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Kamelot - The Black Halo CD (album) cover




Progressive Metal

4.10 | 318 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
5 stars This is a conceptual album loosely based on German writer Wolfgang Goethe's Faust and the story depicts the continuing struggle between good and evil. The main characters are: Mephisto as the devil, Ariel as the troubled soul and Helena and Marguerite who both attempt to connect with Ariel. As it turns out, both are rejected by Ariel who does not allow himself the opportunity to love because he fears the pain it may cause him.

All of the arrangements on the album are superb and those cool little fills, there is just so much one can absorb in one sitting. In many ways the album is more accessible than difficult to get into. But many may find it the opposite, very demanding of the listener and some may actually have a hard time "getting it" on the first few spins. One thing is for sure, the album contains some very enjoyable tracks that will satisfy one's metal appetite immediately. Then again, some tracks simply won't do anything for you until many spins later. This also happened to me. For instance, on the very first spin, 5 or 6 songs immediately caught my attention. That is to be expected when one is not familiar enough with a conceptual metal album. Furthermore, several tracks actually disappointed me on the first few spins. But then, on the umpteenth spin or so, the album finally came into focus for me and some of those disappointments actually turned into highlights. This happened to me over several days, someone who is not familiar with the genre may need more time.

The album also appears more guitar driven to me than their previous offerings Epica and Karma. While many would argue that Epica contained far too many interludes, the band has not only narrowed it down to three here, but they also changed their overall usefulness on this album.

To begin with, even the interludes are very different from one another. This all adds to the overall diversity of the album and the many colorful arrangements are not limited to the main tracks on the album as we discover on the particularly deceiving third interlude: "Twelve Tolls for a New Day". Everything starts slowly, then the music appears to be moving backwards and suddenly faster and faster until everything just explodes. This album is simply on a playing field of it's own. It is clearly an achievement to be reckoned with. Everything on the album has a purpose, nothing was included that really should not be there.

My most cherished albums always result in my writing a more in-depth song-by-song review:

1. "March Of Mephisto" - (9/10)

Everything slowly builds at the beginning, just as Mephisto's influence on Ariel continues to grow, so will the music. This is perhaps the most difficult song on the album to get into. There's nothing immediate about it. There are moments during the song that one can imagine Mephisto's army marching and the bleakness and desolation associated with such a scene. Shagrath (Dimmu Borgir) makes his first guest appearance as the evil Mephisto and Jens Johannsson (Stratovarius) also makes a guest appearance performing all the keyboard solos.

2. "When The Lights Are Down" - (10/10)

The first of several speedy fast paced tracks on the album. The clean pristine sound of Kamelot is alive and well and at one point or another during this track every single instrument is highlighted here. At this point of the story Ariel believes that his rejection of Helena has altered his life for good. As well, Ariel's perception of good and evil is also changing. This track includes another excellent keyboard performance by Jens Johansson and make sure you don't miss the incredible guitar/keyboard solo between Johansson and Thomas Youngblood...

3. "The Haunting (Somewhere In Time)" - (10/10)

This is one of the most immediately accessible tracks on the album and will appeal to a wider more commercial oriented audience. Wonderful atmospheric opening with some very cool eerie effects. This song is also the first that makes reference to Goethe's Faust story. Simone Simon makes a guest appearance as Marguerite who as it turns out is Ariel's last chance of finding true love. Ariel rejects her, basically his fear of pain and being hurt is so overwhelming that he won't risk it and will deny love instead.

4. "Soul Society" - (10/10)

Another immediately accessible track. This one also starts much like "The Haunting" but it is also heavier in many ways, more guitar driven and more epic sounding. The story now is all in Ariel's mind, he understands that he has total control over his own life but thinks there must be more to it than just that. The baby girl you hear giggling and laughing at the midpoint mark is Annelise Youngblood. Nice touch guys...

5. "Interlude I: Dei Gratia" - (8/10)

One can hear praying, someone climbing stairs, beautiful harmonizing voice, the choir adds a religious atmospheric touch and finally a male voice comes into focus sounding much like a priest. Here, Ariel is attempting to connect with God.

6. "Abandoned" - (9/10)

This song begins slowly and softly with piano and strings, simply a beautiful opening. When the singing starts the experience here is emotionally flat (perhaps intentionally so) that is right up until about the midpoint when Helena makes an appearance along with the added orchestrations, both simply combine here for a huge injection of emotion, and just like getting an injection of insulin, it breathes new life into the track. Does Epic Power ballad come to mind? But this is far from being your average glossy over the top type of epic power ballad. This is not one of those immediate songs I was talking about. Mari (Epica) makes her first guest appearance on the album as Helena while the choir and orchestra both play an important role on this track, symbolizing the obstacles in Ariel's life while he continues to search for truth and inner peace. Incredibly chilling performance...

7. "This Pain" - (10/10)

Soft acoustic opening but quickly moves into heavy territory, an excellent guitar driven track. One of the highlights for me. Ariel realizes here that he has to live with the consequences of the choices he's made in his life.

8. "Moonlight" - (10/10)

Soft piano and strings open the song but this is another fine guitar driven track and another highlight for me. Ariel senses death is close and he is both fascinated and scared at the thought of dying.

9. "Interlude II: Un Assassinio Molto Silenzioso" - (10/10)

Cinzia Rizzo makes a first-rate guest appearance as the cabaret singer. The flavor here is but a short scene in a dark cabaret in which the Italian singer foretells Ariel's fate as she whispers..."a very silent murder."

10. "The Black Halo" - (9.5/10)

The title track is perhaps the most demanding of all the tracks on the album. It is built on a 5/4 time signature, something the band has done before on both "Karma" and "III Ways to Epica." It is a hard guitar driven track with the choir and full orchestra backing them up. Ariel finally confronts Mephisto about a possible breach of contract, the one he signed way back on Epica. Ariel no longer fears death...

11. "Nothing Ever Dies" - (8/10)

A speedy track from the get go. There's a lot going on here, a lot of interesting fills included here and there and simply a great catchy chorus and splendid guitar solo. Ariel ponders religion before his death...

12. "Memento Mori" - (10/10)

"Memento Mori" opens much like "Abandoned" with piano and soft atmospheric orchestrations before the band introduces progressive power metal influences into the mix. Mari (Epica) makes her second guest appearance and so does Shagrath (Dimmu Borgir). Mephisto finally unites with Helena in Ariel's tormented mind. This is the climax of the story and the longest song in the history of the band. In the end, the battle between good and evil is within us all and the power to decide between one or the other also resides within us..."I am the God in my own history."

13. "Interlude III: Midnight - Twelve Tolls For A New Day" - (10/10)

I won't repeat what I've already said about this short interlude, but it ultimately reflects Ariel's final moments before his Death. From the liner notes we learn that from every death something new is born and that "all life or energy is an eternal constant." The story is finally over, however, not the album.

14. "Serenade" - (10/10)

This track is upbeat and ends the album on a high note. Also, there is a very positive message here and I'm so glad they choose to end it this way. In my view it really compliments the story and closes the album perfectly. I think the liner notes describe it best:

"...not really part of the story itself. It's a euphoric hymn to hope and harmony, life and the will to live it to the fullest while we are here. Love & Wonder, Life & Death."

Playing time: 57m21s


In closing, rarely have I bought an album that begs one to listened to it again and again. It is not so much the originality of The Black Halo that draws you in but the overall care to detail and flow of the album as a whole. Another very interesting fact I want to share is in the way many of the songs are linked, sometimes with siren, sometimes with thunderstorm, sometimes with howling wolf and wind. There's always some connection of some sort from beginning to end. I also really love the way the orchestra often comes off as just another instrument in the mix.

As well, I can't go without talking a little bit about the guys in the band. All are deserving of high praise for their work over the years and specifically on this album. The bass and drum work is varied and bang on. Youngblood's guitar work is beyond reproach and he merits much attention for his work here. And what to say about Khan's vocals? Wow! He continues to prove, album after album, that he is one of the best vocalist in the genre.

Tracks on The Black Halo that have an immediate appeal - "When The Lights Go Down", "The Haunted", "Soul Society", "This Pain", "Moonlight" and "Serenade" - while others will require more time to fully appreciate the powerful musical experience that is hidden within - "March of Mephisto", "Abandoned", "The Black Halo" and "Memento". "Nothing Ever Dies" lies somewhere in between both worlds, that only leaves three short "interludes" strategically included throughout the album. In the progressive power metal genre and style, this is as close to perfection as one can possibly find...

Vanwarp | 5/5 |


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