Keldian-OutboundIn 2008 the two-piece Norwegian collective known as Keldian released their opus Journey of Souls, and entered a period of radio silence. Soon rumors were swirling online – mostly about Justin Bieber’s love life, but also about Keldian’s future. Was the band done? Or was a third album getting ready to emerge?

But now Outbound is out, and I can see that the truth was neither of these things. The band isn’t done. And Outbound doesn’t just emerge, it comes at you in front of 180 tons of burning rocket fuel. Holy shit, this album kills! Maybe the best power metal release I’ve heard all year!

“Burn the Sky” fades in with baleful electronic drone, and then launches into an agitated uptempo thrasher with an huge-sounding chorus. I actually looked up the meaning of the lyrics and I wish I hadn’t – something trite and silly about American foreign policy. Oh well. “Earthblood” is more sedate, featuring acoustic guitars and female vocals, but the largeness and sense of grandeur remains.

Then there’s “Kepler and 100,000 Stars”, which switches between a Scorpions-like riff and fast bruising speed metal sections. “Never Existed” and “A Place Above the Air” are huge anthemic stadium-fillers, which is ironic since Keldian never plays live at all, let alone in a stadium. “The Silfen Paths” is lengthy and progressive, seeming to channel Pink Floyd more than Iron Maiden and Helloween, with a spacey bridge that serves as a reminder of Keldian’s origins as an ambient rock band.

But the band has saved the best for last. “FTL” is probably the greatest thing yet to bear the Keldian name. It does not have a boring moment from start to finish – nearly eight minutes of Mach 5 velocity with the band beating on you with their superior songwriting skill. There’s a brief quiet interlude in the middle, featuring JFK’s iconic moon landing speech and a soft reprise of the chorus. The final words uttered in this song seem to answer and challenge the chorus of “Burn the Sky”, adding a sense of closure to Outbound.

There’s nothing to say about Outbound except that my expectations were high and yet were totally surpassed. The band just kicks it up a notch all around – better singing and performing, a larger guitar presence, more organic production, and best of all…it’s really an album!

Keldian’s first two albums listened like collections of songs. This might seem like a strange complaint, since that’s the definition of what an album is. But there’s a difference between ten songs assembled without rhyme or reason, like bedraggled survivors plucked out of the water by a lifeboat, and ten songs working in unity for a common purpose, like a rowing crew. Outbound is the second kind of album. The sum is way better than the parts – and the parts are already amazing.

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