KAMELOT — The Black Halo (review)

KAMELOT — The Black Halo album cover Album · 2005 · Power Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
5/5 ·
Necrotica
As someone who grew up with classical piano training, I can’t overestimate how much that very genre influenced me in my upbringing. Even when I entered more aggressive styles of music such as metal, I often gravitated more towards progressive metal because of the long complex arrangements and overblown suites. Call it being pretentious if you’d like (it kinda was), but bands like Symphony X, Dream Theater, and Vanden Plas were a major influence on my development as a musician for those very reasons. But the problem with many of those bands is that they often lacked the more emotional side in favor of that complexity and technical skill (especially post-2000s Dream Theater, if we’re referring to the bands above). I was always looking for a group that balanced both the technical and emotional sides more equally, one that could be heard both holistically and in-depth.

Then Kamelot came along.

While Epica was an amazing leap forward for the band in its own right, The Black Halo is a different story altogether. Mixing elements of progressive metal, power metal, symphonic metal, and opera, the album is a bombastic declaration that Kamelot was willing to take the metal world by storm. But the thing that instantly makes it stand out is that the record’s story - a continuation of the Heinrich Faust story started in Epica - is told in a way that never seems over-the-top or cheesy. Vocalist Roy Khan (four albums in his tenure by this point) studied opera singing for three years, and it shows in his time with the band. His voice is consistently gripping and simply drips with emotion, whether he’s letting out intense wails or performing at a low whisper. The instrumental passages that compliment his vocal work, are also beautifully laid out for the listener, blending technical riffing with a dark and even gothic atmosphere.

It’s refreshing to see that The Black Halo knows when to end its songs too, opting out of the oft-used progressive metal approach of throwing in bloated epics just for the sake of it. The only track here that’s relatively long, “Memento Mori,” actually deserves the runtime because of the phenomenal piano intro and intense symphonic buildup into the meat of the song. The shorter songs - particularly “Soul Society,” “When the Lights Are Down,” and “This Pain” - are great examples of displaying the band’s incredibly tight songwriting and exploring their more aggressive dynamics. Thomas Youngblood’s guitar presence runs deep through the record, primarily in his intricate and nimble riffing over the solid rhythm section. But he’s often tempered by both Miro’s piano work and Roy Khan’s vocals, which brings a neat sense of balance to the record. This is best heard in “Moonlight,” where we hear a one-note riff that practically resembles a breakdown, until it makes way for the gorgeous piano verses and some subtle hi-hats in the background. It’s a fantastic contrast, to say the least.

But that’s what makes this album so great: contrast. Just as the album’s story is brimming with so many different emotions and moods, the band’s methods of conveying them are just as varied. Granted, a good chunk of this album is pretty melancholic and gothic in tone, but the diversity of the songwriting and instrumental work are great nonetheless. Just listen to the opener “March of Mephisto”; as the name implies, this is a downright stately and thunderous metal anthem that even features the legendary black metal singer Shagrath (Dimmu Borgir) on guest vocals to give the chorus a bit more grit. But it immediately transitions into the power metal majesty of the fast-paced “When the Lights Go Down” and that’s when you know the record won’t be one-note, something that’s solidified by the depressing power ballad that follows, “The Haunting.” But when it comes to the band’s softer side, I highly recommend “Abandoned,” quite possibly one of the most tragic and beautiful piano ballads in rock music. Khan’s vocals are so passionate and heartbreaking that the song simply becomes entrancing, only helped by Mary Youngblood’s guest vocals and the classical piano arrangement that anchors it all.

If Karma and Epica were high artistic achievements for Kamelot, The Black Halo is the album that represented them at their absolute peak. In fact, I’d argue that this is the best power metal album ever made, as well as one of the top five progressive metal albums ever made. The way it pours its emotions out to the listener while maintaining its composure and vicious instrumental prowess is fucking stunning. It’s gothic, it’s dark, it’s atmospheric, and the band members certainly knew how to convey those traits at the best of their abilities while retaining the qualities that can make progressive metal so enjoyable. I can’t say it enough: this is metal at its best.
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ssmarcus wrote:
50 days ago
I too absolute love this album. Although I can't quite agree with you that the record exemplified any kind of instrumental or technical prowess (with the exception of Roy's vocals of course). But that's fine, the music didnt NEED to be hyper technical or anything like that because of just how freagin catchy, melodic, and diverse it was.

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