Travels Through The Dark Corners Of The Human Mind
On a weekday Kamelot guitarist Thomas Youngblood and singer Tommy Karevik travelled to Amsterdam [NL] to meet with the press to talk about their brand new CD `The Shadow Theory’ [release date April 6th 2018]. Although the band is successfully active for more than two decades, and already released eleven studio albums, their star is definitely still rising. With every release Kamelot seems to find new creative ways to sound fresh but without losing their well-known trademark, and `The Shadow Theory’ is no different. The album sounds exciting, even a bit more heavy and with great melodies, emotions and performance. Thomas and Tommy are sitting at a table in Br020, which is the new vinyl café of Sepultura bass player Paulo Jr. It’s the perfect environment for musicians and music lovers.
Before diving into the new CD, HeadBangers LifeStyle wants to look back on `Haven’, the last studio album that was released in 2015, and which became a milestone in Kamelot’s career. Thomas recalls: ,,When `Haven’ came out it debuted number one on the US hard rock albums [Billboard]. It was like `Wow, that’s a new thing for us’. Since then so much has happened. We started doing more tours, more cities in the US for example, touring wise we did more countries than ever before and eventually we toured for about 2 years. It is crazy when you think about it. From that aspect I think `Haven’ is just one of those albums, actually kind of like what `The Fourth Legacy’ was for that time, a kind of a breakout. Also the whole meaning behind `Haven’ was special too; Getting lost in music and having that sanctuary from every day life. When I was a kid I remember getting lost when my father had passed away. I was kind of depressed and that’s when I started getting into heavy metal and it helped me. From that aspect it was also a cool record to release, not only for myself but also for the fans.’’
Also Tommy looks back at `Haven’ as a huge success. ,,This album took us around the world and I am just super grateful that I’ve been a part of this whole machine that can actually just go and sustain itself around the world. I’m just hoping this will continue because it is really a dream come true. `Haven’ was also my second album as the singer of Kamelot and it was a chance to put a little bit more of myself in the music. I felt more confident, we tried new things too on that album, like a more industrial type of feel, which fits me personally really good. We also integrated a more poppy style but still with the Kamelot signature of course. It was perfect for me because I can resonate more with modern elements than the old style of power metal.
,,Everyone carries a shadow and the less it is embodied, the blacker it is!’’, Carl Jung
With every Kamelot album there is always more to it than just the music, not to mention the outstanding artwork. The lyrics do have a deeper meaning, whether it is in a conceptual form or a collection of songs which are connected by a theme or a red thread and full of symbolism. Thomas explains that this time he found inspiration by reading the work of Swiss physiatrist and psychoanalyst Carl Jung, who founded analytical psychology. ,,I was diving into these psychological studies from Carl Jung, like the idea of the “shadow’’ and a lot of this Freudian aspects of psychology. I remember sending Tommy and Oliver [Palotai, keyboards] this idea of the shadow and this subconscious that if you don’t really acknowledge it, it can become very dark. That was kind of the genesis for the album title and then it kind of led the way to this dystopic and psychological world and artificial intelligence [AI] of `The Shadow Theory’ that seems to be coming, maybe it is in a hundred years. We really wanted to address and kind of marriage those two worlds. It is not a concept record but there is an outline, this red line to all the songs and a lot of it was based on this line “Everyone carries a shadow and the less it is embodied, the blacker it is!’’ from Carl Jung. We wanted to make this about a theory and Tommy came up with the ideas for the 3 key elements: The Shadow Empire, The Shadow Key and The Shadow Wall. The lyrics are deep and intelligent and I was so proud when I saw them. Usually I want to chance some things but not this time, they were basically all perfect. It is amazing that Tommy who is not a native English speaker comes up with this stuff, so I was happy! When we started working on the music we knew that we wanted to have some modern elements on the album but also continue to have the symphonic stuff. When I heard the final mix, I felt so happy with the production, the melodies, I mean the vocal melodies will stick in people head for hours after listening to it. It’s really been good! I don’t know why I was drawn back to this dystopic theme, I just feel really interested in it right now. I have always liked SF and a lot of the SF is not fiction, it’s science non-fiction [smiling]. I mean the next record would probably something totally different but we really wanted to kind of still touch a little bit on this kind of revolution style approach to the story line and it resonates what I think is happening in the world today. This fight against science, global warming, CO2, all this stuff is so relevant. I think it is cool to be able to incorporate this to the record.’’
Tommy confirms he wrote a lot of the lyrics but he wants to point out that it was also a real team effort, together with Thomas, Oliver and producer Sascha Paeth. ,,I wrote most of the lyrics when I was at Sascha’s place. There I could focus a hundred per cent and channelling whatever the music is convening. It is important that everything feels like a unit and I think it really feels like that now listening to the recordings. I am also very happy with the end result, but I also wonder “how the hell did we do this?’’
,,Like with any other Kamelot album you can find what is touching you on a personal level’’, Tommy Karevik
Indeed, how the hell did they do it … again? And what are these key elements actually, which do sound mysterious and grand? Tommy is happy to enlighten the mystery of The Shadow Empire, The Shadow Key and The Shadow Wall. ,,The Shadow Empire would be the global mind, just think about who is running the world. Right now it is just a few selected people who have all the money and power and they kind of decide what the rest of world is doing. In this story it is this global mind that connects everyone. With one press on one button he can reach everyone and that is kind of like a chain. The Shadow Key would be the resistance, this small growing resistance that people get more enlightened about what is actually going on above their heads. The Shadow Wall is this curtain of smoke that they put in front of our eyes for us to not see what is actually going on. That would be for example news, Netflix, all this one-way communication roads that kind of shape us to make decisions. These 3 key elements are the base of `The Shadow Theory’ and everything revolves around it. But we also wanted just have the songs itself being separate songs and like with any other Kamelot album you can find what is touching you on a personal level and it doesn’t have to be connected to the story all the time.’’
For the fans who like to learn about the deeper meaning of the lyrics will have an adventure of their own, but what about the music? What has Kamelot in store for them? Thomas sits up straight and answers, while Tommy observe with a smile: ,,Wooh, it is super packed with information. I was just listening last night to a couple of songs. It’s got so much stuff and it’s all relevant musically. There’s not filler stuff on this record, to me it is all really good quality whether it’s melodies or solos, the production and to me it is just another level. I am excited about it and I think the fans are going to be really happy with it. The biggest challenge with every Kamelot record is not to repeat yourself but maintain the sound and also having new ideas that challenge us and the listeners. I think that is a really important factor with Kamelot, were the fans expect the unexpected in a way and that’s important for us as songwriters. So we are not just take in and copy and paste the last 3 albums. There are definitely crucial Kamelot melodies on the record that I always need to have and I want the fans to have but we have some stuff that is a little different but it is still melodic. That’s the crucial thing, the melody. We also have some cool special guests on the record. Production is definitely more heavy, it’s a heavier sound, which is cool. I think fans have been wanting a little bit of a heavier direction, more guitar based. I’m also happy with the pacing, because I like the record to be a movie where it has ebb and flow and all these different emotions. Once I know that we have that it’s such a nice feeling, a sigh of relief.’’
Tommy adds: ,,The song ,,Insomnia’’ from `Haven’ for instance was more straight forward but dark in a poppy way, with strong lines and a bit of a new territory for us. I think we continue this with the new album, maybe even more as well as having some more complex stuff, maybe even more complex than on `Haven’ and also a little bit more experimental. I am really happy with the diversity of the album. Actually we do have a couple of songs already for the next album, so we are a little bit ahead of the game this time. At least we have a starting point.’’
,,Making the decision to do this life as a musician without any backup was also very stressful’’, Tommy Karevik
It’s clear Kamelot is not avoiding a musical challenge while in the meantime try to manage the deadline challenges on a business side. Tommy adds to the discussion that last year has been a hell of a challenge for him. ,,It has been such a busy year for me and it was the first year I have actually taken off doing any kind of fire fighting work just to focus on music and it was scary. I had some voice trouble because I was not resting my voice enough, but I overcame all of it and in the end everything worked out, but it definitely was a tough year for me. Making the decision to do this life as a musician without any backup was also very stressful because I am a safety head number one. But it was the right decision to make and everything happens for a reason. As far as the recordings, that is always a challenge. I try not to repeat myself too much but I really want to convene the emotion when I sing and I think a big part of the Kamelot sound is to convene the emotion and making it interesting with the emotion.’’
Over the years Kamelot had some talented special guests on board, both on CD and on stage, like Simone Simons (Epica), Alissa White-Gluz (Arch Enemy), Elize Ryd (Amaranthe), to name a few. On `The Shadow Theory’ it’s Jennifer Haben (Beyond The Black) and Lauren Hart (Once Human) who shine. Thomas says that lot of people think that Kamelot have this grand plan when it comes to special guests, while for him the explanation is simple. ,,We have always had guests in the past and to me it always has been organic. I just like to look around and look for vocalists that I think can contribute to the record, but also could see their career getting bigger. I like that aspect of it finding fresh talent. Jennifer Haben has got a very unique voice that fit perfect for the ballad ,,In Twilight Hours’’. The kind of play between her and Tommy on that song is almost artistic to me, just beautiful. Through one of our good friends Kobra Page from Kobra and the Lotus we got to know Lauren Hart. She joined us on stage when we did a show with Iron Maiden last summer in California. Lauren is a super sweet person and a cool performer and she also has a really unique clean voice. So she was one of the first people that popped in my head to get on the record. It also feels so awesome that my soon to be 8 year old son is one of the special guests. He is singing with this children’s choir in ,,Burns To Embrace’’ and he did a great job. My son is always singing at home, he had a great time doing it.’’
German musician and producer Sascha Paeth [Avantasia, Edguy, Angra, Epica, Rhapsody Of Fire] seems to be inseparable from Kamelot. In fact he never left the building since he produced Kamelot’s fourth, very successful studio album `The Fourth Legacy’ . Ever since he joins the ride as the important sixth band member and Thomas has no intention to change his winning team. ,,Sascha is being with us since 1999, he knows the Kamelot sound and it is important to have that outsiders objective opinion about things. We respect him, he is an amazing musician and a cool dude. And there’s also a loyalty aspect to it, which is really important I think. Sascha is also one of the songwriters and he definitely stepped up in terms of the song writing. Tommy and Sascha work really good together on the vocals and one of the key aspects of the former albums `Silverthorn’ and `Haven’ is them working so well together.’’
Since Kamelot released their last live CD and DVD `One Cold Winter’s Night’ in 2006, there is no doubt fans will look extremely forward to the new Kamelot live Blu-ray that will be filmed during the upcoming massive world tour. Thomas couldn’t be more excited. ,,We had been negotiating with some labels on a Blu-ray contract and a live CD. Finally with Napalm Records we came up with a cool contract and the right budget to make the production like we want it. So it is going to be like massive! Over the years the Dutch fans have been so amazing for the band so we want to do the main recordings definitely in The Netherlands, which will be in 013 in Tilburg. We are really excited about it. We’re going to film some other shows as well because we want it to be kind of like a documentary movie to show a little bit of a different aspect of what is happening on a tour. I would like to have somebody around, filming for a full week, without noticing that person, to capture those organic, real situations. Other than that on our North American Tour we have Delain and Battle Beast as our special guests, we go to Japan in November and we have some festivals over the summer. We are excited about touring the next 2, 3 years.’’
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All photos by Tim Tronckoe