Keldian - Darkness And Light - (9.5/10)
Published on January 15, 2018
Ascending the cosmic stairway yet again.
With its rich and growing history, metal has gone from being a darker offspring of primitive hard rock music into a veritable spectrum of possibilities. Despite this large and growing diversity, there are some very clear breakpoints where one sub-genre will given way to another, often times being defined by those bands that find themselves adopting some hybrid between one subset and the next or pioneering a new one altogether by working with and exaggerating existing ones. Yet perhaps the most interesting border is the one that separates metal itself from all the other kinds of music floating around out there, and with it a crop of bands that seem to stretch the very definition of metal to the furthest extent possible, and it is here where the Norwegian duo known as Keldian resides, in that ultra-melodic zone where power metal ends and keyboard rich smoothness of 80s New Wave begins. Though they’ve existed under various names since the turn of the millennium and are a likely candidate for the original revivalist crowd, they’ve only been at the studio making a direct impact on things for about 10 years, and in that time they’ve shown very little interest in the stylistic flux that has enveloped power metal since the early 2000s.
True to form, this band’s fourth outing Darkness And Light sees a continuation of the same heavily atmospheric, Stratovarius-inspired mixture of power metal and rock fanfare that has been their staple since Heaven’s Gate, albeit with the massive production sound and pacing that scored them an unknown classic in Outbound a few years back. Though the album art might suggest a lyrical departure to a less Sci-Fi realm, there is about as many odes to sailing through nebula on the path new worlds as ever, coupled with a few surprisingly relevant subjects involving our beloved planet Earth at present. There is a greater tendency towards a moderate pacing of things here relative to Outbound and Journey Of Souls in favor of where this band kicked off things in 2007, but most of the stylistic trappings that have typified this band’s collective sound over the past decade are on display here in some capacity, distilled into a slightly more concise collection of eight meticulously crafted songs that are so infectiously catchy and equally yoked that scarcely anyone would be tempted to hit the skip button, and most may find themselves singing along by the second refrain.
As previously stated, things are a bit more mid-paced relative to the previous two albums, just to the point of being noticeable. Having said that, there are two very clear nods to the speed metal tendencies of Journey Of Souls to be found in “Life And Death Under Strange New Suns” and “Broadside?”, the latter managing to work in an easy going piano line despite cooking a pace comparable to something off Mob Rules’ Hollowed Be Thy Name, while the former hits the nostalgia button for any followers of this band who really dug the high flying exploits of “Sundancer” off the debut album. For the most part, these songs tend to be driven by the speed of the drum work and the bombastic presence of the keyboards, but occasionally a well calculated guitar solo rears its head like the one that adorns the first aforementioned song that shows some pretty heavy similarities to something Timo Tolkki contributed to 90s Stratovarius. But even more so than all of these elements, these songs are driven into the stratosphere by Christer Andresen’s soaring, squeaky clean tenor, yet again answering that age old question of what Timo Koltipelto would sound like he he sought to emulate Sting rather than Michael Kiske.
Regardless of a lack of overt speed driving things, this album also reinforces a truism that was commonplace at the time that their first album was released in the late 2000s, which is that ingenuity can drive power metal about as effectively as a blistering speed metal beat. Among the most auspicious examples of mixing things up a bit are longer running numbers like “Crown Of Starlight” and “Change The World” that wheel through various stages of slower and upper mid-paced grooves with highly memorable thematic material cycling through the vocals and instrumentation. These are the sorts of songs that command the same sort of sing-along enthusiasm as if the chorus section were the entire song, despite transitioning through 4 distinct vocal sections, let alone the instrumental breaks. Then there is the massive atmospheric romp through the cosmos “I’m The Last Of Us”, which is something of an unofficial sequel to the same atmospheric progression of ideas that was “The Silfen Paths” off of Outbound and ushers in a compelling power metal answer to Pink Floyd. But the absolute coup de grace moment of this album is “Blood Red Dawn”, which is arguably the least complex offering on here, but manages to turn a basic set of old school heavy metal riffs, a heavy keyboard backdrop and a few solid hooks into an unforgettable ode to political commentary and conspiracy theory.
Perhaps one of the most perplexing mysteries of power metal is embodied in Keldian’s status as one of the best kept secrets of the sub-genre. By all standards, this band and all of its albums have all of the right elements to supplant all of the recycled crap that tends to populate rock radio and bring some much needed depth and lyrical credibility to said medium. Granted, their approach to songwriting is a bit ambitious and might prove to fly clear over the heads of many trustees of archaic radio DJ repertoire like a star cruiser over John Cyriis’ head, despite utilizing similarly consonant melodic hooks. It’s probably just the plight for any band that straddles the fences between two very distant worlds to be accepted by neither side to any great extent, but like the brief flash of brilliance that was Fox’s Firefly series, it is one that has gathered and will likely continue to gather a devoted cult following, and it is also one that is thankfully free from the tyrannical decrees of mainstream viewers and television networks determining whether it will have a future. Wayward power metal dreamers and Sci-Fi junkies alike, lend the pilot and co-pilot of the USS Keldian your ears to this unknown classic so it will not be the last.