Nightwish/Kamelot in Austin: Karevik and Jansen Hit Their Stride

 

I figured I’d follow up my previous blog entry about Anette Olzon’s abrupt departure from Nightwish with something a little more positive and music related, namely, a few quick thoughts about the Nightwish/Kamelot performance on October 10th at Emo’s in Austin, Texas. By now forums, Reddit, and a ton of other places online have been filling up with talk of just how Floor Jansen and Tommy Karevik have been handling their new roles respectively as the vocalists of Nightwish and Kamelot. To be accurate, Karevik has had a longer gestation period (going on a few months) as Roy Khan’s official replacement — Jansen has had a scant ten days and seven shows to acclimate herself to her new role and the band’s setlist. Most fans are understanding of this fact, knowing that over time and subsequent performances, she’d get better and find the right vocal approach for each song, but this being the internet, there have been a fair share of grumblers, nit-pickers, and cries for Tarja. I went into Wednesday night’s show with a mind to focus on both Karevik and Jansen in particular and to try to just come away with a honest fan’s take.

 

Kamelot was first, walking out in front of a backdrop of the cover of their upcoming “Silverthorn” release. They started off with what struck me as a surprise, two songs from the Ghost Opera record followed immediately by “The Great Pandemonium” from their most recent, Poetry for the Poisoned. There’s nothing inherently wrong about those choices but you’d figure that a band on tour with a new vocalist would try to shoot from the earlier classic era material straight off the bat in a fast approach to try to win over skeptics. Regardless, from the word go Karevik blew me away with his near perfect singing, seemingly effortless reach of higher registers, and his ability to inflect emotion into all the requisite moments that Roy Khan had so pinned down on the records.

 

The band surprised me by bringing out “Seasons End” for this tour, a bonus track left off the initial non-Japanese Ghost Opera releases and one of the band’s true gems. Karevik and guest touring vocalist Elize Ryd (Amaranthe) sang together a powerful rendition of the song and traded off solo A cappella sections of the refrain towards the end only to join back in together for one ultimate climactic chorus. The rest of Kamelot’s short set (they were opening after all) was excellent, but it was “Seasons End” that really sold me on their choice of Karevik — at least as a live vocalist. I hate to say it, because I love the mighty Khan, but Karevik really did appear to be a genuinely better vocalist on stage, and as a frontman he was engaging and didn’t miss a cue and just as importantly he seems to have calmed down on his European tour habits of trying to over hype the crowd. Now comes the album on October 30th, the final test.

 

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aTrAyYteTTw&w=560&h=315]

 

 

As for Nightwish, I got the feeling from talking to people in the line outside and in the crowd in the venue that most fans in attendance were pretty much fine with the decision to replace vocalists mid-tour, generally not out of any real malice towards Olzon but just out of the simple satisfaction of being able to see the band live at all. Nightwish has toured the States before, but the tours have been few and far between, and who knows how many years it will be even before the next Nightwish album is out. The fact that the tour wasn’t canceled was seen as something of a miracle by those who were aware of the details of the band’s recent situation. As far as thoughts about the new vocalist… I saw a few After Forever shirts out there, but got the impression that most people didn’t know all that much about Floor Jansen.

 

So I’ll go out on a limb here and say something blunt that might bite me in the ass later down the line: I think Nightwish have found their permanent vocalist. If its not Floor Jansen, then they might as well just openly state that they’ll be using a rotating cast of female singers from this point onwards. She was not only surprisingly great, but there were stunningly amazing moments such as on “Ever Dream” where she delivered the song’s chorus in its true to original spirit of ever increasing high notes. I looked over to the right side of the stage during those moments to see Nightwish guitarist Emppu Vuorinen grinning in reaction in what appeared to be genuine surprise. Jansen was recovering from a cold during the first few shows of this tour but she said in a recent online posting that she’s now able to belt everything out at her full capacity. It certainly sounded that way.

 

 

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mXdrBCOLHX4&w=560&h=315]

 

 

The biggest surprise of the night was an airing of the “Once” album cut and fan favorite “Ghost Love Score”, which hadn’t been played since 2009. Interestingly enough my view was somewhat blocked at this point by longtime Nightwish manager Ewo Pohjola who quietly slipped into the audience to watch the band try its first attempt at performing this song with Jansen. They pulled it off, as well as the rest of the largely Imaginaerum based set list. The only moment that could be pointed out for possibly losing the crowd was “Slow Love Slow”, which works incredibly well on the album with all its moody subtleties, but doesn’t seem to translate as well live. My only other gripe would have to be the morphing of “Nemo” into an acoustic rendition, as opposed to the full dramatic flair of the original. With a singer that good, you should let her open up on your biggest hit — just saying.

 

Kamelot’s Silverthorn: First Listen of the Lead Single “Sacrimony”

So yea, I realize that “Sacrimony (Angel of Afterlife)” has been in Kamelot’s recent setlists throughout the summer festival season and that there are recorded live versions floating around YouTube. I also realize that they’ve been of godawful sound quality and it was really hard to make heads or tails of what this new song and lead off single from the Silverthorn album actually sounded like. But today marks the official release of perhaps the most highly anticipated metal single of 2012 — and Tommy Karevik’s Kamelot studio debut — and I’ve been listening to it periodically throughout the day to form an impression.

 

Those of you who had read my recent article on The Legacy of Roy Khan know that I had voiced my concern about how a Khan-less Kamelot could potentially suffer without his tremendous songwriting input. It was worrisome because with all due respect to Thomas Youngblood, the early Kamelot records without Khan’s songwriting presence were mediocre at best. Word was out that Youngblood and keyboardist Oliver Palotai had already been working on 6-7 songs as early as January 2012 — would they even bother to wait for their new vocalist’s input?  I loved what Karevik brought to the table in Seventh Wonder in terms of his rather skillful ability to create memorable and soaring vocal melodies and arrangements and I wanted this injected into the new Kamelot material.

 

Well it was good news that was recently provided to us by Kamelot France as revealed in their interview with Youngblood:

 

KF: Last January 2012 you revealed that 6 or 7 songs were already co-written with Oliver; when and how did Tommy step into the process?

Youngblood: Around February, we started sending him ideas for songs. Song for Jolee was the first one, then Solitaire and so on. He worked closely with Sascha (Paeth, producer) in Wolfsburg on the vocals and lyrics. For the most part he did all the lyrics along with Sascha. I did some lyrics and we all worked together on the concept and storyline.

 

That comes as bit of a relief, and one hell of a smart decision because upon the very first listen to “Sacrimony” its clear that Karevik’s input is all over the vocal melodies for the song, particularly its surging, arcing chorus. The song is a juxtaposition between slow crawling verse sections marked by stop start riffing and atmospheric keyboard soundscapes that leap up into a swoopingly fast chorus section. Karevik is eventually joined by Amaranthe vocalist Elize Ryd who appears on a tension raising bridge section, the songs most brilliant moment — their two voices in succession pushing the chorus to a greater height. But then there’s a passage in the middle of the song preceding the solo section in which The Agonist’s Alissa White-Gluz delivers a raspy-grim vocal that just comes off as fairly pointless.  A strange outro concludes the last half a minute or so with a plucked guitar figure alongside the distorted voice of a child singing “Ring Around the Rosie” — its fine but I find it to be a less than satisfying way to end a song… though I guess you could call that nitpicking.

 

My overall take on “Sacrimony” can be summed up by saying that if this ends up being the worst song off the Silverthorn album, then Kamelot will be in good shape, and I certainly hope that is the case. Its not a bad song per say, I really enjoy the chorus and in particular the sweeping drama of the bridge that precedes it. Its everything else in the verse sections that come off as slightly clunky in that aggravating way that suggests had more time been invested in working on the song, it perhaps could have been molded into something far smoother. Kamelot doesn’t do abrupt and jarring all that well, one of their trademarks is flow and smoothness. It should be noted that in the very same Kamelot France interview Youngblood noted that “Sacrimony” was the last song written for the album, the bulk of it apparently composed in a day, with Karevik adding vocal melodies over the top later. Its clear when listening to it that perhaps they didn’t leave enough room for him to weave in more fluid verse melodies. One can only hope that the other songs didn’t suffer the same fate.

 

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LvWT-7l6vJU&w=560&h=315]

 

 

Kamelot: The Legacy of Roy Khan

 

 

 

Timing can be a tricky thing. I had been thinking a lot about Kamelot recently, and the reality of their future without their now ex-vocalist, the mighty Roy Khan. I had to admit, as a fan of the band I’ve harbored worries —- the loss of a vocalist is a shakeup that few bands can endure with continued creative and commercial success and this is amplified in the case of the vocalist being very distinctive. So I had begun to write a piece on my doubts, and the reasons for them and had planned on it being published just before Kamelot announced their new vocalist. Of course, on the day I planned to publish, Kamelot lifted the curtains on the identity of Khan’s long speculated upon replacement: namely Seventh Wonder’s own Tommy Karevik. Well, I’m proud to say that I called it (among others certainly), Karevik had long been one of the candidates on most fans shortlists, he was certainly my favored choice and its not exactly a surprise that he’s been given the position. It makes sense, he seems to fit in with the band vocally, and he did fill in for Khan on select shows in 2010 to proven success. I feel a touch more confident with the band going forward with Karevik, in that they’ll be able to release something that is not a jarring stylistic departure due to a new vocalist being radically different (i.e. Blaze Bailey and The X Factor). My confidence is restrained however, by my speculation of the larger possibility that Kamelot’s future will be defined not by what they have gained, but by what they have lost.

 

 

Roy Khan’s emotive and expressive vocals are by this point well-known to most of the metal community at large. His smooth delivery, subtle accent, and near perfect inflection and timbre were one of Kamelot’s defining attributes during his tenure with the band. He wielded attributes rarely found in power metal vocalists: richness, texture, depth, and a touch of melancholy. Soon after being introduced to the band through their sixth album Epica, it became apparent to me that there was more to Kamelot than just a great voice; there was intelligent and articulate songwriting at the heart of their music. In this I saw the continuing evolution of a stylistic legacy that the once mighty Queensryche had long ago abandoned. Khan and band founder/guitarist Thomas Youngblood were to me the second coming of the untouchable Geoff Tate/Chris DeGarmo songwriting team that had penned so much of the classic music that I loved in the ‘Ryche. The jump in songwriting quality from Kamelot’s first two albums with original vocalist Mark Vanderbilt (as well as the first Khan vocal-helmed album Siége Perilous), to Khan’s songwriting debut in the masterful The Fourth Legacy was simply immeasurable. Soon after hearing more Khan-Youngblood classic albums such as Karma, and Epica sequel The Black Halo, the deficiencies of many other bands in the genre grew to disproportionate sizes in my eyes. Many of the power metal bands I was listening to in earnest prior to discovering Kamelot now seemed dramatically inferior in comparison; their lyrics trite, subject matter shallow, and musically lacking. I was finding it harder and harder to enjoy many of them to the degree that I once did. In my initiations with Kamelot’s discography, I discovered that Khan’s role as a songwriter and lyricist was a huge factor in the quantum leap that Kamelot took from being a Crimson Glory-soundalike to a truly remarkable, original, and fresh force in modern power metal.

 

Khan’s songwriting legacy within Kamelot is deep and full of nuance. By becoming Kamelot’s lyricist he brought to the songs a poet’s gift, the ability for the band’s songs to shine beyond the music. As for his newly found songwriting partner Thomas Youngblood, he pushed the guitarist to rethink and expand his vision of Kamelot’s sound, right down to fundamentals such as tempos and song structure. His talent for creating vocal melodies and imagining the surrounding harmony arrangements with all their intricacies and subtleties melded with Youngblood’s natural talent for cranking out melodic yet powerful and tastefully restrained riffage, and as a result pushed the guitarist’s budding creativity.  Conversely, as seen on The Fourth Legacy album, Youngblood had a more straight ahead metal oriented songwriting approach than that of Tore Østby (Khan’s former Conception band mate and primary songwriter), and this urged Khan to get inventive in terms of how he’d develop and place vocal melodies, as well as adapt the phrasing of his smoother than most delivery to faster, heavier, more aggressively oriented metal. These results were often beautifully intricate, such as in the spectacular “Nights of Arabia” and “The Shadow of Uther”, where the verses and chorus feature alternating vocal tempos and styles to supreme dramatic effect. A further nod to creative expansion was introduced within the band’s repertoire in the form of spare, haunting, acoustic ballads. There Khan’s ability to carry a song’s melody on his vocal chords alone was put on full glorious display, as in “The Sailorman’s Hymn” and “Glory”, both moments where Khan’s lyrical storytelling abilities were allowed to blossom while Youngblood proved that he was as capable of delicate, spacious, finger-plucking as he was flashy, furious soloing. The two band mates meshed together on that album and challenged and improved each other, and it was only the beginning of a jaw dropping body of collaborative work.

 

 

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4_5X3FwzVeI&w=560&h=315]

 

 

I keep mentioning Khan’s superlative abilities as a lyricist, and in truth the quality of lyrics don’t seem to be something that most metal fans fixate upon in general for reasons that are easy enough to understand. Most average metal bands get by on rather clunky, clumsy, and often lazy lyrics that work in a utilitarian way at best, while the appreciation of the music itself takes center stage. With Kamelot, Khan’s crystal clear vocals placed up front in the mix naturally put the spotlight upon his lyrics and he connected to listeners with his innate ability to tell stories, create interesting narrative perspectives, and offer elegant poetic verse and inventive phrasing. I’m not the only one who noticed, on the Amazon.com page for the Epica album the prolific reviewer LordChimp wrote: “Khan — in addition to being a prime singer is an outstanding lyricist, full of evocative colors and depth and beautiful diction”. Well put, and he’s not the only one who’s noticed: Kamelot fans have been vocal about their appreciation not only for Khan’s poetic voice, but for his ability to craft detailed concept albums with intricately woven stories, and imaginative narrative perspectives —- and never having it sound forced, or crammed in just for the sake of fitting it all in somehow.

 

 

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jn4nzFmyNfw&w=560&h=315]

 

 

They’re referring to moments such as in the ballad “Wander”, where Khan paints a memory of a meeting between the concept album’s tragic protagonists in a setting that is depicted by simple, evocative phrases: “I recall one summers night / Within the month of June / Flowers in mahogany hair / And smell of earth in bloom”. The disconsolate narrator reflects upon the bittersweet agony of this memory in the gently soaring chorus, “Silently we wander / Into this void of consequence / My shade will always haunt her / But she will be my guiding light”. Those last two poignant lines, juxtaposition the path of the two protagonists lives in a starkly elegant manner, and serve as foreshadowing within the greater context of Epica’s Faustian storyline. In the album’s watershed song “Lost and Damned”, Khan twists and bends the verse lyrics to fit over accordion, piano and strings played in loose waltz-like rhythms only to dramatically plunge headlong into one of the band’s most bracing, urgent choruses. The lyrics deliver an appreciable musing on the workings of fate without having to clonk us on the head and actually use the terms fate, or destiny: “Don’t ask why / Don’t be sad / Sometimes we all must alter paths we planned / Only try — Understand / I want to save you / From the Lost and Damned”. Against the Faustian backdrop of the Epica storyline, this song is not only a pivotal moment of action for the album’s protagonist, Ariel, but a brilliantly executed set piece within the story. It is literally Ariel standing in front of the object of his affection, as she weeps, speaking the lyrics out to her, and we know this simply due to Khan deftly penning “Helena don’t you cry / Believe me; I do this for you / Heed my decision now / I will be gone tomorrow noon”. I could sit here listing countless other examples of similar literary devices and dramatic technique found within Khan’s lyrics across his entire spectrum of work with the band, but it’d take forever and this isn’t meant to be a literature lecture —- just one fan’s passion about what the guy brought to metal.

 

 

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UwCnOCYhHuI&w=560&h=315]

 

 

When Steph Perry of Rocknotes interviewed Khan back in 2009, she mentioned to him “In the song “Temples Of Gold”, there’s the lyric “little did we know that they were life itself, the days passing by”. That’s just pure poetry. You don’t even need a song behind it“. Khan responded,

 

The lyrics have always been really important to me. There’s so many bands that, I don’t know how they feel about it themselves of course but there’s a lot of bands that I feel don’t put enough into the lyrics. They focus on the music and song and everything’s great but the lyrics seem to be lacking something. There’s other bands that have brilliant lyrics too and much better lyrics for that matter. In our genre I feel there’s a lot of lyrics that definitely could have been more worked on let’s put it that way. I guess it’s just that I like to play with words, I like to say things in ways that make people stop and think. It’s very important to me. I really like writing lyrics. It doesn’t always take that long though, even though people may think that [laughs].

 

His comments regarding his dedication to his craft speak volumes, and he is diplomatic about his perceptions of the lyrics found in other bands’ work, particularly within similar genres —- perhaps too diplomatic. He schooled them all, and ruined Stratovarius for me (sorry Kotipelto!). I consider Khan’s role in Kamelot as vitally important, he was half of the driving force that helped to shape the sound, style, and vision of the band’s work. Their last two albums, Ghost Opera and Poetry for the Poisoned, while not on the same peerless level as their conceptual predecessors, were still packed with memorable songs of sweeping drama, and Khan’s trademark ear for vocal melody and unforgettable lyrics. He never dropped the ball in that regard; where it counted for artistry’s sake, in the studio and forever documented on record.

 

 

 

 

Unfortunately he seemed to struggle with the toll a punishing live schedule was taking on his vocal chords as well as the effects of age (older songs had been noticeably tuned down live to compensate for his diminishing range), and performances had been slightly spotty in his last few years on the road. He seemed to be making a resurgence in the spring/summer of 2010, where his documented live appearances sounded fresh and revitalized, but soon after the hammer was dropped: Khan went on hiatus, citing burnout and exhaustion, and a little over six months later his statement confirming his resignation was officially released. By this point, the stunning shock had worn off and it didn’t come as a surprise, just a profoundly depressing acceptance. There was a curious footnote to that statement,

 

I am eternally thankful for everything you and KAMELOT have given me and equally sorry that it has to end here. The good news is; God was there after all…”     – Roy Khan

 

 

Many of Kamelot’s songs dealt thematically with universal themes such as love, death, hope, despair, and faith —- in particular the loss and search for faith. Its been interesting as a fan to go back through the albums, and see that particular theme crop up over and over, in a way that I had not noticed before. No one will ever accuse Kamelot of being a religious band, certainly not a Christian band, but it does seem that Khan was quietly embedding a great deal of his personal struggles into his lyrics, even on up to his final album with them, as seen in “Once Upon a Time”: “I won’t stay to stand in line / Or wait for God to shine all over me / I wait for the storm”. His former band mate Youngblood was unable to adequately explain his former singer’s religious awakening, but did credit it with leading the singer down his path to leaving Kamelot. In a recent Q&A by the guitarist on the band’s Facebook page, he unloaded a stunner about Khan’s present activities: “Before making the final choice on the new singer, we did correspond via email. I know he’s in good health, working in Norway. When he quit Kamelot he also chose to quit the music business and seems to be very happy.” Never say never, but that sounds to me like the end of a music career, and while I suppose I’m glad the guy is apparently happy, I find it tragic in the sense that he still has a world of talent that will potentially remain untapped. I was at least hoping for a Conception reunion, a solo album, a guest appearance, anything! Sadly, its a quiet end to a deafening career.

 

 

Some Kamelot fans grew nervous (and some irate) that Fabio Leone, the band’s choice as a long term touring fill-in could even be considered as Khan’s replacement, and while I admired the guy’s effort when I caught the band live, I quietly agreed with them. Enter Tommy Karevik. I’ve been listening to The Great Escape by Karevik’s previous (and apparently still current) band Seventh Wonder. It and its immediate predecessor Mercy Falls have been striking a chord with me that I’ve been unable to get from them in the past. I’m not sure why, maybe its my subconscious projecting its hopes about a Karevik-fronted Kamelot that’s doing it… regardless, I’m enjoying them, though not loving them. Karevik was apparently chosen on the grounds that he is also a primary songwriter for Seventh Wonder, and a lyricist as well. While I can see some skill in his lyric writing in these songs, its a far cry from the sheer quality that Kamelot fans are used to, or at least this one anyway. He has a pretty good voice, and as I mentioned before, his takes on Kamelot songs when filling in for Khan live were strong. Its unfair to compare him to Roy but to be frank about it, he has huge shoes to fill. A great, passionate new album that showcases his writing abilities in a way that pushes Kamelot forward is the only way to step out of Khan’s immense shadow. I hope he and the guys pull it off, I don’t want my admiration for the band to diminish, and as for Roy Khan himself, I hope he makes a return to music, in any form. If he doesn’t, I’m glad I got to see him live, and glad that he stuck around long enough to build what can rightly be called a legacy.

I’ll get to work, after one more episode…

 

If you hadn’t noticed, I’ve been absent from posting anything new for almost a whole month here. And while I’m grateful for the couple of emails I received from a few folks asking me why the hell I’ve been lollygagging(!) around and not updating, I must confess: I needed a break. Not that this blog’s output has been particularly prolific, as I’ll always favor quality over quantity, longer more in-depth writing rather than short bursts of message board quality troll like commentary, nevertheless I was starting to feel like I needed some time to catch up on the rapidly piling up stack of new music I hadn’t properly digested yet. I was still listening to metal during the last month, but doing so freely, as opposed to the schedule laid out by various album release dates. There was a lot of revisiting an individual artist’s back catalog, checking out releases from bands I had stopped paying attention to for the past few years to see what they’ve been up to, as well as just deciding to listen to some personally designated classic albums — there was a lot of repeat listens to Therion’s Symphony Masses for example.

 

In addition to all that, I just felt the urge to indulge in some interests away from metal for a little bit. Its something that I think a lot of us who write about music or various other topics go through every now and then but keep to ourselves. But the reality is that sometimes you just need to spend a few days in a row crashing on the couch after work to watch yet another complete season of Mi-5 on Netflix, catch up on 360 games, or just tune everything out and read a book. I think I’ve spent an unreasonable amount of time in the past feeling privately ashamed that I’ll occasionally wake up with Good Morning America or NPR instead of (insert thrash/death/black metal classic here), but I’ve gotten older to such a point where that kind of thinking is uncomfortably childish. Perhaps it is simply growing into adulthood, but I’d like to think that my lack of one hundred percent focus on all things metal is far more beneficial than not. I’m sure this concept isn’t exactly a revelation to many of you, but it has been to me over the past few years, and its taken time to adjust. When I decided to author a metal blog, I knew going in that things would get difficult when I hit these speed bumps, but I think that going forward I finally have an idea of how to creatively embrace those brief lapses in metal concentration for the purposes of this blog.

 

 

With that being said, its about to pass a half a year since I first launched, and I’d like to take a moment to thank those of you who have been reading (or at least subscribing and ignoring – I’ll take it!). I’ve already had far more viewership than I could have possibly imagined at such an early stage, and hope to continue to build on that in the months and years to come. Here’s whats coming up this week and beyond:

  • A comprehensive look back at the past month of new releases by Sabaton, Dragonforce, Sonata Arctica, Grand Magus, Kreator, and Burzum.
  • I’ll ponder the potential of a Roy Khan-less Kamelot, examine just how vital his role was in the band’s artistic successes, and discuss how he will be extremely difficult, and perhaps near impossible to replace.
  • Crazy from the Heat! Metal and the arrival of summer.

 

 

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