Rocka Rollas, "Celtic Kings" Album Review
Rocka Rollas, "Celtic Kings" (2018)
Label: Stormspell Records
Style: Melodic speed/power metal
All good things must come to an end and, unfortunately, this includes the Rocka Rollas, the epic power/speed metal band led by Sweden's Cederick "Ced" Forsberg, the man of a thousand metal bands. The Rocka Rollas have released four studio albums and an EP since their formation a decade ago, but Ced has announced that their fifth and latest full length release, 2018's Celtic Kings, will be their swan song.
Actually, Cederick began writing and demoing material for Celtic Kings in bits and pieces as far back as 2011. The bulk of this album was recorded in 2016, but Ced put the project on ice at that point due to the difficulties of maintaining a stable band lineup. Ced announced that the disc would eventually be finished and released when he could find the right vocalist and moved on to work on albums for his other projects like Cloven Altar and Blazon Stone. When he decided it was time to complete Celtic Kings, it turned out that the most suitable singer for the album was... Cederick himself! Indeed, Ced takes over the mic on Celtic Kings in addition to his guitar playing duties, joined by additional guitarist Emil Westin-Skogh (who's been a Rocka Rollla since 2014's The Road to Destruction) and one-man rhythm section Rolvert Gunnarson on bass and drums. It's always a bummer to hear about a good band going bust, but after numerous spins of Celtic Kings, I have to say, they are definitely going out at the top of their game!
"Knights of Valor"
"Celtic Kings" Review
If you're familiar with the Rocka Rollas' previous work, rest assured that they aren't throwing any sonic curve balls on Celtic Kings. They're still hyperactive, epic speed/power metal, taking the best bits of early Blind Guardian and Walls of Jericho-era Helloween, adding some crunch from Accept and Grave Digger, and throwing it all into a blender. This is the first time I've heard Cederick sing and, though his high-pitched squawk sounded awkward at first, by the time he hit the chorus of the first song ("The Price of Vengeance") I found myself wondering what took him this long to step up to the microphone. The man's obviously got pipes! During the verses, his vocal delivery reminded me of the rough-n-ready Jason McMaster (WatchTower, Dangerous Toys, Ignitor) but when he goes for one of those trademark oh-so-power-metal high-pitched wails, look out, he'll blow anything that isn't nailed down halfway across the room. I haven't heard helium screams like these since the heyday of the late, great Warrel Dane of Sanctuary and Nevermore. The man's voice fits this rough-n-ready speed metal like an armored glove. Color me impressed!
Celtic Kings is packed with riff-laden ear candy from beginning to end. Amateur air-guitarists be warned, you may run the risk of contracting serious carpal tunnel syndrome if you try to keep up with the 1000-MPH guitar work on tracks like "From Blackened Skies" or "Fallen Gods."
The album's centerpiece is its title track, a nearly fourteen-minute-long epic that features a host of guest vocalists, including Markus Sanneford (Palantir), Erik Forsberg (Blazon Stone), Therese Thomsson (Sadauk), and Joe Liszt (Ancient Empire). Each of these singers takes a different verse of this "Braveheart" style war story that starts out slow n' moody and slowly builds into a jaw-droppingly awesome, explosive riff-fest. This track is the Rocka Rollas' equivalent of Iron Maiden's "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" or Helloween's "Halloween," and was clearly a labor of love for Ced, who must have been trying to compose the ultimate Rocka Rollas signature tune. Mission accomplished!
The album ends on a triumphant note with "Riding Wild," which finds Ced and company slamming the gas pedal to the floor one last time, with all-metal, all-the-time lyrics that would do Manowar proud ("Out from the darkness of monotone work and into the halls of the speed metal world!")
... and with that, the Rocka Rollas story comes to a close, with Ced and company holding their heads high as they stroll into power metal Valhalla, their swords slick with the blood of their enemies. Hail and kill!
Summing It Up
Obviously, Celtic Kings doesn't re-write the speed metal history book but it's yet another strong release by the amazingly prolific Cederick. It's a shame that there will be no more Rocka Rollas material in the future, but at the same time it's comforting to know that Ced has a number of other bands/projects in the pipeline, so he won't be going away any time soon. His Running Wild inspired pirate-metal act Blazon Stone will make their first-ever live concert appearance at Germany's Headbangers Open Air Festival in Summer 2018, and the debut album by his Runelord project with vocalist Georgi Peychev (from Bulgarian thrashers The Outer Limits) should be released by Stormspell Records around the same time as Celtic Kings.
For now, though, we must raise our flagons of ale high in the air and toast the end of the Rocka Rollas. Horns and hails, may they R.I.P., as long as speed metal lives on!
Rocka Rollas Discography:
The War of Steel Has Begun - 2011*
Conquer (EP) - 2011
Metal Strikes Back - 2013
The Road to Destruction - 2014
Pagan Ritual - 2015
Celtic Kings - 2018
All titles released by Stormspell Records.
*Re-issued in 2015 with five bonus tracks.
© 2018 Keith Abt