Kamelot are one of the greatest powerhouses of American Power Metal, with an impressive body of work and having the distinction of having inspired the similarly prolific and mind-bendingly talented Epica. Kamelot have covered a lot of ground over the years, but the first thing to note about their latest album ‘The Shadow Theory’ is that it reaches into the darkest and harshest elements of the band’s art. With that being said, the first half of the album in particular seems to capture the tension of sci-fi edging into the apocalyptic, while the second is dedicated to Gothic melancholy. The sci-fi tension immediately arises in the opening The Mission, which feels like it could open Tron or Blade Runner as a Kamelot album, if those films happened to be directed by Tim Burton. Fans may also notice some nods to the melodies of ‘Ghost Opera.’

The album then kicks into the dramatic and even chaotic stylings of Phantom Divine (Shadow Empire). Alongside typical Kamelot drama is a true sense of Gothic evil in the pounding drums, crunchy guitars and harsh vocals of Lauren Hart. While her harsh vocals rival – perhaps even eclipse – Arch Enemy’s Alissa White-Gluz, her cleans are more reminiscent of Doro Pesch. Even Tommy Karevik’s vocals are a little darker than usual amongst the dense music, which gets so hectic as to err on the side of confusing.

RavenLight opens with a guitar sound more akin to melodic Death Metal than Power Metal, though the lilting keys and stronger showcase of Karevik’s vocals keep the song anchored to a comfortably Kamelot space. This track is particularly guitar-focused, with powerful solos from Thomas Youngblood, and Oliver Palotai not to be outdone on keys.

Amnesiac carries on the heaviness with crunchy, aggressive guitars, and the sci-fi flavours of the synths returning with a vengeance. This is one of the catchiest songs on the album with its energetic chorus, and grooving bassline courtesy of Sean Tibbetts. Prog fans may notice some hints of Ayreon influence amongst the sci-fi elements, particularly in the guitars.

Things kick up a notch with Burns to Embrace, which builds tension with dramatic music underlying Karevik’s slow vocal line. Haunting, mournful strings mix with heavy drums and riffs, while Palotai’s keys carry the melancholy through verses and Youngblood’s guitars twist the sadness into anger. This song is the first to bring the disparate parts of the album’s sound together in a way that really, unquestionably works. In this case, the solos are more restrained and focused more on melody than technicality.

In Twilight Hours is fairly typical of slower Kamelot songs, starting out with a focus and keys and vocals before launching into dramatic guitars and symphonic elements. Of particular note are Jennifer Haben’s gorgeous vocals, with a style not unlike Simone Simons mixed with Sharon den Adel.

The pace picks up again with Kevlar Skin, showcasing the cohesion of the band beautifully – there’s no showboating here, just a great song with masterful symphonic elements and epic solos. By contrast, Static shines the spotlight on hauntingly beautiful strings and piano, maintaining that despondent glory as the song evolves into heavy guitars and further symphonic elements. Karevik presents deeply emotive vocals, and Youngblood’s guitar fairly weeps alongside him.

MindFall Remedy reinstates many of the elements of Phantom Divine, particularly the dark and dramatic sci-fi mood. Hart’s vocals are nothing short of incredible on this track, her growls absolutely unbelievable.

Stories Unheard is a disciplined and restrained track, gentle at times but maintaining tension throughout. However, it is the following two tracks that are the greatest triumphs on the album. Vespertine (My Crimson Bride) is simply an excellent example of a Kamelot song – all the elements are there. It’s fast, symphonic, powerful and dramatic, with Youngblood’s solo crying with raw emotion and energy.

The absolute coup of the album though is The Proud and the Broken, described by Karevik as the second part of Burns to Embrace and “more of a moody piece of art than a song.” Palotai’s creepy and haunting piano leads into riffing that is nothing short of darkly fantastical alongside interesting synth sounds. New drummer Johan Nunez’s work is wonderfully varied throughout, and the track perfectly captures the dark fantasy side of Kamelot. As it continues it descends into the depths of woe with a simple, dark piano melody accompanied by Karevik’s lamentations, before moving into Palotai’s mind-blowing keyboard shredding.

In closing, the album becomes Burton-esque and whimsical once more with Ministrium (Shadow Key), which sits somewhere between The Nightmare Before Christmas and The Lord of the Rings in its aesthetic.

Overall, ‘The Shadow Theory’ is a bit of a slow starter in that the songs in the latter portion of the album are often vastly superior to the openers. That being said, the album is more than worth persevering with, and absolutely rewards the listener into an excursion into dark fantasy sure to please those Kamelot fans with an inclination towards the creepy and the mournful. Best listened to in the cemetery by moonlight.