Norwegian super-duo studio project Keldian has the dubious honor of being one of my favorite sources of music. And like so many of my “favorites,” they’re only power metal in an occasional/secondary fashion – though that remains the sub-genre of heavy metal to which the band is most easily marketed. Their albums frequently dip into space rock, symphonic rock, AOR, and now, even Eurobeat in varying measure to round out a sound that, love it or hate it, is utterly unmistakable. The release of 2013’s Outbound was a lance of brilliant solar energy that ignited the band’s fan-base and whipped long-timers and newcomers alike into a frenzy. While none of us expected another end-to-end burner like Outbound, the general vibe that Christer Andresen and Arild Aardalen exude is one of utter consistency and reliability. In this day and age, these are precious commodities, particularly within the metal scene. So when the rather simplistic hard rock tune “Blood Red Dawn” dropped as a single in conjunction with a rather austere, non-cosmic album cover, a slight sense of panic gripped the particular circle of Keldian fans among whose number I count myself.
I confess that this sense of panic gradually transitioned to disappointment by the time I’d finished the third song on Darkness and Light. Keldian has always had a penchant for effective minimalism in its compositions when it comes to use of guitar and keys – remaining texturally sparse in comparison to most of its metal contemporaries – but the opening tracks of this album set a new standard even for them. Finding these songs at first unambitious, basic almost to a fault, and seemingly devoid of Keldian’s well-established preference for overt science fiction lyricism, I feared that the perils of age and shifting musical tastes might have claimed yet another victim… and then the Bandcamp stream rolled over to “Life And Death Under Strange New Suns,” and my giblets were well and truly handed to me on a slab of starship-quality palladium plating.
You see, each Keldian release managed without fail to present a single, highly energetic and original song which, all other compositions aside, has entrenched the album in my consciousness and assisted in my re-visitation and eventual affection for the whole. This trend began with “Sundancer” from Heaven’s Gate and “Ghost of Icarus” from Journey of Souls, and continued in strong fashion with “F.T.L.” on Outbound. “Life And Death Under Strange New Suns” hammers home on multiple points: high energy, a tremendously infectious chorus, and (at last) lyrics inspired by the much-adored Mass Effect universe.
And just like that, the floodgates opened. “I’m The Last Of Us” presents a reprise of the gradually building, epic-length attempt a la “The Silfen Paths,” and succeeds in spectacular fashion; “Broadside!” provides another much-needed shot of uptempo metallic energy; and “Crown Of Starlight” hearkens back to the synthy, recessed-vocal atmospheric glory that pervaded much of Journey of Souls. Upon repeat listens, the album’s prosaic openers blossomed, though I would still classify them as Keldian’s least thrilling music to date. Interestingly, while Keldian has always dabbled in secondary genres, Darkness and Light brings to the fore a strong Eurobeat/synthpop presence, which is most notable during “Change The World” and “Crown Of Starlight.” What I find particularly remarkable is how this trend seems like a natural extension of Keldian’s style, especially looking back at Heaven’s Gate and Journey of Souls, rather than some bizarre sonic protuberance.
I can say in confidence, that Darkness and Light is probably my least favorite of the starfaring sojourner’s universally great catalog of albums to date, but that statement is galvanized with the caveat that those whose preferences tend toward hard rock and synthpop (as opposed to speed-addicted powerheads like myself) will find this a strong offering. Finding suitable artistic analogies is always a challenge for this group – one might cite certain tunes from Voyager or Arjen Lucassen’s Star One, but the comparison is still tenuous at best. Existing fans of the band should not under any circumstances experience serious disappointment, and the album offers a fairly representative and digestible spread of music for those listening for the first time. With synthy hauntings and vocal broadsides alike, Keldian sings its songs under strange new suns and emerges once more with melodic fervor.