With Rocka Rollas having disbanded in 2016, it’s fair to say that their fifth full-length album isn’t a new release so much as a finished one. Multi-instrumentalist/bandleader Cedrick Forsberg had allegedly been toiling over Celtic Kings since 2013 and saw it fit for release once he felt that he did all he could for it. Thankfully the album isn’t the somber downer that such a narrative makes it out to be.
On the contrary, Celtic Kings just might be the most flamboyant, hyperactive album that Ced has ever recorded. The signature brand of speed/power metal that shined on 2015’s Pagan Ritual as well as Blazon Stone’s outings continues to run rampant here. Influences from Gamma Ray and Running Wild among others are loud and clear as interweaving guitar harmonies are accompanied by technically lacking but enthusiastic wails. The songs operate at near constant speeds and the happy tone would be enough to make Michael Weikath puke a rainbow.
The dense production job and elaborate arrangements are what really make this album stand out compared to its predecessors. As if the “gotta go fast” attitude wasn’t enough of an assault, the sheer number of guitar tracks and vocal layers make it plain to see why Ced lamented the album’s mixing process. It’s most prominently displayed on the nearly fourteen-minute-long title track but even it still knows how to incorporate the folk instruments and additional vocals without sounding too bloated. The album can be an overwhelming listen at times, but it’s honestly not that bad by the genre’s standards.
That said, such an emphasis on speed does result in many of the songs sounding alike but there are some excellent tracks on here. The album’s bests are situated around the middle as tracks like “To the Gallows” and “Last Days of Light” provide memorable hooks dipped in loveable power metal cheese. I do wonder if they really should’ve closed out with “Riding Wild” instead of the massive title track, but as the last Rocka Rollas song, it does a good job of summing up what the band was about.
Celtic Kings isn’t Rocka Rollas’ best album, but it is satisfying to see the project go out in such an explosive fashion. The songwriting is somewhat one dimensional and somehow even less subtle than usual, but Ced really put his all into making this album sound massive. Its appeal may not extend beyond power metal diehards, but that audience will be more than happy to see this long-rumored album finally materialize.
“To the Gallows”
“Last Days of Light”
“Knights of Valor”