To begin, I just have to say that I have been a Kamelot fan since their beginnings, but have always considered Conception the superior of Khan’s projects and while I have been somewhat impressed with a few of Kamelot’s releases, I have never put them on the same level of melodic greatness as Conception until I heard this album. “The Black Halo” absolutely blew me away from the very first listen and I feel that almost every song represented here blows away anything Khan ever recorded with Conception. Believe me, this is saying a hell of a lot coming from me! Having been more impressed with their previous release “Epica” than any of Kamelot’s earlier albums, I was a bit more anxious than usual about hearing this album than I’ve been with any of their previous releases, especially when I started catching early reviews that were calling it their best album to date.
I honestly had chills listening to the opening track, “March of Mephisto.” It’s that powerfully charged and melodic! With the perfect merge of symphonic melody, blistering guitar hooks and some of the most melodic vocals you’ll hear anywhere on the power metal scene, Kamelot have taken epic power metal to a whole new level with this song along with the equally stellar “Memento Mori,” their longest song to date, clocking in at just shy of 9 minutes. These two songs alone are worth the price of the album and easily rank in my book as two of the best power metal epics ever recorded and that’s certainly not to say that the rest of the album is filler because there is not a dud in the mix on this one. It’s almost as if the band went back and analyzed their entire career to discover the formula for every great song they’ve ever written and infused it into every song they wrote for this album, then one-upped them with an epic tone and some the catchiest power hooks they could muster. Add to this some special guest musicians that include Jens Johansson of Stratovarius on keys, Shagrath from Dimmu Borgir, who adds a touch of evil to the epic sound of both “March of Mephisto” and “Memento Mori” and Simone Simmons of the band Epica adding her hauntingly (no pun intended) beautiful vocals to “The Haunting (Somewhere in Time),” easily the most radio-friendly song on the album.
This album will undoubtedly easily stand the test of time as Kamelot’s magnum opus and I’d rank it as, far and away, the best power metal epic that’s been released so far this decade! If you are among the group that has always equated this band with “dungeons and dragons metal,” this is the album that will most likely change your mind about them and win you over. Khan, who sounds quite a bit like Geoff Tate, has never sounded better than he does on this album, especially on the middle-eastern flared power epic that is the opening track. Kamelot have had this distinctive flare to their sound throughout their career, but there is just something that clicks here and brings it to a new level of perfection in epic proportion. They’ve also added a bit more of a progressive element to some of the songs here than we’ve heard on previous albums. This is especially evident on “Memento Mori.”
Other album highlights include the incredibly melodic “When The Lights Are Down” and the powerful title track, but it’s difficult to pick favorites as this is one of the few Kamelot albums that I found extremely listenable from start to finish. They also include some interesting short interludes between songs, one of which even has Khan singing in Italian. The only song that tones down the epic power riffs that dominate the album is the atmospherically charged “Abandoned,” which heavily incorporates symphonic elements that perfectly complement Khan’s amazingly heart-wrenching vocals on this track. Lyrically, this album continues on the conceptual storyline started off on “Epica” of the battle between good and evil, but don’t let that scare you away. They pull it off with a melody and epic style (of near operatic proportions) that I have yet to hear any other band accomplish without starting to sound like a Disney movie soundtrack (take note, Symphony X). I have to agree with a previous review that there is unlikely to be a better album released in 2005 (although based on some samples I’ve heard of the new Pagan’s Mind, due in April, they may have just give Kamelot a run for their money). This is easily the most amazing album Kamelot have released to date and they will be hard-pressed to ever top it. “The Black Halo” is THE absolute must-have masterpiece of 2005 that will appeal to fans of epic power metal and progressive metal fans alike.