Norwegian sci-fi metallers Keldian released their third album Outbound in late 2013, nearing two years ago already, however, that doesn’t mean the excitement around their music has died down. In fact, it seems that it has only grown, with fans clamoring for more and more, often showing their support by buying and playing their previous albums that are now almost a decade old. The band attempted to re-issue physical copies of their older albums through IceWarrior Records, but after that fell through by no fault of their own, they turned back to the future, eyeing 2016 for new Keldian music.
In celebration of the staying power of the album Journey of Souls, which was released on this day seven years ago, they stopped to take a look back with an exclusive commentary on the songs that established where they are today.
Chris Andresen (lead vocals, guitars, bass) provided the commentary for the band, which consists of himself and Arild Aardalen (synthesizers, vocals).
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THE LAST FRONTIER
Chris: We wanted to open the second record with an uptempo and powerful sci-fi anthem, different enough from the more midtempo opening track of the first album. There are some great vocals from Anette Fodnes here, one of our many guests on the album. This seems to be one of the songs that people stream the most. And just two years later Iron Maiden nearly ripped off the title, Zack! How dare they?!
Review: Journey of Souls explodes into a fast-paced and straightforward song that succinctly captures the essence of everything that is Keldian. Quite the accomplishment, I think, for the shortest song on the album, an ode to just how far the creative engines of these men came between album 1 and 2. If I ever decided to rank every Keldian song (which would be a very difficult task), this would be a sure thing for the top three. It seems other fans would agree with me as well, as “The Last Frontier” is by far the band’s most streamed song on Spotify. In comparison to the previous album’s opener, it feels much more full. The space that they create within the song is filled with frantic echoing drumbeats and chill-inducing sing backs that create a world of their own. The lyrics of the chorus, “The storm is here, we will show no fear, we will lead the way, across the last frontier,” are a prime example of the optimism and positive expression of the human existence that makes Keldian the best at what they do. How about scoring an Interstellar-like movie for us, guys?
LORDS OF POLARIS
Chris: One of my personal favorites on the album, probably because it was really hard to write the chorus and I’m very happy with how it turned out. H-Man does the drums on a few of the songs on this record, and in the middle section here he makes a great impression of icicles, drumming style! Seriously, I could only think of one word to describe what I wanted, I said ”icicles”, and H-Man said, ”I know exactly what you mean, dude.” I think the song is a good example of the stronger focus on production and soundscapes that we had on this album, and it shows growth from the previous record.
Review: The album keeps moving at high speed with the next track, equipped with a catchy and dynamic chorus. However, where this song really shines is it’s sonic diversity. The pacing bounces from energizing chorus to slow haunting choirs that sounds as if they’re echoing throughout a massive cathedral. The shifts are seamless and it’s very easy to get lost in the song and suddenly reach the end in need of a repeat. Where “The Last Frontier” might be repeated because the listener knows exactly what they are getting, “Lords Of Polaris” has enough layers the keep people coming back not necessarily only for the sound, but the pure curiosity.
Chris: I was afraid that this song would be too poppy… But a lot of people seem to like it. Probably influenced by Tarja-era Nightwish, but first and foremost it was inspired by the cover illustration for Maiden’s Twilight Zone single. Believe it or not. Musically we were lucky to have ex-a-ha drummer Per Hillestad doing the groovy drumming here. Let me be clear – there’s nothing Jørn can’t do! We just thought it would be fun to have more people involved on this particular album, since it was logistically possible with us recording all of the the album in Asker.
Review: “Reaper” definitely tones down the intensity of the first two songs and demonstrates more of a focus on pop music, with the dominating instruments here being the synths/keyboard which really set the tone. They do a great job of instrumental harmony, using those softer electronic sounds to build into the parts more dominated by the drums and guitar, culminating in a very memorable guitar solo. This song is in a tough spot, sandwiched in amongst what I think are some of the best tracks on the album, but I think it’s bit of a sleeper pick. Because of its wide appeal and great writing, it could definitely be a hit.
THE GHOST OF ICARUS
Chris: Speaking of Jørn, how about this? A really desperate song, from the melodies to the singing to the guitar solo, it’s all on the edge. We always knew Jørn was a great drummer, but his performances on this album frankly blew us away. Lyrically this is safely in sci-fi territory, inspired by the movie Sunshine from 2007.
Review: In the first commentary with the band around the release of Outbound, I said that radio transmission was a sign of very good things ahead. That was a reference to this song, which is one of my all-time favorites. Even after all the good things I said about “The Last Frontier”, this song still gets my vote for best on the album. The writing is top-notch and it features some of the best individual performances on guitar, drums, and vocals that you will find on any Keldian album. Wrap that all up in one package, and things like the post-chorus keyboard led flourishes, one of my favorite moments in any song of the genre, is what happens.
Chris: I’ve already brought up Maiden as ripping us off (kidding there), but this is certainly us taking a leaf or two out of their book. We thought it would be interesting to apply the Maiden epic format to a couple of Keldian ideas, and here it is. Lyrically it strays from the usual Keldian topics in jumping into the trenches of war during the first half of the 20th century. One of my favorite guitar solos, by the way. And there’s also a nice and long synthesizer solo here, which we like to do now and then.
Review: Longer songs are always harder to write about because it’s hard to quantify and assign a role to something that has so much time to incorporate different elements. If you love Iron Maiden, you will love this song. If you don’t, you might be bored and skip back to a track like “The Ghost of Icarus.” Power metal listeners are used to longer songs, but for others it might seem tedious. With that said, “Memento Mori” is an epic worthy of it’s classic comparisons. It is a very well written and thoughtful song, that strays from some of the usual Keldian themes and executes it perfectly. From the sound of rain, to explosions, and even some soothing female vocals, it takes everything that Keldian usually incorporates sonically and stretches it to another level, especially during the solos. The brilliance of the song has definitely shone through and grown on me over the years since I first heard it.
Chris: Another jump in the timeline, to the Viking exploration of America 500 years before Columbus. Personally I’m astounded that no one in either Scandinavia or America has ever made an epic movie out of this story… A little Pink Floyd in the quiet middle section too, something we’d expand upon on the subsequent album.
Review: “Vinland” is really where the experimentation within this album kicks into high gear. It starts off in a normal fashion and has a very dramatic build into…Viking music? And then it goes directly, and expertly, back into the pounding drum beat that paces the verses. If you’ve never heard this song, it will initially shock you. I think I stared down my iPod dock for most of the song when I first heard it before I realized what was going on. After the initial confusion, the track is a very enjoyable one to re-play. It does a fantastic job of capturing adventure in a way that normally only a score accomplishes. As the music continues to swell at the end, it’s hard not to picture yourself standing at the front of a ship staring out at the open seas, ready for whatever it may bring.
THE DEVIL IN ME
Chris: This was a very tough song to write. It started with Arild’s ideas, then I did some rewriting and rearranging of that, we tracked it, then Arild rewrote and rearranged it again, we tracked it again… And in the end I think we ended up with one of the best ever Keldian songs. One of the spookiest too, since we wanted to conjure up a kind of Alice Cooper-like vibe with the story of Belle Gunnes, a real life serial killer. She was a Norwegian woman who got really messed up through being raped and losing her unborn child because of it. She turned into a serial killer of husbands and kids in America. Arild’s production work here is incredible, and I’m quite proud of having written the fiddle solo.
Review: This is a strange song; it’s darker in every aspect compared to the rest of the album, and most Keldian songs in general. It opens with a sound similar to a classical piano ballad and builds from there, though the highlight is without a doubt the fiddle about three-fourths of the way through the song and the following overlap of both male and female vocals. The slower pace and choppier verses also add a lot to the eerie feeling of the song. Regardless of subject matter, Keldian has an excellent way of establishing a tone and creating that atmosphere. Overall, I think it’s one of the weaker tracks on the album, but not for lack of execution. There are just so many other great tracks that the subtleties of this one seem to get a little lost in the shuffle.
Chris: Back to sci-fi! I’d recommend all four books of Dan Simmons’ Hyperion cantos. This song is strange, kind of slow-burning and eerie. But I’ve always liked it! All things considered, looking back, I’m still very happy with the range and variation of music on this album, and I still think every song defends its spot. It raised the bar for our songwriting, which ironically made the following album much harder to write.
Review: “Hyperion” is another mid-tempo track that relies on a more traditional approach to metal. The chorus is very well-written, but doesn’t quite explode in the same way many of the others do. It does feature one of my favorite spoken word parts of any Keldian songs, and as it goes on, building more and more until it takes off into one of my favorite guitar solos. The backing keyboard throughout the song also stands out to me as a key point in setting the pace and theme of the song. Another solid entry in a great album to this point.
GOD OF WAR
Chris: We should have had Chuck Billy singing on this one! Both me and Arild are huge fans of Testament, and this is probably a kind of homage to them. Check out the top flight drumming from Jørn all over this track! More sci-fi imagery here, not based on anything in particular I think, about the red planet and its mythical qualities.
Review: This is the song that has grown on me the most since I first heard this album. It differs so much from some of the core Keldian songs that I enjoy, that on first listen years ago, I was a little put off. It didn’t seem to fit. However, it’s now grown to be a dark horse favorite of mine. The interlude within the song is a beautiful moment and one of the most memorable “wow” moments in any Keldian track. Plus, it leads into an absolutely killer guitar riff that builds into a triumphant march, like a hero rising out of the shadow of evil. The drumming is completely next-level–controlled, yet frantic and chaotic. This would be a go-to track for anyone looking to experience the diversity of talent contained within a Keldian album.
Chris: One thing I should mention is that Arild sings quite a bit on this record. I’m not sure he’d be happy that I say this, but he’s got a great voice that fills in some blanks that I can’t really cover. The chorus of this song is a good example. This tune is all Arild’s music and lyrics, except for a couple of guitar riffs that I jammed in there.
Review: To me, this song is a sequel to “The Last Frontier” as the people of Earth continue their journey to either another part of the universe or another plane of existence. It has a good mix of pop sensibilities and metal guitar riffs, but the most impressive part of the song is the chorus. It’s inspiring and sticks with you throughout the song, regardless of what turns it takes. On top of that, the title is one of my favorites from Keldian’s discography. “The Last Frontier” and “Starchildren’ are two of the best songs for capturing the image of what this band stands for.
Chris: As you’ve probably noticed, Zack, we’re not too keen on having title tracks. We did on the first album, and we weren’t too thrilled with letting a song represent the record in that way. We just didn’t have a better title for either the album or the song! So on the next couple of albums we titled the songs differently, even when the album title is used in the lyrics. For this track it seemed fitting to have Journey Of Souls in the chorus, even if the title is different. The lyrics are completely spiritual, only a stream of thoughts from yours truly on the experience of enlightenment, however one would want to define that. The idea came from an episode of The X-Files called ”The Field Where I Died”, where a book called Journey of Souls by Dr Michael Newton is mentioned. This also seemed like a properly different track to end the album than the one that ended the first album.
Review: Actually, maybe “The Last Frontier”, “Starchildren”, and “Dreamcatcher” all connect with each other. These three songs form the core of this album. “Dreamcatcher” is the perfect song to end with. It’s sing-along chorus that would play well in an arena show somewhere in the future. The song just oozes optimism and energy in a way that few musicians are able to capture. That’s why fans keep coming back for more. I’m hard pressed to think of a band that can better formulate the adventure of the human experience into uplifting music. “Dreamcatcher” is just another example to add to that legacy.
ON JOURNEY OF SOULS IN GENERAL
Chris: My feeling, 7 years after the release, is that the album is ageing well. I can tell you hand on heart that we put a lot of effort into writing songs that were strong and giving them all a production that would set them apart from each other. They all have individual sonic identities within the general production framework, or at least that was our aim when we were making the record. None of the tracks on this album were treated with any less devotion than others when it came to writing, production or performance, and I think that still shows. I’m not necessarily thrilled with every song we’ve done, but I’m still happy with every single one on this album.
Review: Journey Of Souls is a dynamic album that is massive in both scope and production, even in comparison to their debut Heaven’s Gate. Many of the songs found on this album form what I think is core-listening for any news fans attempting to familiarize themselves with the band. In looking back on it, this record clearly establishes the stepping stones that would make Outbound such a massive success.
It is easy to get lost along the way, however. In the middle of this album, the experimentation with other sounds really takes over; it is all executed well, but the grouping of the songs mean that several songs in a row all sound differently and therefore separate from the rest of the album. That is a tribute to the creative process of Chris and Arild that they are able to fit so many different sounds into one album, and every song here is deserving of their spot, as Chris says, but their spots may have been better arranged. Tracks six through ten almost feel like a separate album within Journey Of Souls. With that being said, some of the best music of the power metal genre is on this record. The continued plays and popularity of this release is a testament to that. Fans know that at any time, they can re-listen to Journey Of Souls and have an adventure that very few other mediums or artists can provide.
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