Can you imagine a KAMELOT show without the iconic “Forever” on the setlist? Because I, for one, cannot… especially considering what a live staple that song has become over the last few years, mostly because of the way Tommy Karevik performs it, coupled with the sing-along routines that involve the audience. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the release of this beautiful song, which has made its way deep into the hearts of fans, alongside other special numbers as the trilogy “Elizabeth,” “Don’t You Cry,” and the title track, as KAMELOT’s classic album, “Karma,” was released on July 9th, 2001, via Noise Records / Sanctuary Records.
Coming on the heels of superb “The Fourth Legacy” (1999) and embodying everything metalheads came to love about KAMELOT’s core sound, “Karma” can rightfully be considered not just the quintessential KAMELOT album but also a benchmark of the melodic power metal genre. The band’s fifth studio release and third album with legendary vocalist Roy Khan, “Karma” sees KAMELOT masterfully combining the energy of power metal with the darker tinge of Gothic metal into one impressive mixture of fast-paced guitars, melodic keyboards, and soaring vocals. The band went on to develop this style on subsequent albums, most notably the trio that marked the 2000s as being their best decade – “Epica,” “The Black Halo,” and “Ghost Opera” – thus establishing their darkly romantic style.
One may argue that this album presents all aspects of KAMELOT’s sonic personality in one cohesive total, and they might just be right in their argument. The album opens up in classic fashion with “Regalis Apertura,” a short piece with an oriental vibe to it that leads into dramatic number “Forever.” On this track, KAMELOT’s knack for memorable yet speedy guitar melodies and heartfelt vocals come into play as both Thomas Youngblood and Roy Khan shine in their roles, showing why they were (and still are) considered to be some of the best musicians in their respective fields. I mean, it’s not for nothing that this guitar opening makes crowds go wild when they hear it in during a concert. “Wings of Despair” and “Across the Highlands” highlight the band’s penchant for straight-up power metal, as rhythmic guitars and pounding drums mix with soaring vocals to create some of the fastest melodies on this album. Twisty number “The Spell” has a little bit of everything going for it, from a darker atmosphere to some weird sounds in the background to electronic sounds all the way to the menacing vocals and a mid-tempo marching feel. It wouldn’t be far-fetched to think of this one as a precursor of the likes of “March of Mephisto.”
Not many bands can write ballads quite as KAMELOT can, and that is a fact. While maybe not on par with the disarming emotional beauty of “Abandoned” or “Song for Jolee,” the two ballads on this album, “Don’t You Cry” and “Temples of Gold,” still stand the test of time. The prior (and its French equivalent “Ne Pleure Pas”), has three things going for it – the underlying acoustic guitar melody, sweeping strings, and Khan’s tender vocals, which make for a rather impassioned composition. Meanwhile, “Temples of Gold” is much more dynamic in structure and with more depth to the vocals. In between Khan’s emotional delivery, the grave bass tones, a dreamy atmosphere, and poetry-like verses, “Temples of Gold” is the album’s most beautiful moment. Speaking of songs that stood the test of time, “Karma” is definitely one of them, aging like a fine wine. Power metal combines incredibly well with some progressive elements on this track as the smooth transitions between the verses and choruses speak volumes of Youngblood and Khan’s songwriting skills.
We cannot talk about the highlights of this album without mentioning the Gothic story of Elizabeth Báthory, simply titled “Elizabeth.” Divided into three parts (“Mirror Mirror,” “Requiem for the Innocent,” and “Fall From Grace”), this song is the centerpiece of this album and showcases the band’s ability to draw the listeners into the musical world they create, just like was the case with “Nights of Arabia” on their previous effort but on a grander scale. Feeling like a metal opera, “Elizabeth” is better listened to as a whole because each part leads seamlessly into the next and the live version from “One Cold Winter’s Night” (2006) is a perfect example of the song’s smooth flow. It starts out slow and gentle but it builds in intensity, dipping into progressive waters here and there with powerful guitar melodies leading the charge, while the backing piano adds layers of harmony. However, it is Khan’s versatility that makes the song such a gripping and riveting sonic experience.
In conclusion, the main merit of “Karma” is that it laid a strong foundation of melodic sounds and romantic lyrics on which the band would go on to build not just a rich and elegant discography, but also a musical identity that is uniquely their own. This style also works so wonderfully because of the dark and velvety smooth vocals from Roy Khan – and later Tommy Karevik – which complement the music superbly. Another merit of this album is that it presented a band that had finally grown into their full potential; from the instrumental side all the way to the vocals, everything is perfectly delivered. After strong attempts to zero in on their strengths as musicians with their previous releases, KAMELOT delivered one of their most melodic and overall best albums to date. Dark, moody, and intense, “Karma” offers a brooding, almost melancholy, take on the power metal genre propagated by the likes of HALLOWEEN, or RHAPSODY reason why it is still regarded as such a landmark on the metal scene.
Written by Andrea Crow
- Regalis Apertura (instrumental)
- Wings of Despair
- The Spell
- Don’t You Cry
- The Light I Shine on You
- Temples of Gold
- Across the Highlands
- Elizabeth I: Mirror Mirror
- Elizabeth II: Requiem for the Innocent
- Elizabeth III: Fall from Grace
- Roy Khan – vocals
- Thomas Youngblood – guitars
- Glenn Barry – bass guitar
- Casey Grillo – drums
Noise Records / Sanctuary Records