Kamelot – I Am The Empire: Live From The 013 (Album Review)

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A night at the power metal opera.

The story that is Kamelot’s rise to prominence is, if nothing else, an inspirational one. Conceived in the twilight of heavy metal’s original heyday in the early 1990s, theirs’ was an uphill battle against a near universal sentiment in the U.S. that the style was dead, particularly the more melodic and 80s-tinged form that they originally brought to the table. Greener pastures would be subsequently sought at the tail end of the last millennium, and while this quintet would remain a predominantly American band, their formerly old school USPM style took on more of a European flavor as most of their touring destinations were outside the continental United States. With nearly three decades at their backs and twelve studio albums under their belts, Kamelot has arguably become the most consequential metallic export from Florida since the early death metal scene of said state, and they have likewise proven to be among the most ambitious bands in the live setting since the glory days of Dio and Iron Maiden.

Change has naturally been a factor in this band’s ongoing run as an American answer to the European power metal revival, and their current stylistic disposition has largely been shaped by the success enjoyed by their pivot towards a more conceptual and musical theatre-tinged niche that had been adopted in the mid-2000s. As such, the fruits of their 2019 tour, which have culminated in the massive live offering that is “I Am The Empire: Live At The 013”, is a spectacle largely born out of the grandiose yet simplified formula that the band has generally stuck to since 2005’s “The Black Halo”. Frequent guest vocal performances and an appearance by famed German string quartet group Eklipse represent some of the many bits of window-dressing that make for an ambitious and riveting concert experience, yet it mostly takes a backseat to a highly avid performance by the core fold, with the rhythm section of co-founder Sean Tibbetts’ bass work and rank newcomer Alex Landenburg’s precision drumming providing a flawless foundation upon which the soaring keyboard, guitar and vocal work ascend the heavens.

It goes without saying that this foray into the live setting is mostly geared towards the post-Khan era of the band, with roughly two-thirds of the songs being faithfully reproduced from the three most recent studio outings. Nevertheless, Tommy Karevik proves equally up to the task of recreating Roy Khan’s signature soaring, quasi-operatic tenor, almost to the point that he would be easily mistaken for his predecessor. Of particular note is how effortlessly he powers through such signature middle era Kamelot classics as the darkly tinged, mid-paced anthems “Rule The World” and “March Of Mephisto”, though his riveting renditions of swifter beasts like “When The Lights Are Down” and “Forever” (the lone pre-“The Black Halo” song found on here, and also one that features Thomas Youngblood shredding it up almost to the point of rivaling Yngwie Malmsteen) ought not be discounted. In fact, the only real flaw to the song selection is that a lot of similar sounding ideas cycle in and out at rapid intervals, almost as if each one was drawn from the same album.

“I Am The Empire – Live From The 013” Album Artwork

In essence, this is a performance built off of hook-oriented fanfare, and what keeps it from being an hour and forty-five minute exercise in sameness is the impressive cast of guest characters that filter in and out of this metallic opera. Delain lead vocalist Charlotte Wessels provides a spellbinding angelic foil to Karevik’s princely croons on the poignant ballad “Under Grey Skies”, while Once Human’s Lauren Hart reprises her beauty and the beast dual vocal assault to lead off cruiser “Phantom Divine (Shadow Empire)” without missing a note. Likewise, the original twin voices of light and dark in Elize Ryd and Alissa White-Gluz’s contributions to the speed-infused majesty of “Sacrimony (Angel Of Afterlife)” blend with Karevik’s lead to form a perfect vocal representation of a dramatic love triangle. However, the moment that truly steals the show is White-Gluz’s yin and yang vocal wizardry on show closer “Liar Liar (Wasteland Monarchy)”, showcasing not only her wicked proficiency as a harsh screamer, but also a brilliant operatic display that is seldom on display given her ongoing tenure with Arch Enemy.

An utter boon for any rabid fan of Kamelot, this is a release that comes in just about every imaginable format, including an extensive set of post-concert interviews with all of the major figures involved in the production. Most of the technical points on the mechanics of the performance itself are covered by Youngblood and keyboardist Oliver Palotai, who in addition to functioning as a sort of de facto Malmsteen and Johansson duo on stage, were the most heavily involved in the composition process alongside Sascha Paeth, who himself has some interesting insights. The various guest performers naturally offer an enthusiastic take on their contributions to the event, coming off almost like an extension of the band’s fan base at times. But the most memorable point of the various behind the scenes content is the small contribution made by Sean Tibbetts, who gives a sort of every-man meets life of the party take on things that serves to humanize what is otherwise a superhuman undertaking. It’s a sizable investment that covers a masterful performance in three different media, but definitely a worthwhile one for any self-respecting fan of the band and the sub-genre.

Released by: Napalm Records
Released Date: August 14th, 2020
Genre: Power Metal

Musicians:

  • Tommy Karevik / Vocals
  • Thomas Youngblood / Guitars
  • Sean Tibbetts / Bass
  • Oliver Palotai / Keyboards
  • Alex Landenburg / Drums

“I Am The Empire: Live From The 013” track-listing:

1. Transcendence (Intro)
2. Phantom Divine (Shadow Empire) [Featuring Lauren Hart]
3. Rule The World
4. Insomnia
5. The Great Pandemonium
6. When The Lights are Down
7. My Confession  [Featuring Eklipse]
8. Veil of Elysium
9. Under Grey Skies [Featuring Charlotte Wessels (live premiere)]
10. Ravenlight [Featuring Sascha Paeth]
11. End of Innocence
12. March of Mephisto [Featuring Alissa White Gluz]
13. Amnesiac 
14. Manus Dei
15. Sacrimony (Angel of Afterlife) [Featuring Alissa White Gluz & Elize Ryd]
16. Drum And Keys Solo
17. Here’s to the Fall
18. Forever
19. Burns to Embrace – with Children’s Choir including Thomas Youngblood’s son
20. Liar Liar (Wasteland Monarchy) [Featuring Alissa White Gluz]
21. Ministrium (Shadow Key)
“I Am The Empire – Live From The 013” will be available in the following formats:

  • Ltd. Deluxe Box (Including CD, DVD, BluRay, Flag, 5 Photocards, Lanyard + AAA Tourpass & 4 Guitar Picks) 
  • Ltd 2 LP Gatefold Marbled Blue/White + DVD
  • Ltd 2 LP Gatefold Gold + DVD
  • 2 LP Gatefold Black + DVD
  • Digipak (including CD, DVD & BluRay)
  • Digital Album

Pre-order “I Am The Empire – Live From The 013” at this location.

8.8 Excellent

While power metal has always tended towards the theatrical side of the musical coin, Kamelot has shown an auspicious flair for taking the concept to its logical conclusion in a live setting, and their 3rd live outing proves to be no exception

  • Songwriting 8
  • Musicianship 8.5
  • Setlist 9
  • Production 9.5
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