“The new record turned out better than I expected and the reaction has been phenomenal. It’s a testament to the fans and their love for this band. Everyone is so re-energized, it’s awesome.”
Things could have been very different for guitarist Thomas Youngblood and his KAMELOT bandmates. Following the recordings for their Poetry For The Poisoned album in 2010 and only days before the band was due to embark on a fall headline tour, vocalist Roy Khan fell ill and plans were shelved until the end of the year. Although it hasn't been said out loud - at least not to the extent that the press jumped all over it - Khan's tenure with Kamelot was done at that point, both sides making it official in April 2011. The writing was on the wall when the band opted to hit the road prior to the announcement with RHAPSODY OF FIRE frontman Fabio Lione filling in and doing a decent to killer job depending on who you talked to. By many accounts he was a worthwhile prospect as Khan's successor. In the end, however, Kamelot opted to enlist little known singer Tommy Karevik from the Swedish band SEVENTH WONDER as the band's new voice, and the result is outstanding according to a ravenous fanbase.
“I think fans are more willing to accept a band changing the singer as long as he or she has similar characteristics to the one they had for 13 years." says Youngblood. "It would have been hard for us to bring in some power metal singer or an opera singer that didn’t have the tonal characteristics the fans want. That’s what I wanted for the band. For me, having Tommy in the band is a no-brainer.”
Asked if Lione was ever in the running as Kamelot's new vocalist, Youngblood reveals that it didn't get to the point of serious consideration.
“We talked about it, but I just think his voice is too connected to Rhapsody and that particular style. I really felt it would be unfair to him because he’s such a great singer, but when I heard the tapes from Tommy it was Kamelot. I think having a fresh face to take the next step was important. Fabio is one of my best friends, but I think it’s one of those situations where the record would have been great and people still would have complained. Now it’s cool because Fabio and I are talking about maybe doing a side-project at some point. That way I can have the best of both worlds.”
The similarities between Karevik’s and Khan’s voices are uncanny, even when you go back and listen to Karevik has done with Seventh Wonder. If the fans weren’t sold on him as Kamelot’s new singer on the recent NIGHTWISH support tour through North America, new album Silverthorn is proof that Youngblood and Co. would have been fools to not to bring him on board
“There’s that familiarity,” Youngblood says of Karevik’s presence. “What’s going to happen is people will listen to the album over and over and find these nuances and emotions that are special and unique. The last chorus on ‘Prodigal Son’ in one of the best Kamelot choruses ever. We listened to some of the Seventh Wonder stuff, which is quite different from Kamelot, and I heard these things in Tommy’s voice that I liked. I sent the material to Oliver (Palotai/keyboards) and told him I thought Tommy might be our guy. We worked on ‘Song For Jolee’ and sent it to a few different singers, and we told them to write vocal melodies and lyrics for the song. The version from Tommy, I called my wife into the office to hear it and she was blown away.”
Khan’s departure had consequences that ran much deeper than a “mere” voice for the band. He came on board in 1997 for the Siege Perilous record as a seasoned performer and songwriter, having made a name for himself as the frontman for prog stars CONCEPTION. The second Kamelot album to feature Khan, The Fourth Legacy released in 1999, put them on the map thanks to the Youngblood/Khan writing team.
Silverthorn was a make-or-break endeavour when it came to hammering out songs equal to or better than what they had produced for over a decade.
“The album was written by mostly Oliver and myself,” Youngblood reveals. “Sascha (Paeth/producer) wrote some stuff, Tommy wrote vocal melodies and lyrics. In fact, Tommy and Sascha wrote ‘Prodigal Son’ pretty much completely. We worked together, but for the most part the record was finished in terms of the music before we even made a decision on who was going to sing.”
“It was really cool because we’d tried to use some of Oliver’s ideas in the past and they were just too progressive. I was concerned that there wasn’t going to be any writing chemistry, but we sat down together and right from the beginning everything flowed between us. It was really quick. We had most of the songs done in about five months and we were really happy with the level of the songwriting, and that was something I think that was missing a little bit on the last album. On Poetry For The Poisoned we were packing each song with details and information that you don’t necessarily hear the first time.”
“The signature Kamelot sound was our goal, first and foremost. Once we knew we had that the vocals were the next concern. Tommy and Sascha worked together on all the vocals in Germany, and every day they would send me their ideas and I was just blown away. Sascha told me that we had nothing to worry about, which was a huge relief.”
Poetry For The Poisoned has some solid moments, but it’s regarded as one of Kamelot’s weaker efforts by a large cross section of fans. It’s a very dense and dark record, and given that Khan jumped ship between completing the album and doing the tour, perhaps the vibe was a reflection of whatever influenced his decision to leave.
“Yeah, I guess in hindsight it did,” Youngblood agrees. “At the time it wasn’t that obvious, but when you start listening to the lyrics you begin to wonder if there was something he wasn’t telling anybody. The whole ‘Great Pandemonium’ thing was basically pure metaphor for what he was going through, I guess. He never really explained anything to me about what’s happened to him.”
Any contact with Khan since his departure?
“He sent me an email saying that he’s working in Norway, he’s happy, that he’s happy for us, and that’s pretty much it.”
With Silverthorn being as important as it is to Kamelot’s career, the first shot out of the box didn’t come as a surprise. 'Sacrimony (Angel Of Afterlife)' sports all the trademark elements of the band's popular songs - up-tempo, symphonics, female and growling backing vocals - making it the obvious choice for a kick-off single.
“It wasn’t, and even now I listen to it and I’m not really sure about it,” Youngblood counters. “I didn’t want to release anything until a week before the album came out, but the record company said we should try this. It was a smart thing to do. We’ve played the song live and reactions have been great. We could have pulled out the song ‘Torn’ and people would say that it sounds like Kamelot. I really don’t know which one we would have picked to be released because a song like ‘Ashes To Ashes’ is a little bit different from the typical ‘Forever’ / ‘Center Of The Universe’ type songs that we’re known for.”
“The record had to be diverse, and that’s what we’ve always done. I think what’s great about Silverthorn is that it goes back to some of the previous ones. Every song has a strength of its own with the potential to become someone’s favourite song, and on Poetry I don’t think that was the case. I think Silverthorn is the album that the fans expected after Ghost Opera.”
“With each record, I look at it and try to pace it with fast songs, slow songs and ballads to give it some diversity, but on this one the challenge was to maintain the fanbase and remember that we want to make that fanbase grow. The steps we’re making now, they’re not so we can continue at the same level. We have to bring things to another level. I think we can do that with a guy like Tommy.”