Kamelot - Poetry for the poisoned 3.5/5
1. The great pandemonium
2. If tomorrow came
3. Dear editor
4. The Zodiac
5. Hunter’s season
6. House on a hill
8. My train of thoughts
9. Seal of woven years
10. Poetry for the poisoned pt. 1 – Incubus
11. Poetry for the poisoned pt. 2 – So long
12. Poetry for the poisoned pt. 3 – All is over
13. Poetry for the poisoned pt. 4 – Dissection
14. Once upon a time
A ripple of excitement always accompanies a new Kamelot CD, but I must admit I approached this one with a degree of trepidation. The gradual shift away from the upbeat power metal style of their breakthrough at the end of the 90s came to a head on 2007’s ‘Ghost opera’, and while it was still a mostly very enjoyable CD it carried the air of one of those warning shot efforts that signal worse things to come in the future.
After all, the down-tuning of the guitars and streamlining of songwriting to the point of over-simplification would have been a recipe for disaster in the hands of lesser musicians, and while I was probably doing the veterans a disservice with my concerns, it was still a worrying wait to see how far they could modernise their well-established style without destroying it in the process.
Now that ‘Poetry for the poisoned’ has finally made its arrival, all listeners nagged by similar concerns can breathe a sigh of relief, as despite a few wobbles it ends up as another worthy additional to the catalogue. The opening couple of songs had me a little thrown, and display the most questionable of stylistic choices, but the CD soon gathers pace from there and, a few weaker moments in the middle aside is overall close to its predecessor in terms of quality.
“The great pandemonium” begins things in slightly unusual fashion, being one of the CD’s more fractious songs, and despite an overall strong chorus and some nice symphonic flurries it doesn’t quite come together properly. What really drags it down though is the guest vocals from Soilwork’s Bjorn Strid, which end the chorus and are also used to plug a few of the gaps in the song’s loose structure, but in the end just confuses things further. I’m not a fan of him as a vocalist in the first place, but then the same could be said about Shagrath on 2005’s “March of Mephisto” and the song survived his presence with ease. Strid simply isn’t as well utilised and sounds a mile out of place, bringing down an already questionable opening track.
“If tomorrow came” is even more dislikeable, hampered by an irritating, buzzing keyboard sound (a rare misfire from a band who normally utilise the instrument with consummate taste) and the listless guitar chugging finally making good on its threat to derail a song completely.
Things immediately start looking up though with the unsettling “Dear editor” interlude that leads into the masterful “The zodiac”. One of the simpler arrangements on the CD, it nevertheless mounts a strong challenge to be crowned the best of the bunch. Khan’s looming vocal performance combines with the crunching guitars and ominous melody to craft a chilling portrayal of the serial killer of the title, but the real triumph comes with Jon Oliva’s understated guest appearance. His brittle voice bursts from nowhere in mid-verse to replace Khan’s smooth tones in a brief and jarring moment no doubt designed to invoke the sudden fluctuations in the mind of a sociopath, and defers esteem to the power of Sascha Paeth and Miro’s imerssive production style.
From here on the songs are in all honesty a little less on the surprising side, but are generally of a high quality and in fact often bear trappings of the more familiar power metal side of the band that has been downplayed over the course of the last 2 CDs, which is no doubt at least partially due to more energetic performances from Thom Youngblood and Casey Grillo.
Both return, on some of the songs at least, to the more intricate patterns they were known for before ‘Ghost opera’, with the guitarist in particular flexing his muscles more than he has in some time when it comes to his solos. There is also a considerable bit more high-speed double-bass drumming from Grillo, a style he had been happy to shy away from I recent years, but one that definitely offers more energy to the songs it is featured on.
Songs like “Hunter’s season” (which features a typically noodle-tastic guitar solo from Gus G.) and “Spell of woven years” evoke that classic romantic Kamelot sound of old, the melodies grand and inspiring, and in the case of the latter, featuring an incredible symphonic intro that is one of the most convincing examples of the style I have yet heard.
There are admittedly a couple more songs that don’t inspire in the same way that most of the CD does, but rather than frustrating like the opening duo, others like “My train of thought” are done in the right style but are just a little forgettable compared to the stand-out tracks.
Thankfully they manage to ensure that things end on a high, starting with the 9-minute-plus title song. Split into 4 parts (and also 4 tracks, seemingly just to piss off users of more primitive mp3 players) it twists and turns in many myriad directions, covering ballad territory, raging instrumental sections and sweeping symphonic arrangements, topped off by a typically stunning guest vocal appearance from Epica’s Simone Simons. The only thing that brings it down a little is the spoken section in “Incubus” where it sounds as though Khan is just reading a Wikipedia article over the song, but on the whole it is a masterful bit of progressive metal and really adds a bit of extra shine to a CD that is something of an inconsistent affair.
When you look at how much attention must have been diverted to this huge song it is maybe understandable how a couple of the others ended up a little uninspired, but on the whole ‘Poetry for the poisoned’ is another successful effort from Kamelot. Continuing to branch out in new directions while at the same time offering a few unexpected throwbacks to their older style, it will no doubt please as many old fans as it wins new ones.
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