s, made with little or next to nothing cash for studio and production time, guitars that sound un”effect”ed… but for all that, it still sounds like they did the best they could do with what they had before them.
     Energy, youth, eagerness and naiveté. You can’t get that from a pop performers first release!

     Yes, Tuomas does state that he feels this is more of a demo, but Tuomas, why? Especially when most demo’s are not packaged and released as full length albums. So maybe it didn’t live up to your expectations years after it was released, and comparing it to later releases, yes, it seems unfinished, nevertheless, it is still a great album that is better for its imperfections.
     The music is gritty, grainy, and coarse and sometimes sounds like it is recorded using small practice amps, the vocals falter at times… It is still an unrealized ambitious and magical album. Production hinderances aside, it could have been Oceanborn.
    
I could praise this album to no end. For a first release, it is better than most.

Track listing for Angel’s Fall First:
01: Elvenpath
02: Beauty And The Beast
03: The Carpenter
04: Astral Romance
05: Angel’s Fall First
06: Tutankhamen
07: Nymphomaniac Fantasia
08: Know Why The Nightingale Sings
09: Lappi (Lapland)
        I.     Erämaajärvi
        II.   Witchdrums
        III. This Moment Is Eternity
        IV.  Etiäinen
10: A Return To The Sea*/**
11: Once Upon A Troubadour*
12: Nightwish (Demo)**
13: The Forever Moments (Demo)**
14: Etiäinen (Demo)**

     The sound is not a huge as their later releases as much of the album was recorded prior to the band being signed by Spinefarm Records. Essentially, it is comprised of demo recordings with a few songs recorded after being signed.

* – Denotes bonus tracks on early pressings.
** – Denotes bonus tracks on later pressings.

For whatever reason the song Once Upon A Troubadour was removed from later pressings.
I have never encountered the song Nightwish or The Forever Moments in any form other than the demo versions.

Kamelot – Ghost Opera: The Second Coming

     Yeah, and this band is from Florida, so why am I reviewing it? Because they are well known and popular in Europe but in their home-country… They are outshined by bands who on their best day are not as good as Kamelot on their worst day.

     See, Kamelot incorporates basic music fundamentals in their music; those fundamentals being melody, harmony, rhythm, and texture. They can put a song together that when ripped apart is simple in itself, put it back together and it becomes complex. That is not only songwriting ability, it is vision.

     The band has been making music since the 1990’s and each release has seen them progress further in small steps – The sound on each album changes enough to reach new audiences but stays true to itself to retain their core listeners (don’t balk, it worked for Iron Maiden throughout most of their career).
     It is hard for me to set down Kamelot into a specific sub-genre of Metal. Yes, I have argued with people over the notion that Kamelot is PowerMetal, ProgMetal, SymphonicMetal, GothicMetal, EpicMetal. To me, they are a Metal band that, at times, has songs that can fit into many sub-genres. Then again, I have argued that shopping at Hot Topic does not make a person Goth.

     After having made Faust into a concept album that spanned two releases (Epica and The Black Halo) Ghost Opera is a culmination of the releases Kamelot has done since aquiring vocalist Roy Khan (Mark Vanderbilt was lead vocals on their first two releases) prior to recording Siége Perilous.
     Ghost Opera
is not an operatic release that tells a story throughout but an album that is filled with stand alone aria’s. From the first notes of Rule The World (a rhythm that I use to warm up my fingers when practicing) the album retains the same energy and musicianship.
     It is a serious album and I would say that it is also an intellectual album lyric-wise. In this, I can listen to Ghost Opera over and over and find myself able to relate on a personal level to what is being said.

     On this pressing, entitled Ghost Opera The Second Coming, the original eleven songs are static but the band has chosen to add videos to the first CD and the second CD contains a live performance as well as four new studio songs, one of them a remixed version of Rule The World.

Track listing for Ghost Opera The Second Coming:
CD 1:
01: Solitaire
02: Rule The World
03: Ghost Opera
04: The Human Stain
05: Blücher
06: Love You To Death
07: Up Through The Ashes
08: Mourning Star
09: Silence Of The Darkness
10: Anthem
11: EdenEcho
Videos
01: Memento Mori (live from belgrade, Serbia)
02: The Human Stain

CD 2:
Live from Belgrade, Serbia
01: Solitaire
02: Ghost Opera
03: The Human Stain
04: Mourning Star
05: When The Lights Are Down
06: Abandoned
07: The Haunting (with Simone Simons of Epica)
08: Memento Mori
09: Epilogue
10: March Of Mephisto
Studio songs
11: Season’s End
12: Pendulous Fall
13: Epilogue
14: Rule The World (Remix)

     Alot of music for what you spend and the live performance is their first time performing in Serbia.
     During the live performance the crowd is singing along so loudly that Roy Khan stops singing and allows them to do it for him. Not even their prior live release, One Cold Winter’s Night, did this occur.

                               Original cover of Ghost Opera.

     Who knows, maybe with their recent release, Poetry For The Poisoned, the band might get some more well deserved recognition from their own country.