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Friday, November 30, 2012

The Kamelot Superpost, Part 1: Introduction and Early Years

Yes, it's that time again...SUPERPOST AHOY. This time around I aim to inquire into the mythical, literary, and courtly-romantic elements that inspire many power metal bands' lyrics, with specific emphasis on the power metal band I'm most familiar with: Kamelot. The post series will take the shape of this introductory post, a post for Roy Khan's first two ventures with the band (Siege Perilous and The Fourth Legacy), a classic Kamelot post (Karma, Epica, and The Black Halo), a Kamelot-branches-out post (Ghost Opera and Poetry for the Poisoned) and a speculative post concerned with Tommy Karevik, Silverthorn, and the band's future. As ever, if this is not your bag, apologies and ignore at will. I'll try to intersperse these with other things of interest.

Starting off, a few relevant details: Kamelot was founded in Tampa, Florida (HAAAAAY) in 1991. The lineup originally consisted of Mark Vanderbilt on vocals, Thomas Youngblood on guitar, Richard Warner on drums, and Sean Tibbets on bass; David Pavlicko played keyboards for a time as well. After releasing two albums, Eternity and Dominion, Vanderbilt and Warner left and were replaced by Roy Khan and Casey Grillo respectively, while Glenn Barry took over for bass on Dominion and remained with the band until Poetry for the Poisoned. These first two albums are often ignored by fans for being subpar to what would come during Khan's reign, but both are solid power metal records and deserve some consideration. Both featured lyrics by drummer Warner and music chiefly from Youngblood, with some involvement from Barry and Warner, and both albums illustrate the fantasy bent of many power metal songs. Lyrically, these records delve into mythology and history, often with a medieval setting--songs such as "Gleeman," "Song of Roland," and "Birth of a Hero" are good examples of these tendencies, which are found throughout power metal, beginning chiefly with the mighty Blind Guardian. Battles are fought, crusades embarked upon, demons encountered, and the only inklings of what would become Kamelot's chief lyrical themes are "Sin" and "Crossing Two Rivers." These songs, both from Dominion, emphasize fruitless love and loss as well as the relationship between bodily and spiritual desire, topics which would come up repeatedly on future albums.

     (both album covers from Prog Archives)

In terms of lyrical content, the fantasy and mythic-historical base of the band's songs was obvious even at the beginning of their career. Courtly love stories and poems range from sensual to highly spiritual and even platonic, often positioning the female object of desire as a noble, nigh-sacrosanct figure: the princess in the tower. To what extent Kamelot utilizes these concepts, along with popular myths such as those of King Arthur, and classic literature, specifically Goethe's Faust, will be examined in later posts. It wasn't until Khan arrived and merged his vast song-writing talents with those of Youngblood that what I consider Kamelot's classic sound and themes really began to emerge...but that's a song for another day. Arguably Kamelot is one of the best examples of seamless fusion between three of the major forefathers of European power metal; Blind Guardian, Helloween (as well as Gamma Ray), and Stratovarius each pioneered the genre in notable ways, with every band following acknowledging these groups in some fashion, whether to pay homage or to diverge. Though Kamelot is an American band and one of the early US power metal groups, their most iconic work is in the European vein--yet their later work has opened up into gothic and even doom metal territory. This hybridization makes them one of the most interesting power metal bands to analyze.

Necessary Tracks: "Call of the Sea" from Eternity and "We Are Not Separate" from Dominion. Unrelated to anything else but amusing to me, these album covers kicked off a trend of purple that wouldn't be broken until The Black Halo.

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