After years of building up their following on both sides of the Atlantic, Florida power metal band Kamelot finally broke through to the Billboard Top 100 albums with their 2010 release, Poetry For The Poisoned. The band was truly rising. Then mere days before their North American tour, their Norwegian vocalist Roy Khan reportedly became too ill to hit the road, leaving the band to scramble to get a temporary replacement to fulfill their worldwide performing commitments. Although the U.S. tour was a wash, Rhapsody Of Fire frontman Fabio Leone swooped in to save the day for their European dates (and then became their worldwide touring vocalist in 2011). By the next spring, Khan had decided to permanently depart the group he had fronted for 14 years. His illness turned out to be a case of extreme burn out.
Despite this heavy blow to its ranks, Kamelot were not going to disband. As guitarist, main composer and founding member Thomas Youngblood told The Aquarian, after the initial shock of the tour incident and later Khan’s departure, they toured with Leone before going to work on the new Silverthorn album. Youngblood sifted through hundreds of vocalist submissions, but when he heard Swedish singer Tommy Karevik’s take on the new “Song For Jolee,” he knew that Kamelot had found their man.
“He was capturing the essence of Kamelot from the past but was bringing in his emotion and a style of his own,” recalled Youngblood. “He toured with us in Europe and came out for one song every night, so we were kind of grooming him for the role. His first show as Kamelot’s frontman was at the Masters Of Rock Festival in the Czech Republic in front of 30,000 people, and he totally killed it. We were really happy that day, and everybody was drinking champagne.”
Of course, one great gig does not make a new frontman, so Karevik jumped into working on vocal melodies and lyrics for the new album. “He’s a perfectionist, so he flew back and forth between Sweden and Germany and spent 14 hours a day working on songs with [long-time producer] Sascha [Paeth],” proclaimed Youngblood. “We were all really surprised at what was coming back from those guys when it came to vocal ideas. The music was pretty much done, and it was important for me to write the songs and music like we’ve always done. We didn’t change keys for any vocal type, and he assimilated into the band perfectly with his marriage of the past and the future.”
According to Youngblood, fans have been raving about Karevik, album pre-sales are amazing and the group is excited about their new tour, which includes opening for Nightwish across North America. “We already did some big festival shows like Wacken, which was in front of 80,000 people. The guy was killer. There’s an exciting feeling and a renewed energy within the band in terms of touring, and it just seems fun again.”
The guitarist has not encountered burn out himself. He recalled working in management at an apparel company for a decade when he still did Kamelot for fun. But once he graduated to full-time musician status, he relished his new career and has kept everything in perspective ever since. While he admitted that technical and business issues can interfere with making music, “it’s still a great way to make a living—to be creative and to share these different things with fans.”
While pushing forward musically with a sophisticated musical palette, Silverthorn—which features female guest singers including Alissa White-Gluz (The Agonist), Elize Ryd (Amaranthe) and Amanda Somerville (Trillium)—also echoes the sound of vintage Kamelot albums like The Fourth Legacy and Karma. In some ways, it is a return to form—not that fans were upset at the way the group have been integrating symphonic, ethnic and black metal sounds into their oeuvre. That said, Youngblood felt that the group’s previous epic Poetry For The Poisoned got “a little too experimental.” When bands often say that, it simply means that fans did not like or get what they were doing. In this case, he pinpointed the things he had problems with.
“We got to a point where certain people within the band didn’t want to work on the record anymore,” admitted Youngblood. “There was a little more of a monotone vibe on that record.” (Specifically, the modern rock approach of crafting choruses based on only one chord.) “Even though I still love the album, I wanted to get back to the more melodic side of Kamelot, mixing this melancholy feeling underneath. But also at the end of the record you don’t want to slit your wrists. You want to have a little bit more of a positive feeling about the record, about your life, or whatever it might be. That was one of the cool things that we were establishing with records before that, like Karma and Ghost Opera, and I think on Poetry it was a little bit too depressing. Bringing back some of those melodic elements on Silverthorn was important.”
That being said, Poetry finally helped the band crack the Billboard Top 100 albums and sold quite well. And overall, Youngblood is proud of how multi-faceted their work has become. “One of the cool things with our records is we’ve always tried to have diversity where you could have a song that’s super heavy with a black metal vocalist in it, but you have a ballad that you can play to your family,” he chuckled. “Personally, I like it because I like different types of music, and it’s cool to marry my own personal tastes with Kamelot and share it with fans who have the same kind of outlook on it.”
When asked to pinpoint his favorite songs on Silverthorn, Youngblood mentioned “Sacrimony” as well as “Prodigal Son”; the latter epic tune in particular because it possesses a funereal feeling that the group has not explored before. “After listening to it a few times, it kind of reminded me of King Diamond, which I thought was really cool because I love him,” noted the guitarist. “I think the chorus in the end is one of the best Kamelot choruses we’ve ever had. There’s a lot of diversity—’Veritas’ is really cool with this choir on the chorus, and ‘Song For Jolee’ is one of our better ballads. For me, it’s a solid album, and every song could potentially be someone’s favorite song, which is really good.”
Due out at the end of October in both regular and limited edition formats (the latter includes a 44-page book, poster and bonus CD of instrumental song versions), Silverthorn is a concept album, albeit one which purposefully keeps part of its story mysterious. It is about a young girl named Jolee who dies in the arms of her twin brothers and takes their secret to their grave. But what is the secret and what is the truth about their lives? Part of the story is obscured from the listener as well.
“I think if you look at any classic concept record—and for me it’s like Pink Floyd’s records or Operation: Mindcrime—you don’t really reveal too much about it,” stressed Youngblood. “That makes it interesting for the fans to analyze things. We have a book that has a more detailed outline about the family in the story and about the time period, which is the 19th century. It’s more descriptive but still leaves a lot of the mystery in the story that you want to have there.”
When asked if he might consider collecting fan interpretations and perhaps reveal the whole Silverthorn saga, Youngblood said he preferred to keep things open unless fan interpretations are way off. “Most of the time [with such albums], what people think is a basic variation of the truth, and maybe there are little things here and there that they have wrong. But as long as people are talking about it and are interested, you get to see the fans playing off of each other’s versions of what a song is about. It’s really fun to see.”
Kamelot will be at NYC’s Beacon Theatre on Sept. 15 and Philly’s Electric Factory on Sept. 16. For more information, go to kamelot.com.