Flip Through

Monday, December 31, 2012

Year's finest

I have returned from winter rambles...with A List. Behold my Top Ten Various Awesome Things of 2012 in no particular order, because real blogging what's real blogging?

10. Favorite Cover of "Black Betty": Gypsyhawk (live at the Old Towne in Pasadena). So. Much. Hair.

9. Favorite New Ongoing Comic from One of the Big Two: Captain Marvel, motherfuckers. Kelly Sue Deconnick and Company (including the Dodsons, Jamie McKelvie, and Emma Rios) knock it out of the park twice a month with the Carol Corps. Amazing art and fantastic writing, continually the best book of the week.

(via Kelly Sue's website)

8. Favorite YA Novel About Dragons: Seraphina, by Rachel Hartman. I received this book as a birthday gift and devoured it in about two days. Fresh, original use of dragons and really well-developed political setting. Very much looking forward to the sequel. 

7. Favorite Spiritual Offspring of Veronica Mars: Pretty Little Liars, obviously. I continue to be so rabidly obsessed with this show that I'm considering rewatching VM (for the fourth time) to write something really obnoxious about the two. You've been warned. 

6. Favorite Nerd Convention: Geek Girl Con. Sacrificing a goat toward the goal of going again this year, because this con is not to be missed.

5. Favorite Timesuck Social Networking Site: Twitter, you're old news...Tumblr is my master now. 

(via duh)

4. Favorite Northeast Ohio Regional Beer: Market Garden's Cluster Fuggle IPA. Nommmm. If you're in the Great Lakes brewpub, be sure to stumble across the street to Market Garden too.

3. Favorite Liveblogging Event: Mark Reads Tamora Pierce. 'Nuff said.

(via Mark Reads)

2. Favorite Fangirl Squee: The Pacific Rim trailer. Holy fuckballs I need this movie to be out already. 

1. Favorite New Lead Singer of My Best-Beloved Band: Tommy, baby, you're amazing and we love you. A thousand welcomes. Now please headline the US.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Kamelot Superpost, Part 5: A New Voice

And finally we come to Silverthorn, the first Kamelot record in nearly fifteen years to feature a vocalist who isn't Roy Khan. Fans waited with held breath and much speculation to see how new boy Tommy Karevik would do with Youngblood, Grillo, Tibbetts, and Palotai at his back...and the band turned it out, as we knew they would. Silverthorn is in many ways a callback to classic Kamelot albums like Karma and The Black Halo, but it retains the experimentation and dark vibe of Ghost Opera and Poetry for the Poisoned, creating a pleasing hybrid effect. Silverthorn is also a concept album, like Epica and The Black Halo, something many metal bands enjoy creating; however, Silverthorn diverges from Kamelot's past concept records by creating a familial drama rather than a personal one. There is a lost love on this album (the narrator's wife, murdered by his brother), but the chief source of agony and estrangement is the brothers' dead sister. Where Khan and Co. created deeply individualistic narrators, knights-errant on quests for self-discovery and higher knowledge, Karevik and Co. have created a Greek tragedy of warring brothers, dead sisters and wives, and--of course--an ancestral home. Silverthorn is steeped in mythology the way most Kamelot albums are, but it draws from a different well, and to great effect. 

(album cover from Prog Archives)

Even more than previous records, the women of Silverthorn suffer from the phenomenon known as "fridging": being killed off so that the male narrator(s) may experience personal growth. Jolee's death tears the family apart; the father becomes abusive, the mother withdrawn, relatives die off like flies, and eventually the narrator and his twin are irreversibly estranged. Aurora, the narrator's wife, is murdered by his brother, who escapes blame until the very end. Both events are catalysts for the narrative, but the true core of the record is in the relationship between the two brothers. The major overarching theme is repentance and forgiveness (or absolution), but neither man seems too interested in Jolee's forgiveness for their negligence--instead the narrator eventually forgives himself after he deems he's suffered enough, and brother Robert apparently seeks salvation through the destruction of his brother and assumption of his identity and life in a kind of sublimating act. Aurora is a means to this end for Robert, and for his own arcane reasons, the narrator only tells the truth of what occurred after a period of penance in prison.

Karevik switches voices on occasion throughout Silverthorn; the chief, unnamed narrator speaks for most of the songs, but a few, including "Veritas" and "Falling Like the Fahrenheit," are sung from Robert's perspective. Perhaps coincidentally, these are two of the most popular tracks on the album. Kamelot fans do enjoy their singer showing off his dark side. Musically, Silverthorn is an incredible production, filled with orchestra, chants and backing vocals, and elaborate instrumental pieces. Karevik's voice is fresh and though still very much in the power metal vein, different enough from Khan's to create an intriguing new effect. "Sacrimony (Angel of Afterlife)" and "Solitaire" are possibly the most typical power metal tracks, with the bulk of the album made up of midpaced, gothily atmospheric songs. The clearly formidable combination of Karevik's fresh voice and the seasoned songwriting talents of Youngblood, Tibbetts, Palotai, and Grillo seem to be a winning formula for creating a record that displays both the iconic Kamelot elements fans love--epic stories, soaring and powerful melodies--and a desire to continually forge ahead and break new ground. Silverthorn is sure to be the first in a new string of classic records.

Necessary Track: "Torn" (live).

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Caroling along

Since I grew up in the LDS church (and more to the point, with an LDS chorister mother who is very fond of making the congregation sing the weirder hymns), I wasn't even aware that there's a carol called "The Seven Joys of Mary" until I was an adult. So when I first heard the opening strains of this carol, my immediate thought was, Why is Loreena McKennitt singing "If You Could Hie to Kolob"??

Same music, different lyrics. Pretty carol, though! Enjoy the Loreena rendition

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Kamelot Superpost, Part 4: Beyond the Pale

Released in 2010, Ghost Opera was Kamelot's much-anticipated follow-up to the commercially and critically successful Black Halo; however, it wasn't quite what most fans might have been expecting. Darker and less fantastic (in the genre sense) than what came before, Ghost Opera broke new ground for the band both instrumentally and lyrically. In terms of content, Ghost Opera is perhaps the most similar of Kamelot's albums to those of frontman Khan's former band Conception; Khan and Youngblood's religion-related lyrics were always unorthodox, but on Ghost Opera they became downright cynical, interrogating everything from humanity's effects on the world to whether Christ was truly divine to war in the name of God. Furthermore, the three love ballads largely don't veer toward even the slight hopefulness of those found on previous albums--"Blücher" and "Love You To Death" both feature the ultimate separation of untimely death, while "Eden Echo" blends sex and religion to evoke a bleak betrayal. Most of Kamelot's familiar mythological and fantasy elements are missing from this album, replaced with geopolitical musings, stories from recent history, and an array of dark mutters about faith. The overall atmosphere of Ghost Opera is world-weariness: grounded, harsh tracks like "The Human Stain" and "Under a Mourning Star" stand in stark contrast to the soaring, ambitious nature of The Black Halo. However, Kamelot's consistent focus on soul-searching remains--though the conclusions drawn by the narrator indicate a more fatalistic worldview from Ariel on Epica and The Black Halo. Ghost Opera's songs are also significantly shorter and somewhat more straightforward, leaning away from archetypal power metal flourishes and toward goth metal and hard rock influences. Ghost Opera may not have been the follow-up to Kamelot's epic that fans were expecting, but it's a worthy record and one that signifies that the band weren't willing to rest on their laurels or churn out a boilerplate production of power metal tunes.

(album cover from Prog Archives)

Poetry for the Poisoned, rather than being a return to power metal form, was even more experimental than its predecessor. These two albums are much debated in the fandom and Poetry particularly evoked strong reactions, with some listeners decrying it as muddy, boring, uninspired, and nigh un-listenable. I find Poetry to be opaque, certainly, but ultimately a beautiful album which served a couple of purposes. First, it allowed the band to continue expanding their musical borders and experimenting, which they clearly wished to do; second, it allowed Khan some room to breathe, which--since he retired before the "Pandemonium Over North America" tour started--he clearly needed. His vocals on this album are vastly different from previous recordings, to suit his somewhat-diminishing range, and the complex instrumental work surrounding each track gave him back-up and a cushion to rest on. It's not every band that can turn the problem of a burned-out lead singer into an interesting, thoughtful record. 
(album cover from Prog Archives)

Lyrically, some of Kamelot's familiar elements are present; the fantasy motifs turn toward horror in songs like "The Great Pandemonium" and the title track, a four-part suite of incubi and beautiful prey-turned-predators, and "Hunter's Season" is a companion ballad to Karma's "Don't You Cry." However, the majority of the tracks are oblique, even menacing, with "The Zodiac" and "Necropolis" recalling real-world dramas. Poetry is a dark album, to be sure, and it's especially notable in my view for its treatment of women in the lyrics. As discussed in previous posts, the female characters in Kamelot songs almost always fall into the mold of "lost lover on a pedestal": Irea, the unnamed women in "Forever" and "Temples of Gold," Helena, and the subjects of "Love You to Death," "Blücher," and "EdenEcho." Poetry sees arguably the first female villain (not counting "Elizabeth," as that character is her song's protagonist and the listener is expected to identify with her despite her actions, and Marguerite of "The Haunting," who is Mephisto's dupe): the woman in "If Tomorrow Came," a femme fatale who crushes those who love her. We find as well the first overtly sexual woman in part two of "Poetry for the Poisoned." Unlike some other bands, Kamelot has never been one to go in for female archetypes other than the princess in the tower, and to a lesser extent the female victim, particularly on Ghost Opera; there are no evil sorceresses or crones, and until Poetry there wasn't even a temptress (again, not counting Marguerite, who is largely a channel for Mephisto to work through)--and most importantly, none of the tracks on Poetry feature the princess in the tower/lost love figure. "House on a Hill" comes closest to the male/female vocal duets of yore, but certainly isn't in the same vein as "Love You to Death" or "The Haunting." Too, "Poetry for the Poisoned" spins the female-victim trope on its head, creating the woman in the story as a predator once she encounters the incubus. Ultimately, the modes and roles in which women appear in Kamelot lyrics are up to the listener to analyze; most of them aren't straightforward.

Necessary Tracks: "The Human Stain" from Ghost Opera and "If Tomorrow Came" from Poetry for the Poisoned.

Monday, December 10, 2012

I just always seem to find new layers (Pretty Little Liars spoilers)

Yesterday Gail Simone confirmed that she'd been kicked off the Batgirl title--VIA EMAIL--and that the "Death of the Family" crossover arc would be her last issues. I have no more fucks to give with DC as far as taking up space on my personal blog is concerned, so if you'd like to read my thoughts on this matter, head here.

In happier news, Pretty Little Liars returns in less than a month and ever since I started watching it (so...since Thanksgiving weekend) I've been wanting to write something about why I enjoy it so much. What else am I going to do in the interim but overanalyze and rewatch, right? The thing with this show is that I didn't expect to actually enjoy it; I just figured it could fit into the gap left by Gossip Girl as fun, trashy, content-free television. Happily, that is not the case! Superficially PLL is a soapy teen drama, full of shoplifting, improbable outfits, deadly secrets, on-again-off-again romances, and familial troubles, but beneath the trappings and tropes is a pleasantly subversive show. Most strikingly, PLL provides something that is all too rare in pop media: an apparently-bulletproof core of female friendships. In most TV shows in this ouvre, whether or not one or all of the girls would turn on each other would be a major and probably ongoing plot point; this never comes up in PLL. Even toward the middle of season three, when Emily believes her girlfriend Paige is innocent and the rest of the Liars do not, their friendship isn't killed or even really shaken. All involved acknowledge that they're at odds in this matter, and go about trying to find out the truth, business as usual. Spencer, Hanna, and Aria's main concern is keeping Emily safe, not proving her wrong. The narrative actually plays into this in season two, starting off an episode with the four apparently squabbling and squaring off, only to reveal that they're fake-fighting in order to play A (their mysterious anon threat) by using A's constant surveillance of them against him/her. The idea that the four friends will ever "break up" is basically unfathomable. For my money, instead of taking interest away from their interconnected relationships, this baseline of faith adds tension. Will there ever be something A can throw at them that will make one of them crack? Why is it so important for them to remain friends? Is the glue of their relationship just Ali, or something more? Where is the line between close friendship and insular co-dependence?


Another area in which PLL deviates from the norm is in romance. Perhaps most notably, one of the Liars is gay, with more than one relationship and nearly as many intimate scenes with her girlfriends as the other Liars have with their boyfriends. Emily's coming-out experience is given lots of depth and time on the screen, and her relationships are as plot-significant as Spencer, Aria, and Hanna's. None of the girls are shamed by the narrative for their sexual choices--not even Aria, when it would be so easy for the characters around her to slam her with the "daddy issues" label--and none of them are punished in any regard for having sex (at least not yet...it remains to be seen what Toby's angle is).  PLL deals fairly with its male characters as well as the female ones, and I was especially fond of the initial portrayal of Lucas, who was allowed to be a decent human being instead of an opportunistic Nice Guy, though his current personality status is up in the air. You could argue that Hanna's first encounter with Caleb falls under the "sex turns men into monsters" trope, but she makes the decision to walk away, rather than having Caleb love-and-leave her. Their ongoing relationship is unusually equitable, with the only power imbalances coming from the secret-keeping that is the show's backbone (and thus can't really be done away with), and refreshing in its portrayal of a "bad boy" character who a) doesn't need to be "tamed" because he isn't actually a bad person and b) is forthright about his feelings. Interestingly, the show also goes hard for older man/younger woman relationships (Spencer is involved in some degree with all of her adult sister's boyfriends/fiances, Aria is in a relationship with her English teacher and also has some weirdness with Jason DiLaurentis, and it's implied in the mid-season finale of season 3 that the deceased Alison DiLaurentis had some sort of relationship with Byron Montgomery, Aria's father, as well as other older guys). But, again, the show doesn't present any of the girls as victims--not even Ali--and it's consistently implied or shown outright that Aria and Spencer hold the power in their relationships, rather than being preyed upon by adult men. A might try to hold the Liars' relationships over their heads as bait or threat, but the narrative itself is on their side. Toby, eventually Spencer's boyfriend, is a survivor of a pretty fucked-up relationship with his (villainous, oddly compelling) stepsister Jenna, and it's also pretty rare to see a male rape survivor on a "family" network show. His experience and its effects have yet to be fully examined on the show, but given the Big Reveal of season 3 so far, I'm betting the latter half will go into the wherefore of Toby's actions.

Finally there's the Hanna/Ashley relationship. Hanna is my favorite character and a good part of the emotion behind that is how she interacts with her mother, Ashley Marin. Truthfully, all the girls have really interesting relationships with their mothers, but Hanna and Ashley hit a bit closer to home, possibly because it's just them in the house, which is something I relate to. They have many shared attributes: fashion sense, pride, stubbornness, protectiveness--and they also have a certain armor that covers an instinct for generosity. After Spencer and Veronica, Ashley and Hanna are the pairing where it's easiest to see the mother's influence on the daughter, for better or worse. Watching their relationship develop in two and a half seasons has been far more rewarding than six seasons of Lily and Serena backstabbing each other and then falling back to "but we love each other because we're family" on Gossip Girl. Perhaps not as quippy as Rory and Lorelai or as moving as Joyce and Buffy, but certainly as cutthroat as Lily and Serena, Hanna and Ashley are up there in my pantheon of favorite moms and daughters. Here's hoping for a bit more inspection of Hanna's relationship to food and her mother's relationship to sex (no, really, I do wonder a bit if her romance with Pastor Ted will wind up being similar to Hanna's with Sean).

Pretty Little Liars isn't a perfect television show, but it's more than adequate as  both an engaging drama and commentary on pop culture and the socialization of teenage girls in the US. It presents a realistic situation for many teen girls wrapped in the ostensibly ridiculous premise of a friend's murder: that a person's entire world is watching them, waiting for them to screw up, itching to take them down or shame them in any way possible, gossip about them, be cruel to them or force them to be cruel to others, present them with an array of impossible choices. That is teenagehood for many girls--a claustrophobic atmosphere of nerves, indecision, judgment, and fear. At worst, PLL normalizes bad behavior--shoplifting, lying, blackmail, bullying (an accusation lobbed at many teen shows and one I don't have much time for); at best it invites discussion about those behaviors and their roots through the exaggeration and heightened stakes of the Liars' world.

Friday, December 07, 2012

The Kamelot Superpost, Part 3: Iconography of Kamelot

Karma, Epica, and The Black Halo form the core of Kamelot's catalogue, with The Black Halo still being hailed as one of the greatest power metal records in the history of the genre. It was with these three albums that Kamelot really came into their own and refined their sound, placing themselves at the front of the European power metal scene. Thematically, Karma followed in the pattern of The Fourth Legacy with fantasy and myth-inspired lyrics on many tracks (particularly the record's three-part epic "Elizabeth," about the legendary Elizabeth Bathory), but also branched out with two of the band's most popular love songs, "Forever" and "Temples of Gold," as well as the deeply personal ballad "Don't You Cry," written about guitarist Thomas Youngblood's father. The telltale themes of love and loss are strongly present on Karma; all three ballads are concerned with the loss of a loved one, whether it be romantic or familial love. The title track and "Elizabeth" encapsulate another of Kamelot's favorite themes: the lines between holiness and profanity, physical desire and spiritual longing. This theme would be expanded upon between Epica and The Black Halo, but on Karma it takes the shape of reflections on power, creating one's own immortality--and thus sidestepping God--and desire to escape mundane ties or the corporeal form and its strictures, and ascend to something greater. Both a heavily mystical album, between the monster-themed "The Spell" and the blood magic of "Elizabeth," and a personal one with "Don't You Cry," Karma blew open the doors to gorgeous, powerful metal, refining what The Fourth Legacy had begun.

(album cover from Prog Archives)

Epica and The Black Halo form a diptych of concept albums centered around a loose interpretation of Goethe's epic Faust, with Khan and guest singers, including Shagrath of Dimmu Borgir and Simone Simons of Epica (yes, they named their band after Kamelot's album), taking on specific personae in order to tell the story through song. These core characters are listed below:
  • Ariel (sung by Khan)
  • Helena (sung by Mari Youngblood)
  • Marguerite (sung by Simone Simons)
  • Mephisto (sung by Khan on Epica and Shagrath on The Black Halo)
"Center of the Universe" and "The Edge of Paradise" present a pairing tied together by the theme of egoism--a trenchant topic in both Conception and Kamelot's music, which in this case deals with the (possibly vainglorious) soul-searching of Ariel and encapsulates the crux of his quest: he will forsake earthly treasures, including the love of his life, Helena (and even God, as seen in the song "Farewell"), in pursuit of higher spiritual knowledge. At the outset, Ariel's journey is the fruit of his own vanity; however, eventually he is tempted by Mephisto and falls prey to the demon's wiles and promises. Sacred and profane desires intermingle in "On the Coldest Winter Night" when Ariel encounters Helena once more, and this is where the core themes of the album emerge. Though in love with Helena enough to spend the night--and a few weeks after--with her, Ariel then shelves her in order to continue his quest. Despite his ostensibly pure intentions of shielding her from Mephisto's evil, his actions result in Helena's suicide and the death of the child she carries. Once Ariel discovers this (in the depressingly named "The Mourning After"...way harsh, Tai), his journey takes on a new dimension of redeeming himself for causing her death. It's also implied that Helena, in Heaven with her child, has become the symbol of what Ariel is searching for, though he won't become aware of that until The Black Halo. Helena serves as Ariel's moral centerpoint throughout the story, alive and dead, an icon of purity, goodness, and clarity; whether this is fair to her or not is debatable. Ultimately Epica finds Ariel alone and wrecked by his desires--though not necessarily his physical ones. The narrative doesn't indict Ariel for his love, but rather for placing his desire for otherworldly knowledge above the very real, earthly factors of Helena and their child.

Musically, Epica finds Kamelot riding the rising wave of Karma, delving into a more symphonic sound with expanded keyboard sections, female vocals, and choir backing suitable for themes of salvation and damnation. The record also utilizes "interlude" segments that are reminiscent of film soundtracks--Poetry for the Poisoned would perfect this trick--and act as transitions between major plot occurrences, such as Ariel meeting and leaving Helena. Rifftastic guitar lines abound, and the album's atmosphere runs from the pure power metal glory of "Center of the Universe" to the haunting ballad "Wander" to the operatic prog of "III Ways to Epica."

(album cover from Prog Archives)

The Black Halo, Kamelot's magnum opus, is the concluding half of the Goethe story and picks up with Mephisto's ongoing seduction of Ariel via a woman named Marguerite, who bears an uncanny resemblance to the dead Helena. An area where Kamelot steps outside the bounds of their fellow power metallers somewhat is in terms of erotism--Rhapsody of Fire, for instance, is apparently adhering to a strict no-sex policy, lyrically speaking. Kamelot imbues many of their songs, particularly on The Black Halo, with oblique nuggets such as "how could that first time recur" and "I see her shame in my desire." "When the Lights Are Down" is a lengthy metaphor for sex cloaked in a veil of loneliness and betrayal, while "The Haunting" and "This Pain" drive the point home. The album's simultaneous concern with carnal passion and sacred wisdom can be interpreted in a few ways: first, there is the ever-present influence of chaste courtly love narratives, in which the male voice speaks of and longs for his lady love from afar but may or may not actually consummate things; second, there is the possibility of Ariel's romantic/physical desire being ultimately the same drive as his lust for spiritual knowledge and higher wisdom. I think the latter point is more likely, given that in "Memento Mori" Ariel dies, ascends to Heaven, and finds Helena waiting for him--she has become the embodiment of his salvation and his reward all in one. However, these two angles may be synthesized as well, since aspects of courtly love infuse all of Kamelot's albums from Siege Perilous up through Ghost Opera, mingling seamlessly with their ongoing themes of personal search and development.

Though like its companion album The Black Halo is derived from Faust, for my money it also evokes another of Kamelot's favorite literary sources: Arthurian legends. Specifically, Ariel's interactions with Marguerite call to mind Lancelot's relationships with Guenever and Elaine--to be brief, Lancelot is tricked into sleeping with Elaine under the belief that she is Guenever (in his defense, he's super drunk). White emphasizes that the triangle between Lancelot, Guenever, and Arthur is actually a quadrangle, with God being the fourth partner, as Lancelot vacillates between trying to be a good Christian and a good lover to Gwen. This is eminently relevant to The Black Halo, witnessed when Ariel is seduced into sex with Marguerite while believing she is Helena returned from the dead, and echoes the themes of Epica, which show him torn between his love for Helena and his obsession with obtaining arcane knowledge. It's possible that something of Khan's private life came into play in creating these two albums as well; both have a personal vibe unique from more typical fantasy-derived power metal lyrics (in this interview Khan talks about how his personal life inspired many of his lyrics). Regardless of where exactly the core inspirations for The Black Halo came from, the band capitalized on the tensions arising from soul-searching, epic quests, and heartache to create a record both mythological in scope and human in perspective.

(album cover from Prog Archives)
The production on The Black Halo is flawless, showing off every aspect of Kamelot's arsenal, from Khan's pipes to Palotai's keyboards. The guest vocalists and musicians add even more layers to increasingly complex music, and the array of songs displays a band capable of switching from passionate ballads such as "Abandoned" to the riff-heavy "Moonlight" and the intricate "Memento Mori," one of Kamelot's longest single-part songs. Taken together, Epica and The Black Halo are Kamelot's most iconic albums, and the albums most indicative of their distinctive sound and songwriting prowess: essential, textbook Kamelot.

Necessary Tracks: "Temples of Gold" from Karma, "III Ways to Epica" from Epica, and "Memento Mori" (live) from The Black Halo.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

The Kamelot Superpost, Part 2: Finding Focus

In 1997, former Conception vocalist Roy Khan joined Kamelot; the following year the band released Siege Perilous, their third album and the first to feature Khan on vocals and Casey Grillo on drums. Another record oft-overlooked by fans, Siege Perilous is a bit more well-regarded by people who don't consider themselves Kamelot devotees (one Encylcopedia Metallum review refers to the genre as "flower-metal" but gives this album a good review. So there you have it!); it's a bit rougher and murkier than what was in the cards, with Khan still finding his footing, but a bad album it is not. Both lyrically and musically, Siege Perilous is firmly within the boundaries of power metal: operatic vocals, fantasy-themed lyrics, and speedy guitars. Arthurian mythology appeared for the first, but definitely not last, time on a Kamelot record with the title itself, referencing a particular seat at the Round Table; other fantastic elements found in the lyrics include references to the fantasy roleplaying world RhyDin and questing/adventure plots typical of power metal, such as "King's Eyes" and "Expedition." At this point, Khan had not yet joined with Youngblood for full lyric-writing duties, and penned only three songs on Siege Perilous. However, these three were indicative of the themes and motifs that would arise in his writing going forward; "Millennium" and "Parting Visions" (the former containing a familiar phrase for close listeners who happen to be Conception fans, AKA me) focus on personal quests, the hunt for truth, and struggles between earthly knowledge and heavenly wisdom, while "Irea" sets a template for songs mourning a lost love. Perhaps most significantly, "Irea" places the hope of the narrator's salvation on the shoulders of the woman he loves, a situation which pops up continuously in Khan and Youngblood's lyrics.

  (album covers from Prog Archives)

The Fourth Legacy, released in 2000, was the first record to really put Kamelot on the map as an international power metal force to be reckoned with. With glossier production than previous albums (the band themselves produced Siege Perilous), outright joyful guitar work, and plenty of Khan's operatic pipes, this fourth album remains the most typically power metal Kamelot gets--and it also laid the groundwork for what was to come. Not to say that what followed was formulaic in any way, but the big hooks, impressive vocals, emotive ballads, and connective, coherent lyrics found on The Fourth Legacy formed a foundation Kamelot continued to build and expand on. Overall, The Fourth Legacy showcased a band that was hitting its stride, molding a unique sound, and shaping its personal mythology. Featuring several soaring anthems worthy of being staples on every power metal fist-pumpers playlist (including the title track and "Until Kingdom Come"), lyrically the album mines familiar thematic territory: kings and crowns, mystical female figures, mythic-historical settings--this time with "Desert Reign," "Knights of Arabia," and "Alexandria," all featuring desert-flavored keyboard work--and the Arthurian tune "The Shadow of Uther." 

"Silent Goddess," "Until Kingdom Come," and "The Inquistor" in particular spell out some of what would become Kamelot's narrative signatures: faceless women who hold the narrator's life and soul in their hands, and a servant of God who's more akin to the Devil. The voice of the cleric in "The Inquisitor" is similar to the voice of Mephisto on Epica and The Black Halo--a taunting allure that promises wisdom and everlasting life, through means not so different as they should be. Meanwhile, the women of "Silent Goddess" and "Until Kingdom Come" foreshadow the saga of Helena; cast in terms of destiny and pleas to elevate the narrator's soul, these figures are never glimpsed up-close, never speak themselves. Instead they, along with the woman in "A Sailorman's Hymn," function as beacons for the questing soul. Various aspects of courtly romance can be found in these tracks, from the princesse lointaine embodied by all three (particularly the silent goddess) to the possibility that the narrator subscribes to a chivalric code, which will ultimately test his loyalty to his lady. This lyrical ambivalence would be played up and ultimately resolved as Kamelot's career moved forward.

Necessary Tracks: "Where I Reign" from Siege Perilous (note: this link goes to the full album on Youtube; "Where I Reign" is the fifth track) and "Until Kingdom Come" from The Fourth Legacy.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Stick a fork in me, I'm done

I don't know how the makers of Pretty Little Liars manage to actually lace their show with crack, but

it's a problem.

A glorious problem.
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