Kamelot

The Black Halo

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Much to their credit, American progressive metal stalwarts Kamelot have consistently tread a very distinctive and personal path throughout their career, paying little mind to popular trends or passing fashions, and, as a result, gaining a fan following more dedicated than most. These fans won't be disappointed with the band's seventh studio album, 2005's typically accomplished and eclectic The Black Halo, which immediately bucks ordinary metallic expectations when it chooses the majestic, slow-building "March of Mephisto" as an opener ahead of second track "When the Lights Go Down"'s opening of the power metal floodgates. Of course that's because, despite often running in similar performing and recording circles (this album, in fact, being cut in Germany) as Europe's power metal elite, Kamelot easily transcend most subgenre limitations by looking both backwards and forwards, to classic heavy metal and progressive metal horizons, respectively. Enter the band's on-going study of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's poetic dramatization of Faust, a project carried over from their previous album, 2003's Epica, and interwoven into much of the band's own concepts here. Much like a three-act play, these 14 cuts appear to be clustered in accordance with a vague overall plot, and come partitioned by three interludes, the second of which is particularly interesting and original for featuring visitor Cinzia Rizzo singing in Italian. In fact, guest appearances abound throughout The Black Halo, with, among others, Dimmu Borgir throat Shagrath and Epica siren Simone Simons both lending their voices and characters to a song or two, and Stratovarius keyboardist Jens Johansson adding his remarkable talents to a couple of tunes as well. But, no matter how many luminaries drop in, it's ever the members of Kamelot themselves holding down the fort on masterful examples of regal, often symphonically-enhanced heavy metal like "The Haunting (Somewhere in Time)," the title track, and the stunning, eight-minute album centerpiece "Memento Mori." And in vocalist Roy Khan -- quite simply one of the most versatile and expressive in any rock field -- Kamelot have a truly difference-making force (see his tour de force in the glorious ballad "Abandoned"), and one which, for all his formidable lung capacity, never threatens to overwhelm the efforts of his equally talented bandmates. Sure enough, by the time it finally finishes unfolding in such unpredictable and personal fashion almost an hour later (via the surging "Serenade"), The Black Halo has staked a claim for best ever Kamelot album -- and therefore a highly recommended album by any standards.

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