Avantasia – The Scarecrow

     For a 50th post, I wondered what band, what album, I should write about. I was surprised when I realized I had not reviewed Kamelot‘s dark masterpiece, The Black Halo, and planned on choosing that record.
     Enter Miss Tiff (mischief), LadyLoveExtraodinaire to yours truly, and a complete Kamelot fanatic, who said, “Do Avantasia, The Scarecrow. You’re always listening to it.”
     Indeed I do listen to The Scarecrow, quite a lot, really. I love the album and how well rounded the listening experience is. Mr. Sammat wrote, what I think, is the best mix of music and songs within his entire musical career.

     For fans of Avantasia‘s first two releases; The Metal Opera Part 1 and The Metal Opera Part 2, The Scarecrow, upon first listen, could be a shock. While some songs retained PowerMetal elements, most did not. In fact, I think the album has more of an American Metal vibe to it without being downright pretentious and patsying for an American audience.
     That Tobias was prompted to make another Avantasia album by friend and drummer for KISS, Eric Singer, who plays throughout the entire album, may be the reason for the style change, but don’t take me wrong, Singer can deliver PowerMetal double bass drum kicks as fast as anyone, it is just that he chooses not to do it all the time. Sometimes it really is only Rock”N’Roll.
    
Maybe Producer and Guitarist Sascha Paeth twisted the knobs and raised the levels while lowering others and tweeked the sound in final mixing to achieve a less polished, more chunky and gritty sound.
     Whatever the reason for the style change, by the end of first listen, you will know that it works and the music fits well with Tobias‘s retelling of Goethe‘s Faust.

     As with prior releases, Avantasia has a core band; this time made up of Eric Singer (drums) of KISS, Sascha Paeth (Guitar) of Heaven’s Gate, and Tobias Sammat (Vocals & Bass) of Edguy. Not as many as before but there are more guest musicians stepping in to play lead guitar than before.
Kai Hansen (Helloween, Gamma Ray, Unisonic) plays additional guitar.
Henjo Richter (Gamma Ray, Rampage) plays additional guitars
Rudolph Schenker (Scorpions) palys additional guitars
Michael “Miro” Rodenberg (producer and guest musician of many PowerMetal bands) Keyboard & Orchestration.
     While there is less guest vocalists than before.
Bob Catley (Magnum)
Alice Cooper
Oliver Hartmann
(At Vance)
Roy Khan (Kamelot)
Michael Kiske (Helloween, Supa Red, Plave Vendome, Revolution Renaissance, Kiske / Somerville, Unisonic)
Jørn  Lande (Vagabond, Ark, Beyond Twilight, Masterplan, Allen / Lande)
Amanda Somerville (Kiske / Somerville, Trillium, and many guest vocal spots on many PowerMetal releases)

     Although the story of The Scarecrow is nowhere near as epic in material as The Metal Opera releases, it still holds on to the same majesty as its predecessors and much of that has to do with the phenominal prowess of the vocalists and Tobias himself knowing where to place a more PowerMetal sound to the music.

Track Listing for The Scarecrow:
01: Twisted Mind
02: The Scarecrow
03: Shelter From The Rain
04: Carry Me Over
05: What Kind Of Love
06: Another Angel Down
07: The Toy Master
08: Devil In The Belfry
09: Cry Just A Little
10: I Don’t Believe In Your Love
11: Lost In Space

     The Scarecrow is the first of three release that make up The Wicked Trilogy. The other two: Angel Of Babylon and The Wicked Symphony are equally as good as The Scarecrow.
     There were many critiques about this release. Yes, there were some pop elements thrown in; they were not overdone and lent texture to the song and did not become the song.
     Whatever the sound of an Avantasia release is, that it is so completely different than the last story is refreshing and usually occurs in revolving door bands.

Gnosis and life
AVANTASIA!

Kamelot – Karma

      As The Fourth Legacy, Kamelot’s fifth studio release – Karma, continued the trek into a realm of music that sounded majestic; from the symphonic sounds and music, to the lyrics; Karma is loaded with positive energy even when trying hard to not be.

     The album leadoff, Regalis Apertura, written by co-producer, Miro, and played by him using the keyboard, sums the album up before even hearing the whole album. It begins like a Hollywood epic blockbuster before moving into a sound you could imagine hearing in a castle bazar while a juggler walks backwards in front of you trying their damnedest to entertain you out of a few coins. Towards the end the sound gets darker before trailing of into stark oblivion. Yes, the album is like this. What is amazing is Miro did all this in less than two minutes. 

     I don’t know whether to deem this release introspective or speculative because the lyrics can seem dark and moody with Kahn‘s voice, yet they can also seem uplifting as well. It is a very tempered album and one can hope that Sascha Paeth was trying for this and it is not just a brilliant mistake. If it is a sound stumbled upon, the band and producers kept it for the release after Karma, Epica.
     Musically, Karma is a Metal/PowerMetal release with odd, almost unnoticable changing guitar rhythm (just listen to the playing!) and double bass kicking drums that gallop. Yes, there is some Iron Maiden influence here, however, Thomas Youngblood is the type of guitarist who plays for the sake of his music and does not tend to over or underdo his leads and fills – they are a part of the song and not the only thing you have been waiting to hear.
     Speaking of odd rhythm, the song Karma sounds as if a less accomplished vocalist would have considered it a nightmare to figure out the best way to perform it.

     Kamelot, the band, sounds sterile in the studio. Live, the songs shine bright with slightly different interpretations than what is given from the studio. I don’t mean the studion cuts are less than those performed by the band on stage, I have wondered though, if the band works the songs even after recording them to get the exact sound they were truly striving for.
     Unknown as this album may be, one listen to Karma will tell you why the band still plays a few of the songs live to this day. Forever is crowd-pleaser that audiences love to sing to. Karma (the song) is favored by the band and the short, but sweet, jazz vocal style in the middle comes across well. Elizabeth (about Countess Bathory) played live shows just how well Roy Khan can sing in whatever genre you can think of.  

Track listing for Karma:
01: Regalis Apertura
02: Forever
03: Wings Of Despair
04: The Spell
05: Don’t You Cry
06: Karma
07: The Light I Shine On You
08: Temples Of Gold
09: Across The Highlands
10: Elizabeth I: Mirror, Mirror
11: Elizabeth II: Requiem For The Innocent
12: Elizabeth III: Fall From Grace
13: Ne Pleure Pas*
14: Once And Future King**

     You know, I can’t think of any one song on Karma that I like less than the other. There are two mellow songs and Kahn’s vocal delivery on both is exquisite. Yeah… Karma is a very great album indeed.

* Is the song Don’t You Cry sang in the French language. It is on the U.S. release of Karma.

** Japanese bonus track.

Most of Kamelots bonus tracks can be found on the compilation Myth’s And Legends Of Kamelot.

\m/

Kamelot – Epica

     As of late, I have been way too busy, but summer is winding down here in the Rocky Mountains (why is it still in the upper nineties?) so blogging will become more active.
     One good thing about being busy is background noise. I have been listening to alot of Anthrax, Sepultura, Kamelot, Hammerfall, Blind Guardian, Rhapsody Of Fire… Old shit, new shit – Metal!

     Studio albums from Kamelot tend to have an overproduced feel to them. Most times, while listening to them, I knitpick the sound and wonder why it does not move me like their live recordings. The music is not bad, it is just not live and Kamelot is a live band.
     Bands put out an album and then tour to support it, but, it is almost as if Kamelot put out an album to support their upcoming tour. Whatever it may be, Kamelot is one hell of a band to see live and many of my favorite songs by the band are not those that they perform while on stage.

     Epica is the beginning of something while being the end of another. I do think the title is heavily self-prophesying for the band.

     Epica is the beginning of the band’s retelling of Goethe’s Faust. The main character, Ariel, is on a quest to find the meaning of it all. He leaves his beloved, Helena, and travels in search for an answer. Ariel eventually becomes disillusioned when his search becomes long and fruitless.
     Enter Mephisto, AKA – the devil, who tempts Ariel with dreams of power. Needless to say, Ariel eventually accepts.
     Helena, whom Ariel left behind, has been searching for Ariel and eventually the two run into each other. They spend time together but Ariel‘s old drive to find the meaning to everything resurfaces and he again leaves Helena. Distraught that her love has once again left her, Helena takes her own life by drowning herslf in a river.
     Ariel is driven even after he learns of Helena‘s suicide and the death of their unborn child (neither knew she was pregnant).
     Mephisto continues to chide Ariel and push him on despite the high price he has paid for his obsession. Meanwhile Helena‘s soul sings to him of love but Ariel believes himself to be damned and cries out against God as being the cause of his troubles.
     That’s the story in a nutshell.

     There is another beginning here though. A band by the name of Sahara Dust was in a studio recording their debut album and had been listening to Kamelot’s Epica. Inspired by the music they asked Kamelot if they could use the name Epica as their band name. Hence, Epica was born.

     Epica, musically, is close to the bands previous releases, Siége Perilous, The Fourth Legacy, and Karma. It has a very majestic PowerMetal sound though the lyrics deal with a dark and melencholic story. There are a few more mellow songs to carry the changing mood of the story but much of the album has a speedier pace.
     Vocally, Roy Kahn is, as always, damn good. Again, the studio performance of Roy and the band just does not compare to what they do live. No one could ever accuse this band of lip-syncing.

     As for Epica being the end of something, it was. On their release after Epica, The Black Halo (which completes the retelling of Goethe’s Faust), Kamelot took a darker approach to writing their music. Some have accused them of becoming more Gothic in sound. The music has remained along the PowerMetal vein but it has become moodier. The change in musical direction has not lessened their ability to write excellent songs as, sometimes, a change in musical style could just mean they tune their instruments differently or their personal lives have a bit of strife in them and it is carrying over to the music – something musicians tend to allow to happen.

Track Listing For Epica*:
01: Prologue
02: Center Of The Universe
03: Farewell
04: Interlude I – Opiate Soul
05: The Edge Of Paradise
06: Wander
07: Interlude II – Omen
08: Descent Of The Archangel
09: Interlude III – At The Banquet
10: A Feast For The Vain
11: On The Coldest Winter Night
12: Lost & Damned
13: Helena’s Theme
14: Interlude IV – Dawn
15: The Mourning After (Carry On)
16: III Ways To Epica

     Epica is a solid PowerMetal release from a band that is so much better and talented than many out there. What is funny is the theme of the album would so go over with many people in the world today; struggles with questions about God, Life, feelings of aimlessness, letdown… If only more people were aware of this band regularly.

* Limited Edition version contains the song Snow while the Japanese version contains the song Like The Shadows

Kamelot – Limited Tour Edition Live From Wacken 2010

     I don’t believe this has been released in the U.S. or the rest of America (North, Central, or South). I got my copy by ordering from overseas. I paid a lot for shipping but I had to have this edition of Poetry For The Poisoned because it has the last recorded live performance of Roy Khantatat before he actually quit the band.

     As far as the initial album, Poetry For The Poisoned, all the song/track listing is the same but that this is a European release and it includes the European bonus track, Where The Wild Roses Grow, a cover song originally recorded by Nick Cave – it features vocalist Chanty Loch from German PopRock band, Fräulein Wunder, singing with Roy Khan.

     Poetry For The Poisoned had not yet been released when this show was recorded a month earlier, August 6th, 2010.
     A few things stand out about this show.
     It was Roy‘s last show before telling the band he was quitting.
     Roy is off in this show. Ever the professional that he is, there is no hiding that his heart is not into it… Which leads to the main stand out…
     Roy is cussing/cursing/using foul language, whatever you want to call it and he’s using it alot.

     All one has to do is listen to prior live recordings, or, if you’ve seen Kamelot perform live (I did on the Black Halo tour with Epica opening. Met Roy too. He was a gentleman through and through) you will know by comparison that Khan seems stressed.

     Putting it all aside, Kamelot lost an exceptional vocalist who was beloved by their fans and I am sure that any live recording with Roy, be it legit or bootlegged, will be sought after by fans and collectors.
     I know that already The Expedition has went up in price (even used copies).

Track listing for Live From Wacken 2010:
01: The Great Pandemonium
02: Human Stain
03: Center Of The Universe
04: Pendulous Fall
05: Hunter’s Season
06: Karma
07: Forever
08: March Of Mephisto

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.

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).

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.