Kamelot have made waves in the symphonic metal scene overtheir career in the scene with their modern sound, fused with ethereal qualities. Known for their catchy hooks, progressive elements and characteristic gothic edge, the band strive to continuously innovate their sound and in this their thirteenth studio album, it shows. Venturing further into cinematic realms through more elaborate orchestration, the result is a richer and more diverse album.
Designed to be enjoyed as a whole, while also delivering powerful tracks that can be enjoyed by themselves, Kamelot have ensured every detail on The Awakening has been carefully considered. Overture (Intro) is a beautifully orchestral-led piece build drama and anticipation before segueing into the cinematic The Great Divide. Balancing darkness and light, Kamelot ensure one is never entertained without the other being far behind. Eventide is a shadowytrack with eerie orchestration, dark tones and distorted guitars. And yet the band successfully incorporate a catchy chorus with intricate lead melodies and soaring vocals into the musical tapestry. One More Flag In The Ground is a thrilling and anthemic addition to the record. High energy throughout manifests through thundering percussion and intense marching rhythms. An enchanting edge is added through oriental melodies. One More Flag In The Ground also features vocal layers from producer Brian Howes, elevating the fierce sound and its commanding presence.
The operatic Opus Of The Night (Ghost Requiem) presents two thrilling guest appearances with a dual solo from guitarist Thomas Youngblood and cellist Tina Guo. The intensity of this track is heightened through the majestic tone of Guo’s cello and Youngblood’s striking guitar is a fierce addition. A fantasy, Celtic offering is found in Midsummer’s Eve. This serene track is beautifully crafted with heartfelt piano, delicate strings and compelling folk instrumentation. Guo’s cello and Florian Janoske’s violin melodies entwine and dance around each other. Of course, the encroaching gloom is never far behind, and the power of the bass orchestral instruments is given a moment to shine through. Bloodmoon unleashes darker orchestration with fast descending string patterns, and booming bass forming an ominous mood. Kamelot’s progressive-edged rhythm guitars convey a sense of movement. The arrangement of this track flows through a soaring chorus, darker verses and varying textural instrumentation layers all manifesting contrasting textures among themselves. The epic, synth-laden New Babylon, is elevated by the dynamic vocal performances of frontman Tommy Karevik and Ad Infinitum’s Melissa Bonny. Melissa’sclean vocals and her harsh unveil both a delicate emotive display and a ferocious fury into the mix. Ephemera (Outro) brings the album to a close with a second profound cinematic display.
Kamelot explore previously unchartered realms in their unceasing dedication to their sound. The composition of the tracks on The Awakening sees the distinctive core sound of Kamelot enriched and augmented. • HR
For fans of: Serenity, Epica, Amaranthe
‘The Awakening’ by Kamelot is released on 17th March on Napalm Records.
It’s always nice to have a band defy expectations. Well okay, in The Answer’s case, maybe not that much—to totally ‘defy expectations’ would be a complete, ground-up rebuilding of their sound, of which Sundowners demonstrably isn’t. It’s still retro-rock through and through, specifically tied to ‘70s blues-rock that’s only become more familiar over time, in no small capacity from The Answer themselves. At the same time though, the seven-year fallow period between albums is a noteworthy factor to Sundowners, when bands like this have a bad reputation for churning out their work with depressing regularity.
Don’t expect too much from thisthough; The Answer are still immovably soldered to the sound they’ve cultivated since 2000 (which, for an Irish band releasing an album on St. Patrick’s Day, is missing a wide-open opportunity for a little tin whistle, at the very least). But as far as this sort of thing goes, it’s a considerable step up. Whereas someone like Greta Van Fleet approach this sound with such a stiff, workmanlike demeanour that’s its complete antithesis, The Answer show it’s way easier to sound authentic and fun through blues-rock that embraces its own shagginess and freewheelin’ good vibes. Blood Brother is a bit of a false start early on—honestly, that emaciated guitar and stiff percussion are ripped straight from The Black Keys’ later work; it sounds awful—but then on California Rust or Want You To Love Me, the fluidity in the drum roils and commitment to real groove is such an improvement.
It’s probably more of an indictment on retro-rock in general that The Answer prove so welcoming, as there’s no radical overhaul or anything like that here. It’s simply a consequence of loosening up, and embracing some brightness through an omnipresent organ and gospel backing. That’s basically it, and when Livin’ On The Line takes that even further with its sugar-coated guitars, the difference is immeasurable. Otherwise, the usual qualities of throwback blues-rock are succinctly locked in place, especially lyrically where anything too adventurous is handily curtailed before it’s even given the chance. Even with frontman Cormac Neeson, he’s undeniably powerful with an abundance of swaggering, hirsute might, but he doesn’t quite cut loose as much as he could. He’s the element of Sundowners that’s the most consistently locked in place, and while it’s not dragging the album down, it’s a noticeable bump ahead of something even better still.
Even as it is though, this is surprisingly enjoyable stuff, considering how shallow the retro-rock pool often is. The Answer just manage to click in an impressively succinct way on Sundowners, no doubt aided by the glaring shortcomings of their peers, but also succeeding off their own back too. They’re more free and rambunctious overall, and if you’re taking into account the era they’re supposed to be emulating, that’s a closer parallel than so many will likely hit. It scratches an itch more than anything else, though for listeners more predisposed to rock like this already, it’s not hard to imagine some regular rotation coming from Sundowners. It’s got that feel to it, and the extent of that is a nice surprise to see. • LN
For fans of: Rival Sons, Greta Van Fleet, The Temperance Movement
‘Sundowners’ by The Answer is released on 17th March on Golden Robot Records / 7Hz Recordings.
The Van Pelt
Artisans & Merchants
Even if the name mightn’t be familiar, you’re likely aware of The Van Pelt’s influence within emo. They were instrumental in the genre’s second wave with other oft-touted names like The Promise Ring and Mineral, and are therefore likely to be the most underrated band ever according to any number of nerds from the American Midwest. The difference, however, is that The Van Pelt’s legacy hasn’t risen to the top like a number of their contemporaries’. In terms of visibility and movement, they aren’t really keeping the same pace; one-off reunions have come here and there, but outside of a collection of unreleased material in 2014 and a live album in 2016, their last full body of work was all the way back in 1997.
Of course, a new album all these years later will mean a lot more to some than others, namely those already neck-deep in their ‘90s emo lore who’ll unquestionably get the most from this. If you’re not… well, it’s not hard to like, but there’s definitely a barrier to entry. Even more so than a lot of this older emo material, as The Van Pelt make use of post-punk and hypnagogic post-rock cues alongside a particularly knotty writing style. That’s not even touching on Chris Leo’s voice, shorn of most traditional ‘singer-ish’ qualities for spoken rambles that stem from DIY-centric yarns, or on Grid, an increasingly antsy convulsion that’s probably among the album’s most striking moments. All the while, pacing comes very deliberately, spilling over their runtimes for guitars to twinkle and basslines to walk, before finally congealing into gauzy opulence across closer Love Is Brutal’s seven minutes.
It’s a lot to take in, for sure. The complete dismissal of any concessions made is actually rather refreshing, though it does leave Artisans & Merchants feeling incredibly difficult to chip away at. This is an album that demands full attention to parse out everything it has, and to its credit, that meticulous craftsmanship can really strike the right chord at times. As mentioned earlier, Grid has a great nervy energy to it that doesn’t even try to hide how unkempt it is, while Punk House and Cold Coconuts have a knack for turns of phrase that could only come from a set of emo roots spanning a good three decades. It’s definitely an album with a lot of stuff in it, much to the presumed delight of the old-school emo loyalists to whom this targets with pinpoint precision.
And there’s nothing wrong with that, especially on an album that—despite what any spin around it might say—is well ingrained in the nostagia-fuelled comeback cycle. Artisans & Merchants is exactly the fans-first experience that bands like this tend to deliver, and it shouldn’t be taken as denigration when it’s satisfyingly weighty and complex, and with plenty to dig into. If you’re going in blind and feel a bit alienated, that’s more an occupational hazard than an out-and-out flaw, but even so, there’s enough where you can see why the ripples these guys made have expanded so widely. Even a quarter of a century after their last proper album, they’re still distinct and captivating, and for a set of fringe veterans like The Van Pelt, you can’t really ask for more. • LN
For fans of: The Promise Ring, Braid, Mineral
‘Artisans & Merchants’ by The Van Pelt is released on 17th March on Spartan Records / La Castanya Records / Gringo Records.
Words by Holly Royle (HR) and Luke Nuttall (LN)