For over fifteen years, Tampa metal stalwart Kamelot has braved the waters of progressive heavy metal, making each succeeding album an individual and atmospherically broader endeavor. With its latest release, POETRY FOR THE POISONED, the band engages a much darker, more menacing and, at times, more austere approach to its musical storytelling.
Prior to the launch of its North American tour (with Alestorm, Blackguard and The Agonist), Examiner caught up with primary songwriter and guitarist Thomas Youngblood to shed a bit of light on the brilliantly bleak direction in the ongoing saga of Kamelot!
Has being an American band that not only has been around as long as you have, but also has consistently struggled to get a foothold on a domestic audience contributed to Kamelot’s openness to this darker aura?
No, not at all. I mean, six years ago, nobody who sounds like us would have ever been able to tour the States. It’s not quite where we want it to be, but it’s still growing here. I think it’s more of an awareness thing than anything; the country is just so geographically big that it’s really hard to market a band without the mass-marketing that bands like Linkin Park used to get. Whereas, in Europe, you can get centralized marketing for Germany, or Holland, or wherever. I think that’s been the main issue with any band that is like Kamelot.
But at the same time, we’re happy where we are. We would like to be bigger in the United States, of course, but you have to also look at the worst-case scenario. I mean, POETRY FOR THE POISONED charted in the Top 100, and we are going to continue to build and grow in America. I don’t think that contributed to the dark ideas that went into the record. It was more of a reflection of the times – whether it be friends losing their jobs, losing their homes, whatever, you know? When you get down to it, there’s a lot of bad things going on for people, and it’s not really going to lend itself to writing “be positive” songs, you know?
And yet, through all of that, there still remains a sense of fantasy, which I would say is the one element that Kamelot has carried as a common thread through its entire discography.
Yeah, to a certain extent, sure. But I think that is more based around the symphonic elements – strings and lush arrangements – that always conjure things in your head. Lyrically, it’s not really fantasy-based like it was for THE FOURTH LEGACY. We have made a conscious effort, from SIEGE PERILOUS on, to not paint ourselves as a band that sings about dragons or whatever. We want to be a band that sings about whatever we want. And I grew up with bands that did whatever they wanted, like Queen and Led Zeppelin. So it is important for us to be free to do whatever we want musically and lyrically.
What led you down this path of character-driven songwriting?
You know…I don’t know. We had been tossing around the idea of doing something with this Zodiac guy for a while now. And we touched on it with the “Elizabeth” trilogy [on 2001’s KARMA]. I don’t know, I think because the tone of the album was a little bit darker than what we had done before; it opened up our minds a bit more to these kinds of elements.
In general, I really don’t want to do songs about murderers, but it was just a topic that popped up. Sometimes things happen and you don’t really remember how you got there, and sometimes you remember everything. I’m not exactly sure how the idea of the Zodiac popped up; I just remember that it was an interesting topic, and I think it was actually something Roy [Khan, former vocalist] had never heard about before. I think that using these kinds of story-styled themes lend themselves to being more interesting as a reader and a listener.
But when you go and get someone like Jon Oliva to portray a serial killer, the audience is going to end up rooting for him!
[Laughs] I know. And it was the same with Shagrath as Mephisto. I guess it all depends on how much of a fan of Jon you are before you hear the song.
With progressive metal fans as ferociously loyal as they are, I have to ask, did you catch any sh** for having Shagrath [from Dimmu Borgir] participate on THE BLACK HALO?
Not as much as I thought we would have. I’ve got to be honest; initially I thought the idea was a little bit crazy. It was actually Roy’s idea…and it worked really well. If you step outside of any musical taste or genre-predilection (or if you just see the video or hear the song without really knowing anybody involved), it actually works perfectly. And that’s really all that matters. If you can remove yourself from genre-favoritism or bias, it only matters that it works for the song. I actually think that Dimmu Borgir fans might have had a bigger problem with it than Kamelot fans.
When you go to a Kamelot show, you’re going to find different kinds of fans there. Sure, you’ll have your prog dudes with the Rush shirt and the crossed arms, but you will also have the gothic girls in the front row. The nice thing is that you have all these different people coming together to experience this unique kind of music, where it crosses different genres and age groups. It’s just something that we feel very fortunate about.
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