Then there’s Kamelot, an American band led by Roy Khan on vocals and Thomas Youngblood on guitar, with the two of them co-writing the songs. (I’ll mention right off the bat that those two names are pretty awesome. Roy Khan’s actual name is Roy Khantatat, and Thomas Youngblood is the guy’s real name. I think that’s amazing, since those names seem like perfect power metal musician pseudonyms.)
Kamelot is in medium much more like Blind Guardian than Rhapsody of Fire. This isn’t surprising – I doubt anyone else could pull off what Rhapsody of Fire does. It’s just too weird. Most epic metal groups, Kamelot included, are better off with albums in which different tracks are about different things (though all of them epic), with a concept album or two thrown into the mix – but no concept albums so engrossed in their conception that they forget they’re albums at all.
I have four of Kamelot’s albums – Karma, Epica, The Black Halo, and Ghost Opera. Karma is roughly analogous to Blind Guardian’s earlier work, in that it is fairly standard power metal (and quite good power metal at that). Epica and The Black Halo are, taken together, roughly analogous to Nightfall in Middle-Earth; they’re concept albums loosely translating the story of Faust. Ghost Opera is roughly analogous to A Night at the Opera, with the basic idea being “these are various stories you would see if you went to the opera-house one night”.
Interestingly, both have tracks centered on the story of Pontius Pilate (“Up Through the Ashes” and “Sadly Sings Destiny”, respectively). I also wonder about the beliefs of the member of both of these bands – it seems to me Kamelot is inspired greatly by Catholicism, and I think at least one of them was probably raised Catholic, but they seem to have a mixed view of the Church. Blind Guardian is similar. I’m not sure what to make of that, but it’s certainly more interesting than Avantasia‘s blatant anti-Catholicism.
Anyway… despite these similarities, Kamelot’s work is not analagous to Blind Guardian’s in content. They never talk about mythopoeia directly, except in their most recent album Ghost Opera, and even there the idea is only implied. Blind Guardian might be best termed an “artist metal” band, in that they deal with artistry per se, and Rhapsody of Fire could be called a “myth metal” band, in that they don’t just talk about making myths, they do make myths, but Kamelot is probably best called a “philosophy metal” band.
Let’s start with Karma. The first track (with lyrics – “Regalis Apertura” is instrumental only), “Forever”, is about a guy wondering what has happened to his dead lover, and whether they will be reunited once he dies as well. “Wings of Despair” has to do with, well, despair, at the idea that everything is predestined. “The Spell” laments that the modern world is too scientific and isn’t magical enough (at least that’s my take on the lyrics). “Don’t You Cry” is a tribute to Thomas Youngblood’s deceased father, talking about how father and son are still connected. “Karma” has an evil king realizing he has lived an evil life, and wishing he could trade his karma with someone else. “The Light I Shine On You” – well, I don’t really understand it, but it seems to be about the power lovers have over each other. “Temples of Gold”, well, a simple love ballad. Then right back to the philosophy with “Across the Highlands” claiming that immortality would be torture, that the narrator “is dead if life itself is condemnation”. The final three tracks are the Elizabeth Bathory series, about the historical Hungarian countess who bathed in the blood of virgins because she believed it would give her eternal youth.
Ghost Opera is quite similar. “Rule the World”? Man’s fear of the Other. “Ghost Opera”? Perseverance through hardship, or something like that. “The Human Stain”? Life itself is perhaps an evil. “Bluecher”? The fate of love when facing death on the battlefield. “Love You to Death”? Same thing, sans the battlefield. “Up Through the Ashes”? Whether or not Jesus was the Christ. “Mourning Star”? War and the fear of death inspiring belief in God. “Silence of the Darkness”? Similar to “Rule the World”. “Anthem”? “What’s the miracle, if life itself is not? /Who am I to praise it’s worth / With a hymn?” Finally, “Edenecho” is about the despair felt at romantic love – destroyed.
So it seems to me that Kamelot has two main interests – the meaning of romantic love and death/afterlife/immortality. These seem to be the predominant themes in Karma and Ghost Opera, anyway.
Now let’s take a look at Epica and The Black Halo. First, note that they chose the legend of Doctor Faustus for their concept double-album. Like Blind Guardian’s choice of the Silmarillion for Nightfall in Middle-Earth, this tells quite a lot about how to view the two albums. The story of Faust, especially as Goethe tells it, is one of love versus pleasure versus eternal salvation. (If you don’t know the basic plot, you should look into it – it’s a fascinating story, and several great works of art have been inspired by it.)
All this is well and good, but… now that we know what Kamelot’s questions are, we should ask – what are their answers? The entirety of the Faust sequence is Faust searching for these answers, but in the final few tracks – “Nothing Ever Dies”, “Memento Mori”, and “Serenade” – we see what he arrives at. I think that Faust’s answers are ones Kamelot would agree with, though of course I can’t be sure.
In Nothing Ever Dies, Faust proclaims that
Love is the only truth
Pure as the well of youth
Until it breaks your heart
He follows this up with
And the final winter comes to us all
Life is treacherous
But you’re not the only who must pretend
We’re a second in time
We’re the last in the line
Of the prey that walks the earth
Good and evil combined
I am the god in my own history
The master of the game
I may believe if she would come to me
And whisper out my name
So – man is doomed to die, a beast, and yet a god, and he achieves this godhood through love. I find it fascinating that “love is the only truth”. This seems similar to Rhapsody of Fire’s emphasis on “pure love and great emotion”, but it is much stronger. Love is the only truth? And I ask – what is love? Romantic love? Since in the next song Faust talks about how “she (Helena) [will] come to me / and whisper out my name”, I think that is what he means.
Interestingly, Kamelot seems to place romantic love in opposition to sexual desire. Kamelot’s idea of love seems to be quite spiritual and ethereal. I like that in many ways, but I wonder if they don’t tend too much towards that extreme – after all, humans are physical, and the purpose of romantic love is in some sense procreation.
Onwards and upwards. The final track, Serenade, isn’t part of the Faust saga per se. It seems to be meant as a summation of the ideas discussed in the preceding two-dozen-or-so tracks. The chorus goes,
So bow down with me
Where summer fades into fall
And leave your hatchets of hate
Bow down with me
And sing the saddest of all
The song we all serenade
This saddest song that “we all serenade” is apparently the fact that, as humans, we are doomed to death. The idea seems to be that we ought not to fight each other, because death will come for us all anyway – instead, we ought to love. It sounds cliche, but it is a noble sentiment nonetheless.
I find it interesting that in the track “III Ways to Epica”, from Epica, Faust says that
Maybe God is the melody
We all serenade
Kamelot seems to be suggesting either that God is death, or that God is love – two very different ideas. It seems that death and love are deeply, perhaps irreversibly intertwined in Kamelot’s philosophy; perhaps the ambiguity is intentional.