Posted on December 10, 2009 -
_Epica_ is the long awaited sixth album from Kamelot, and their fourth with former Conception vocalist Roy Khan. I believe they are by far the best European-styled power metal band that has ever made music (it’s not gratuitous praise!). What makes Kamelot different from the rank pile of horrible power metal bands? For that matter, what makes them *amazing* instead of just good? The answer is very simple: Khan and Thomas Youngblood.Khan’s voice soars on eagle’s wings, his emotional power, unique timbre, subtle (Norwegian) accent, and perfect inflection make him not only the finest vocalist in this style, but nearly any other as well. Actually, I’m hard pressed to think of a male vocalist I like more than the mighty Khan. If you’ve read anything about _Epica_ in the hype before its release, one might consider it hopelessly pretentious for some “power metal” band to write an album based somewhat on J.W. Von Goethe’s _Faust_. Hmm… aren’t these bands the type that sing about saccharine love stories, saving the environment, and generally trite subjects (with horrid lyrics, no less)? There should be no worries, because Khan — in addition to being a prime singer — is an outstanding lyricist, full of evocative colors and depth and beautiful diction. _Epica_, a concept album about a man’s search for truth and meaning. Frankly, I think it is brilliantly done. Actually, the story is so interesting that I’m eager to hear Epica Part II even more just to find out what happens. For future reference: Epica > Mindcrime.In “The Center of the Universe”, Ariel questions the meaning of life and longs for truths in which he can support rationally. On “Farewell” he departs from his home, bidding goodbye to all his loved ones. However, his journey does not go as planned and in “The Edge of Paradise” he becomes disillusioned and lost, spiraling into an abyss of drug abuse. In his moment of sorrow, he thinks back to his love Helena in “Wander”. But, knowing she is just a memory now, he loses his will to live. Then, in “Descent of the Archangel”, the dark angel Mephisto appears to him and tempts him with vanity. Mephisto brings Ariel to his castle where he satisfies all of his base desires in “Feast for the Vain”. After, Ariel meets with Helena and spends a special moment with her in “On the Coldest Winter Night”. On “Lost & Damned”, Helena goes to tell Ariel of her pregnancy, but he tells her that his search for truth is more important than love. He also fears to be with her after succumbing to Mephisto’s temptations. Helena then drowns herself in the river, killing not just herself but her unborn child. Ariel tries to reconcile with this loss in “The Mourning After”, but he is deeply scarred. On “III Ways to Epica”, Ariel — torn between the evil Mephisto and the angelic Helena — is left to continue the journey he began at the beginning. The Khan-Youngblood songwriting core is easily the best in this style. As befits an album with such a title, _Epica_ is Kamelot’s most epic sounding release to date. The roster of guest musicians rivals that of a Rhapsody album, with the songs weaving soaring symphonic elements into the driving punch of the band’s melodic-metal style. Choruses are simply HUGE, melodically sublime and powerful, and the urgent build-up to them via the verses is spine-tingling. Youngblood’s thick crunchy guitar sound is toned back a bit, woven through keyboards and strings. Layers of synthesizers throughout many songs recall the atmospheres the band created on “The Spell” from _Karma_. As always, numerous influences from different eras and regions manifest throughout, but what is especially impressive is how smoothly integrated the diverse elements are. Even in songs with pronounced influences, like the Arabic motif and Gregorian chanting of “The Edge of Paradise” or the Parisian tango of “Lost & Damned”, everything is fastened together so organically that it took me several listens to notice them. “Descent of the Archangel” is foreboding and ominous, with eerie menacing verses and a fierce chorus propelled by 16th note double bass drums and machine-gun guitars. Rhapsody’s Luca Turilli contributes a frenetic guitar solo in this song.I think few bands execute a ballad with the beauty of Kamelot, and _Epica_’s ballads are no exception. “Wander” is a summery magenta flush of longing — sheer perfection. While “Wander” refers to summer, “On the Coldest Winter Night” is frostier and darker. A simple plucked guitar figure feels like cold snowflakes on the skin, with a deep double bass adding to the weight of the moment. The djembe adds a sort of earthy warmth to the chill atmosphere, like the heat of the love between Ariel and Helena in that moment the song describes. Co-producer and keyboardist Miro deserves credit here on both these songs especially, his brilliant string arrangements sensually and subtly adding emotion without going over-the-top. One thing Kamelot has over any of their peer bands is subtlety. (Kamelot proves there is nothing inherently cheesy about power metal — it’s a matter of the artist, not the style.)Gorgeous is the fey voice of guest singer Mari, who plays Helena. In “Helena’s Theme”, she sings exquisitely with the Rodenburg Symphony Orchestra for the album’s prettiest moment. Some of the most chilling parts are where Khan and Mari trade-off lines, as in the piano-based interlude in “The Center of the Universe” and the epochal chorus of “III Ways to Epica” (best chorus, like, ever).The limited edition has beautiful packaging and features a bonus track called “Snow”, a speedy cut which would have fit nicely onto _Karma_. This is an amazing release which tops even the amazing _Karma_, which was so good I thought they would never beat it. It’s almost scary to think how good this band might still become. _Epica_ is a pure masterpiece that should render a hopeless feeling of impotence upon all other power metal bands. Kamelot is beyond everyone.