Sunday, September 15, 2013

When Kamelot went to Montreal, and I went to Kamelot

The year is 2000.

A 14-year old me is scouring the internet for news about the new Zelda game, which was up until recently known as "Zelda Gaiden", set to release later this year. The game, now titled Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask promises to be an darker, deeper sequel to Ocarina of Time.

I stumble across a site called Hyrule: The Land of Zelda. The splash page loads a flash video of the Skull Kid wearing Majora's Mask. Suddenly, the most mesmerizing piece of music I've ever heard plays in the background. It's the first 26 seconds of this song. And all I see is "Music by Nightwish" at the bottom.


And this is what got me interested in symphonic metal. Weirdest, stupidest way to get interested in a type of music, but it's the truth. To be honest, a very similar event occurred to get me interested in Daft Punk: a clip of Digital Love on a GAP commercial.

I had no idea what the song was called, only that the first 26 seconds had pulled me into an obsession. I had to know what that song was. And instead of doing the obvious thing and emailing the webmaster, I decided my best course of action would be to download songs until I found the right one.

I underestimated Nightwish's discography. 

It took me about a full year to find the song, but in the meantime, I fell in love with the band. It hadn't been long after Wishmaster had released, and the first full song I heard had been Sleepwalker, the bonus song from that album. 

Years later, after their album Once had released in late 2004, I discovered they were playing a show in Montreal and knew I would have to go see it. I took a 13 hour train ride with a friend who wasn't even remotely interested in this kind of music and went to see them live. As the first notes of Dark Chest of Wonders swept across the crowd in the Metropolis, I knew. This is my favourite band. 

Years still later, I managed to see them live--in Montreal and Quebec City, because few good bands come to New Brunswick--three times with their new singer, Anette. The first show, I even brought the band a small doll I had made based on the character Eva from one of their songs. I was floored when Anette brought it onstage during the encore. Anette told me after the show that she was planning to bring it for other performances as well, and she was true to her word--she brought it onstage in Toronto the same week. Again, Nightwish was cemented firmly as my favourite band. 

Slowly but surly, a contender appeared. Kamelot, at first, was unassuming to me. Seeing their video for March of Mephisto on MuchMusic in 2005 got me interested, but it wasn't until I sat down and listened to the Black Halo as a whole that I truly understood what a fine band they are. I spent the entire summer of 2009 listening to that album on repeat. I couldn't stop. "All right," I told myself, "this is your favourite album. But Nightwish is still your favourite band."

Then, disaster struck. Last October, just a day before I was due to make a trip to Montreal for work, I discovered that Anette was no longer a part of Nightwish. I was heartbroken to hear that yet another of the band's prolific, talented singers was gone. I'm not ashamed to admit I shed tears at both Tarja and Anette's respective departures. Both times, the future was uncertain. The second time, though, I was starting to develop trust issues. I don't like to take sides when I don't know the full story, but I couldn't help but feel a little bitter.

Floor Jansen joined Nightwish to promote their Imaginaerum album and, from what I've heard from the live videos uploaded to YouTube, has done a magnificent job singing in the interim. Since the summer of the Black Halo, I had fully listened to two more albums of Kamelot's--Ghost Opera and Poetry for the Poisoned--and started to feel that second place was coming up very closely behind Nightwish. I didn't want to think about my precious Nightwish being kicked out of the position I had mentally put them in. Not because I think they would care, but only because I'm particularly stubborn. 

Kamelot had experienced some lead singer problems of their own. Roy Khan, their talented singer with a voice like velvet, had suffered a serious collapse during their tour to promote Poetry for the Poisoned. After a year's break and having Rhapsody of Fire's Fabio Lione take over for the tour, Khan announced in his blog that he would no longer be a part of the band, and he has since left he music industry altogether. 

I fell into a period of musical confusion. My two favourite active singers were no longer a part of the bands I loved. There was a period of time that I avoided metal altogether. It was a brief period, but it was there. I listened to Gorillaz and Mother Mother and wondered if I would ever love metal again.

And then I discovered this song. 

When I heard the singer, at first I thought it was Roy Khan in a new band, or that perhaps he had changed his mind. When I got to the chorus, though, I realized that it wasn't Khan at all, but someone new, and that Kamelot was alive and well. I was overjoyed. Not only were they releasing a new album, but they sounded as good as ever. While new singer Tommy Karevik had some big shoes to fill, it seemed he was doing a very good job of it.

I purchased their most recent album, Silverthorn, and was blown away by it. To me, it was their best album since the Black Halo. It helped me through a particularly rough patch in winter. Every day I would look forward to coming home, cranking the album as loudly as I could, and... well. Cooking supper. I cooked supper like a badass.

I bought concert tickets on a whim in late March, foolishly overlooking the VIP tickets and going straight for the regular show, thinking it would save me money. For some reason I was neglecting the fact that I was attending a concert 13 hours away and that saving money was a little bit out of the question. Many months passed. Random Access Memories was released and kept me actively listening to something in the meantime. When September arrived, I was ready, and terribly excited.

We woke up at 4:30 AM to board the plane to Montreal the morning of the show and met with a friend who was also in town to see the band. We spent the day hanging out in Montreal, more or less killing time until we could enter the venue.

Brad and I waited outside in the line in the rather uncharacteristic cold for about an hour and a half until finally the line started moving and we were allowed inside the venue. We found a spot on the floor to stand and were surprised when everything started exactly on time. Opening band Eklipse took the stage promptly at 7 PM and blew us all away with their unique, harmonic blend of string instruments. 4 ladies--3 violinists, and one cellist. They played popular cover tunes as well as their own atmospheric originals.

Closely following Eklipse was Delain, a Dutch group who are actually far better live than their recordings would suggest. Lead singer Charlotte Wessels seemed to be an absolute sweetheart, smiling at the crowd at every opportunity. She packed a powerful vocal punch as well. At one point, the crowd was cheering so loud that Charlotte just stopped and watched us, positively beaming. All around, the show was shaping up to be one of the best shows I'd seen, and that was before the main act even came out.

At 8:30, Delain thanked us and left the stage. Just a half hour before Kamelot came on. It was a pretty long half hour. But the lights dimmed, the crowd cheered, and a familiar voice from just offstage shouted "Montreal!". The opening notes of Rule the World started to play, and like the revelation I had when I saw Nightwish live for the first time, I realised right then that Kamelot's succession had arrived. They had dethroned Nightwish, my favourite band for almost 10 years, and taken their place.

Their set was absolutely magical. Alissa White-Gluz of the Agonist--my personal girl-crush and current musical inspiration--accompanied and sang backing vocals and the female vocalists on many of the songs. She also growled during Sacrimony. Eklipse returned for My Confession, playing their strings just as they do on the album. Acadian artist and fellow East Coaster Angie Arsenault took the stage to sing a duet of Don't you Cry in French alongside Tommy. Incredible.

The band said goodbye for the time being, but was, as always, met with a series of cheers and chants from the crowd, begging them to come back on stage. They did, opening the encore with Ghost Opera ("welcome all to curtain call/at the opera/raging voices in my mind/rise above the orchestra/like a crescendo of gratitude"--fitting!). The final song of the night was March of Mephisto, which began with two members of Eklipse coming onstage to play a drumbeat, and followed up with Alissa growling the role of Mephisto. I think that was when I lost my mind. And my voice.

It was an incredible, magical evening. But it wasn't over.

We stopped by our hotel room for a few minutes, then went back out to see if the band might hang around the venue a bit afterwards.
And then, this happened. That's Sean Tibbetts, Kamelot's bassist. I wasn't in pain, by the way, I just can't take a decent photo to save my life.

We saw a few people coming and going, but Sean Tibbetts stopped to talk to us and take a few photos. After seeing no other members coming out, we decided they were likely tired and we headed out to Foufounes for a post-concert drink.

It was when I was ordering a round of Shocktop when my husband Brad leaned over to me and asked "Isn't that Thomas Youngblood over there?". I looked over, and sure enough, the guitarist and founder of Kamelot was standing not far away, chatting with fellow musicians and having a drink of his own. Marcel, our friend who accompanied us--also the lead singer in Moncton-area metal band Shades of Sorrow--suggested we say hello. I'm shy, but I couldn't pass up this opportunity. We approached Youngblood to say hello, and he reciprocated with a smile, shook our hands and clinked glasses with us. Wow. To say it was the perfect end to an already magical evening would be a bit of an understatement.

While I didn't get to meet everyone in the band, it's safe to say I'll be getting VIP tickets next time to ensure this happens. When I first heard of Khan's departure, I was uncertain whether Kamelot would keep going, or that the new singer might not measure up. It seems now, though, that my sentiments echo Youngblood's from this Blabbermouth article:

"In the beginning, when this whole thing started, we were a little unsure of what the future might be, but now we're really excited about it."

I couldn't agree with him more. I'm excited, too.

Nightwish will always be special to me, but times change and so do our perceptions. I'll still see Nightwish on their next North American tour, I'm sure, but I don't know that I can get attached to another singer in the same capacity. It's not right to compare two bands, and though it may sound like it, I'm not. One has just slowly and steadily grown on me to the point that I can no longer see myself calling any other band my favourite. Thanks for September 8th, Kamelot. I'll never forget it.

A post-script to note that seeing Kamelot was the musical kick in the ass I needed. I finished recording this song this week. It's the first song I've ever written. Please let me know what you think!


  1. I work as a paramedic at the largest "event center" in the state of Iowa - I've seen hundreds and hundreds of concerts of all types. I can say without a doubt that heavy metal fans are by far (I can't stress this enough), by far, the most courteous and grateful patrons I've ever dealt with. I'm not sure if it's the inclusion the group feels about sharing such a passionate fandom of something that isn't particularly mainstream, or something entirely imperceptible to me, but it's tangibly present.

    I disliked the connotation of heavy metal prior to my work experience...but I've become a fan over the years, and almost entirely because of the positive imprint the fanbase has left on me. Thanks for introducing me to these guys - listening to music that isn't country is good for me :)

    P.S. these guys are your reciprocal...I will never work that ever again.

    1. Thanks for writing, Tyson. Hope you end up giving these guys a listen and enjoying! I agree that metal has some really great fans. Most of the time I'll go to these shows and end up meeting new people!