In October, Norwegian sci-fi metal gurus Keldian released their third album, Outbound. Prior to its release, they spoke to Auditory Spectrum about the forthcoming album in great detail. The full interview is available here and addresses many different topics about not only the album, but also the future of Keldian, and their own perception of the music they’ve created. Now, following the very successful release of Outbound, Keldian and Auditory Spectrum have teamed up again for a track by track review and commentary, giving fans an even closer look at the inspiration behind the duo’s third album.
Chris Andresen (lead vocals, guitars, bass) provided the commentary for the band.
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On OUTBOUND in General
CHRIS: We have lived with some of these songs for many years, while others are quite new. The challenge in making any record is achieving cohesion. We always approach our albums like they are musical novels, we want a thematic unity to the lyrics, and we want the songs to flow logically and effortlessly, like chapters in a book. An album is usually more abstract than that, but we are aware that what we are creating for people is a kind of emotional journey. So it’s important to us to give full attention to every single song. We wrote about 13 or 14 songs for the album, but decided to go for 9 songs that clock in at 52 minutes. In the CD age records started getting unnecessarily long, just because you could put 1 hour and 20 minutes on a disc. We always try to avoid this pitfall.
BURN THE SKY
CHRIS: This was one of the first songs written for the album. We had a big problem coming up with a chorus for it! Went through several versions before settling on what you hear. Lyrically, it’s really the declaration of the album’s central theme. There’s a neoconservative group in the US known as the Project for a New American Century, including people like Donald Rumsfeld, and they propose the creation of US Space Forces to weaponized space for nuclear first-strike capability. The lyrics are delivered from their point of view, which is a point of view we find rather grotesque. The Project’s main document is called ”Rebuilding America’s Defenses” and they actually use the terms ”haves” and ”have-nots” about people, saying that protecting the rich ”haves” from the poor and frustrated ”have-nots” is a key policy goal. This is a complete perversion of space exploration and so much else. To be continued later in the album…
REVIEW: I don’t think that Keldian could have picked a better song to open their album. In most cases, this was likely the first new song heard by fans in five years. That’s a tough task for any one song to live up to, but “Burn The Sky” perfectly showcases both the traditional Keldian sound along with the new elements the band added. It has the typical tones found in their previous work, but with heavier riffs and darker lyrics in comparison to past work. It is the sum of exactly what they described before the album was out, a rare feat in an industry where so many artists speak empty words.
CHRIS: This one is probably a little different for us. The riff in the verse is my take on Iron Maiden’s Stranger In A Strange Land! It’s more of a classic rock kind of tune, and the lyrics deal with our disappointment that people aren’t already on Mars. We waste such enormous resources on war and destruction, when we could have sent people to another planet long ago. There’s something else out there, and we are all starchildren, the blood of the Earth, destined to get out there.
REVIEW: After flashing a bit of the heavier and darker side in the opening song, they move more fully towards it with this track. It has much more of a classic metal feel as opposed to the very fast-paced power metal model they usually follow. Even the guitar solo is very different from anything heard on before on a Keldian album. With that said, I never got the feeling that they were trying too hard to be something different. It is still very obviously Keldian, but with much more raw intensity and less of the ambient sci-fi gloss.
CHRIS: Also one of the earliest songs written for this album. I love this one! It’s catchy as hell, with a killer performance by our drummer, Jørn. Our first take on the issue of terrorism, I suppose. It was inspired by a storyline in the book Pandora’s Star by Peter F. Hamilton. One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter, you know. The main character in the lyrics here doesn’t want to be someone’s hero anymore and says we’re fighting enemies that don’t exist. The idea is to live and let live, forgive and forget. For if we don’t, we become monsters and we’ll be fighting ghosts until the end of time.
REVIEW: I could rant and rave about this song for multiple pages. To me, this is Keldian at their absolute peak thus far. Not only is this the best song on the album, it is one of my favorite songs of 2013, regardless of genre. The lyrics are absolutely top-notch and the chorus is galaxy-sized, enough to put even the kings of the big chorus like Bon Jovi and Journey to shame. And then, just when you think it can’t get any better, there is a perfectly executed guitar solo leading right into more dynamic sing-throughs of the chorus. This is the best Keldian song in existence. This should be on rock channels, pop stations, and metal countdowns worldwide.
MORNING LIGHT MOUNTAIN
CHRIS: Boy, this was a tough song to write! We couldn’t really figure out how to make the chorus work. But in the end we cracked it, I think. It needed a balance of uplifting melody and down-and-dirty riffing. The lyrics are about a certain spooky character in Pandora’s Star, so once again we owe a debt to Hamilton. But on the other hand, whatever we meant with the lyrics is less important than whatever people interpret on their own. Lyrics can mean 10 different things to 10 different people, which is a very beautiful thing. There’s also a cool guitar solo here, and now that I talk to you about this I realize there are more guitar solos on this record than any of the previous Keldian albums! I guess the cat is out of the bag now, we DO like guitar solos!
REVIEW: If we look back at previous Keldian albums, the presence of radio communication is usually a good indicator of a very good Keldian song and Morning Light Mountain keeps that trend going. The alteration of pace throughout the song works well, along with the transition from echoing space riffs to the more metallic guitar. The chorus, through not the size of “Never Existed,” is still very large and powerful, although it seems too focused. They build up into the chorus so much that you almost begin to expect more, but then it only consists of a few repeated lines. Still, that really is nitpicking. Even with the criticism, “Morning Light Mountain” is one of the standout tracks.
KEPLER AND 100 000 STARS
CHRIS: Somewhere out there, in the far reaches of space, a little creation of humanity is looking for signs of life. Yes, this is our tribute to Kepler, the space probe that is tasked with searching 100,000 star systems for inhabitable planets. What an achievement! This is an example of the great stuff human kind can do. We don’t have to destroy. It’s a choice. And this is the first song on the album with a classic power metal kind of style, although the verses head in a somewhat unexpected direction for the genre I suppose. It’s probably related to The Ghost Of Icarus on the previous album, but we are very conscious of not just putting out dime-a-dozen power metal tunes, we want them to have a real purpose and fit the flow of the album. No guitar solo here! Shock!
REVIEW: One of my favorite tracks, though one that will probably be overlooked with its placement and the fact that isn’t as “flashy” as some of the other songs. The sum of its parts makes it one of the best. This song is powered by the drummer, Jørn, and in my opinion, is his shining moment on the album. He does a great job across the board, but it seemed even more evident in this song. The chorus is flawless and lyrically it may be one of their most well put together songs. Truly an A+.
THE SILFEN PATHS
CHRIS: This one might be tough love. It’s very long and very monotonous, which is all part of the plan. Initially, we thought we would build this one up to a fast and furious middle section, but when we got into it we started drifting towards a much more Pink Floyd-like ambient instrumental piece. Of course, David Gilmour is one of my all-time favorite guitarists, along with Adrian Smith, Richie Sambora, Joe Satriani, Ronnie Le Tekroe and Jacob Binzer. I could never play like Satriani, so there is some comfort in the fact that the incredible Gilmour can’t really play very fast. He taught me that guitar playing is about much more than speed. This song owes a lot to both Gilmour and Roger Waters. The latter was an inspiration for the children’s choir in the intro and coda, and the lyrics are definitely spiritual science-fiction. Don’t think I want to explain this one too much.
REVIEW: It’s difficult to sum up the impact of a 12-minute song, especially when it incorporates as many elements as this one does. Because of its length, it won’t be the go-to song of the album, but it doesn’t have to be. What’s enjoyable about Keldian is how successfully they can pull off not only a cohesive song, but also place that song in harmony with the rest of the album. It falls between two very fast-paced songs, giving the listener a mental break from the frantic pace that perpetuates the Keldian sound. Within “Silfen Paths,” they incorporate the calming progressive tones from legends like Pink Floyd, but also in some parts the classic Iron Maiden guitar gallop. It feels like an ode to the band’s heroes divided throughout the song. Unfortunately, the casual fan may be intimidated by the length and skip ahead to keep the pace going. It’s unfortunate because this may just be the hidden gem of Outbound. Several listens through the whole song will make that apparent.
RUN FOR YOUR LIFE
CHRIS: This was probably my favorite song for tracking guitars. It’s a great mix of riffs, melodies and power chords. And another guitar solo! The lyrics are inspired by survivor stories and are sort of a tribute to the extraordinary strength and power of the human spirit. Subjected to the extreme, pushed beyond all imaginable limits, humans are capable of mustering an incredible will to survive, to endure under terrible conditions and rise up against all odds.
REVIEW: This falls back on the core of the Keldian power metal sound, but amps to up to another level, making the song feel extremely chaotic. They achieved exactly what they wanted to, according to the title, because this is one song that should be on your gym playlist. If you listen to this song and don’t get pumped up, you may want to check your pulse. The chorus, though very simple, works perfectly in the context of the song and the solo is a real rocker. It’s not the standout track, but it’s a very solid, better than any other album “filler” that other artists may resort to after already pouring out so much good material.
A PLACE ABOVE THE AIR
CHRIS: Pop time! Well, at least the chorus of this song is very poppy and very catchy. There’s a Norwegian 1980s band called Stage Dolls that were an inspiration for the sound of that chorus. Soldano crunch guitars, some hammonds and a touch of synth strings. The vocoder/flanger-like sound on the very last chorus is also a small nod to the good old 80s. And we owe a debt to the great Dan Simmons, author of the Hyperion cantos that the lyrics are based on. ”The one who teaches” is a young girl called Anea, a kind of messiah figure that scares the shit out of the galaxy-spanning Catholic Church because she sets people’s spirits free. So they hunt her to destroy her.
REVIEW: Another track that will probably be overshadowed by the greatness of the others, but is still very much deserving of a spot on the album. While the chorus goes in a very pop-esque direction, they maintain an industrial guitar tone that makes the song almost confusing. One minute, the band sounds like it’s ready to break into a “Back In Black” type anthem, but when the chorus kicks in, they’re singing an 80’s pop song. The most interesting part of the song, in my opinion, is the extra terrestrial sounding effects in the background. They add another layer of curiosity to an already mystical song.
CHRIS: I love this one! Another power metal anthem. The chorus actually gives me goose bumps every time. I think this song is a great example of music and lyrics melding together to create a whole that is bigger than the sum of its parts. And lyrically the album ends where it started, but with a very specific twist. 2013 is the 50th anniversary of the killing of president John F. Kennedy, and we really wanted to honor the man. There is an ocean of difference between his sentiments echoed in this song and the twisted ravings of the PNAC. And you might notice that the chords and melody in the song’s coda ”We are heading out, out of here alive” are built on the chorus in Burn The Sky, with the lyrics kind of reversed. So the album ends on a very typical positive Keldian attitude, after going through some of the darker aspects of space exploration.
REVIEW: Just as “Burn The Sky” was the perfect song to open with, “F.T.L.” fits that same mold to close out the album. Unlike some of the darker songs, the optimism and true sprit of what Keldian epitomizes just oozes from this song. It’s impossible to listen to this and not get the urge to jump in a ship and launch yourself into the unknown. Keldian can make every person, no matter his or her age, dream of being an intergalactic traveler. As the lyrics go, “True pioneers leave everything behind.”
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Of course, following the successes and overwhelmingly positive reviews of their first two albums, the question immediately on everyone’s mind is whether or not Outbound is their best album. To which I say- it’s complicated. But that isn’t a cop out. Very few bands break through at the high level that Keldian did. When someone sets the bar that high from the start, the fans expect greatness. I would argue in most cases that bands get better following their first album or two because they have more experience and more of a handle on what they want to produce. On the other hand, Keldian seemed to know exactly what they were doing from day one. In many ways, their three albums are like a great book series. Choosing the best is next to impossible because they don’t exist separate of one another. They form a whole best listened to in cooperation, not competition. However, Outbound is more focused and lyrically tighter than any of their older material, making it hard to argue that it isn’t the highlight of the series so far.
Regardless of where it ranks in Keldian lore, Outbound is one of the top releases of 2013 and features one of the best songs of the year in “Never Existed,” proving once again that the spirit of art goes well beyond the boardrooms of record labels. Keldian has showed us repeatedly that the heart of creation dwells inside the imagination of those willing to look beyond the stars.
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