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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.

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