Florida's KAMELOT may never be fully credited as one of the first in a second wave of symphonic power-prog metal bands, a subgenre that has gained momentum through the efforts of BLIND GUARDIAN, NIGHTWISH, EPICA, LEAVES' EYES, SONATA ARCTICA, VISIONS OF ATLANTIS and numerous others. Guitarist Thomas Youngblood began his quest for a perfected blend of neoclassical power metal and goth at a time when even the mighty MANOWAR departed American shores for the European market to stay viable. For his troubles, Youngblood has found himself jammed within a crowded market, yet nearly anyone following this style of metal would place KAMELOT among the cream of the crop.
Looking back upon the band's history, one might say Youngblood, along with fellow founding member Richard Warner, showed tremendous courage beginning a career in traditional-based metal music in Florida when they did. This, when even the horror film-inspired brutality of CANNIBAL CORPSE had yet to catch on beyond splat geeks within the same mid-'90s timeframe. Grunge having thrust its dagger into the U.S. rock scene a few years earlier, one must give Youngblood and KAMELOT credit for the good sense to court Europe, where metal has continued to have a place since the late 1970s.
This foresight led to a record deal with Noise Records. The label had already proven itself one of the global leaders in metal music, having released household names such as VOIVOD, CELTIC FROST, RUNNING WILD, KREATOR, HELLOWEEN and EXCITER. In 1993 Noise birthed its subsidiary T&T Records, which cultivated the style of operatic power metal Thomas Youngblood was hunting for. STRATOVARIUS, VIRGIN STEELE and IRON FIRE became future KAMELOT peers and innovators to what Yngwie Malmsteen had already pioneered. Thus Youngblood would schematically engineer KAMELOT's sound through numerous lineup changes. The band evolved from passable QUEENSRYCHE and CRIMSON GLORY emulation to one of the most enthralling symphonic power metal acts on the planet—worthy, even, of the distinguished BLIND GUARDIAN.
Keyboardist Dave Pavlicko (1993-1999) and vocalist/songwriter Roy Khan (1998-2011) are two figurative components in KAMELOT's opulent sound. Both feature prominently on this compilation, and have both departed the band. Thomas Youngblood must feel both pride and melancholy as KAMELOT soldiers on with vocalist Tommy Karevik gallantly leading the fore. The ultra-gifted Khan relinquished his spot in 2011 due to a one-time illness. Would KAMELOT be the same entity without his contributions?
That query is set for survey with "Where I Reign: The Very Best of the Noise Years 1995-2003". Keeping in mind a more extensive double-disc version appeared overseas earlier, this shortened single-disc version for the U.S. market still delivers the goods.
What this compilation offers is the chance to hear a band meticulously work toward the crisp theatricality of its post-Noise works, such as "Black Halo", "Ghost Opera", "Silverthorn" and "Haven". "Where I Reign: The Very Best of the Noise Years 1995-2003" selects from KAMELOT's early days largely consumed with Arthurian heraldry; spanning across "Eternity", "Dominion", "Siege Perilous", "The Fourth Legacy", "Karma" and "Epica". The latter album of course marks the first half of KAMELOT's first concept venture as a companion piece to "Black Halo".
What may be lost in the way of a grand perspective by a lack of an intensive track list on the U.S. version of "Where I Reign: The Very Best of the Noise Years 1995-2003" is yet attained by giving the newcomer an appreciation for how hard this band has worked over two decades to command the respect it does.
Dave Pavlicko's summoning keys and the orchestral plants thrusting behind the intro of "Eternity" hinted at where KAMELOT would soon be heading, even as the song itself is more power-prog. The talented, if not Geoff Tate-derivative, Mark Vanderbilt gave Thomas Youngblood a blueprint for what he wanted vocally from the finessed Roy Khan, who left CONCEPTION to join KAMELOT after 1997's "Dominion" was released. The future changeover in tone and songwriting is glaring with the CRIMSON GLORY-driven "Eternity", "The Gleeman" and "Rise Again", even if Dave Pavlicko's frolicking keys on "The Gleeman" offered something a mite different. Massive in spots, Pavlicko's rumbling synths and energetic keys give "Rise Again" flair. The band ups the power on the succulent and slinky "Where I Reign", where QUEENSRYCHE reverbs throughout. Yet here the future vibe of KAMELOT, via 1998's "Siege Perilous", begins to take shape. Accordingly, "Rhydin" (another track haunted by QUEENSRYCHE but with a vogue of its own) capitalizes on Roy Khan's disciplined note extensions and innate progressions.
While Pavlicko had left KAMELOT by the time 1999's "The Fourth Legacy" arrived, what Thomas Youngblood and Roy Khan had fostered together was extraordinary. "Where I Reign: The Very Best of the Noise Years 1995-2003" strategically throws in the blazing title track for "The Fourth Legacy", one of the most exciting songs KAMELOT has ever composed. CASEY GRILLO's double-hammer thrusts behind Roy Khan are pure exhilaration, and the abrupt operatic interlude was so well-executed it's a wonder KAMELOT wasn't adorning the covers of metal rags worldwide in one fell swoop. No matter how often this strategy's been used by this type of band since 1999, "The Fourth Legacy" is a momentous achievement deserving of full volume upon play. Ditto for the equally swift "Until Kingdom Come", a track to give MANOWAR a nip at their heels. In this case, the stacked vocal tracks and whirlwind keys get as much attention as the raging tempo and flurried strumming.
The remainder of "Where I Reign: The Very Best of the Noise Years 1995-2003" displays KAMELOT's knack for playing pure power metal with better-than-average adornments. While coming off as abbreviated evidence (as opposed to consuming "Epica" and "Karma" in whole, inclusive of the self-contained "Elizabeth" trilogy), hammering numbers like "We Are Not Separate", "III Ways to Epica" and the grandiose "Wings of Despair" roll in succession like plateaus reached and new ones set. The exultant title track for "Karma" is a pinnacle, not just for KAMELOT, but for this class of music.
KAMELOT is a band with a worldwide following, yet to this day, the band seeks the same merited credibility as their peers. A KAMELOT show is not just some power metal band coming through on a Thursday night, it's a refined band with as many wounds to bear as crown jewels. Thus, "Where I Reign: The Very Best of the Noise Years 1995-2003", the single or double version, is one of the more important stopovers in Noise's stroll down memory lane.