With nine years spent waiting since the release of their last album, 2012’s Bury The Light, Pharaoh returns in forceful fashion with their fifth full-length. The Powers That Be (Cruz Del Sur Music) could very well be the Power Metal veterans’ most aggressive outing since 2006’s The Longest Night, bringing in a borderline thrash undercurrent with the guitar’s blazing technical runs along with the vocals’ established grit. This is established right off the bat with the title track’s assertive crunch and ‘Will We Rise’ follows up the intensity with some added Classic Metal flavor.
Haven (Napalm), American Power Metal band Kamelot’s eleventh studio album and second since the departure of Roy Khan, is an album that sounds like a musical at heart, like it was fastidiously crafted to be performed on Broadway. Its stylings and symphonic groundings and Tommy Karevik’s leading man performance all point to it, and so effective is their dramatic voice, perhaps taking their work to the theatrical stage is the next step they need to take to fully realize a legacy that has been consolidated by consistency.
Historically, the Floridians have always been walked on safe, and not the wild, side. A touch of fantasy, a host of symphonics, with soaring, immaculate vocals on top, they have always delivered and always sounded utmost in their professionalism and musicianship, but never truly excited; a band that, while most definitely best in class (though perhaps by default), are at times too slick and lack the insanity/genius of a great.
The heady mix of Savatage, Dream Theater and Queensrÿche coupled with effective symphonics and Andrew Lloyd Webber musical theatrics is near-perfected in opening duo ‘Fallen Star’ and ‘Insomnia’, up there with the best tracks of the bands’ career, but it is with ‘Under Grey Skies’ and the addition of Charlotte Wessels’ (Delain) dreamy vocals and Troy Donockley (Nightwish)’s tin whistle that matters bloom and the full epic musical scale of the vision for the album begins to be realized. It sails close to the Eurovision ballad wind, but it’s a beautiful song fully suited to a soundtrack or a musical. Elsewhere, downtuned staccato rhythms underpin grandiose unveilings and Karevik dispels any notions that the band can’t succeed without Khan with an assured performance; actor, narrator, singer, frontman and further proof that the line between Kamelot’s albums and musical theatre is a thin one.
All the previous criticisms can apply: this is a slick, professional band, but on Haven Kamelot have once again verified they are best in class, and have found an emotional connection. No longer cold to the touch, they are bringing to life their vision most effectively and with genuine zest. While retaining all the expected hallmarks, it is most definitely meticulously put together (if the devil is in the detail, then Haven is positively Satanic) but there is something more to it; something exuberant bubbling through. You would expect a band entering their third decade to have the requisite chops, but you wouldn’t necessarily expect them to be injecting such vitality and vigour into the mix.
Playing epic, classic heavy metal is not a road to travel if fame, glory and success is your goal. Visigoth front man Jake Rogers showed his warrior spirit by talking to Ghost Cult and defending the honour not just of his tribe, or their new album, The Revenant King (Metal Blade), but also their place in the metal world.
It’s been 25 – 30 years since most of your influences were at their peak, and while there is a lot of love and respect for bands like Manilla Road et al, but what makes Visigoth relevant at a time when heavy metal in that form has long moved on in style and sound?
We aren’t concerned with ‘relevance’, we are simply concerned with heavy metal music. True fans of heavy metal don’t care what is “hip” or “cool” or “in”, they simply enjoy what they enjoy and that’s that. I love all sorts of metal music, be it heavy metal, black metal, black thrash, death metal, doom metal, USPM, speed metal, thrash metal, etc.; if it’s real, I dig it! And of course we love plenty of non-metal music as well, because we’re music obsessives! But the type of music we wanted to do with Visigoth was powerful fist-raising, sword-weilding heavy metal, no more, no less.
Playing such a traditional style could be said to have its limitations. What can you do with Visigoth going forward that you haven’t already, or that metal in general hasn’t already done before?
We won’t be doing anything that hasn’t been done before. We are not interested in experimentation or progressive elements or trying to be “genre-defying” in any way. We are not a special snowflake band whatsoever, we are simply a heavy metal band. Some people will scoff at the notion, calling it quaint and regressive, and that’s fine – those aren’t the type of people we would want to talk music with anyway! We’re just a heavy metal band playing heavy metal music for people who love heavy metal music.
How do you balance the irony vs the seriousness with the band? I mean, at what point, (such as say during the writing of ‘Dungeon Master’?) do you think “Ah, this may be a bit close to the line”? I know these are tropes that have been prominent in traditional metal for years, but what’s the thinking around subjects, image, song titles, live presentation and balancing that with being concerned about being too cheesy?
Nothing we do is ironic. This band is passionately from the heart and 100% serious. I am completely against irony in heavy metal. If you think metal is a joke, you have no business playing it. Of course, there are some great bands that have a sense of humour about their music (take Metalucifer, for example), but their humour isn’t ironic, it is a humour born of affection and love for the genre, and they still take the music seriously.
The distinction is a very important one, in my opinion. Sure, some people will think a song like ‘Dungeon Master’ is “cheesy”, but I honestly wrote those lyrics because my experiences playing those table-top roleplaying games and computer games throughout my formative years were really important to what would later become my appreciation for heavy metal aesthetics. A lot of people who are into heavy metal music can relate to this – those who can’t, will call it cheesy and move on. That’s fine, because it’s not for them.
When writing lyrics, coming up with song titles, or devising concepts for artwork or general presentation, I never concern myself with whether or not some toughbro or cool-dude beardo on the internet is going to think it’s cheesy – they can look elsewhere for bands with the modern, up-to-date, hip, cool image that they’re interested in.
Actual metal people tend to understand and unironically enjoy fantasy/barbarian aesthetics and classic heavy metal imagery, and that’s our target audience.
What will make Visigoth stand tall for years to come?
Our dedication to heavy metal music, our passion for playing live gigs, and our drive to improve – we know we aren’t a great band yet, but we’ll keep trying until we get there!