Album Review: Starkill - "Fires of Life"

It’s rare to hear of an orchestral-arranged melodic death metal coming from the United States. It’s even rarer to conceive of that band coming from a place like Chicago, which is barely even thought of in heavy metal, much less this style of heavy metal. Yet, armed and dangerous with a ten track debut record “Fires of Life” is Starkill, Chicagoland’s newest heavy metal band, determined to take what is commonly thought of as a European sound and make it their own.

If it’s possible that a band exists as a combination of Avenged Sevenfold and Turisas, then Starkill is it. Now, I hear what you’re saying: “Drew, didn’t you just effectively describe Arch Enemy?” Okay, there’s some validity to that. Arch Enemy does incorporate heavy beats with an emphasis and guitar and also blends in a flair for the moment. The difference is that Starkill is willing to go all in for the big sing along chorus and knows how to push the dramatic with symphonic pieces when the need arises. Additionally, the particular guitar tone of singer/guitarist/programmer/keyboardist/probablytenotherthings Parker Jameson is much more reminiscent of Synyster Gates than it is of the Flying Arnott Brothers, what with the rounding of notes and the evident lack of crunch.

“Fires of Life” features the promise of a young band trying to hone a sound. There are excellent flourishes, not the least of which is the wonderfully borderless guitar pacing of “Sword, Spear, Blood, Fire.” There’s a looping cadence to the fat solo in the middle which lends a sense of Edguy-style ‘fun’ to the galloping proceedings. Just after that, we are treated to a small morsel of Starkill’s versatility, as Jameson and his band let their melodic death roots fall into an easy headbanger riff. He lets fly with a killer solo at the end that even if it’s not totally in the pocket of the song, impresses with effort and ability. We cap that off with “Immortal Hunt,” another song featuring the kind of six-string storytelling that stands to makes Jameson a name in the genre. The orchestral pieces scattered throughout this and other songs don’t always lock in place, but when they do, their effect is profound, elevating Starkill above the mire of baseline melodic death metal.

Where Starkill disappoints is in their lack of consistency. Jameson was quoted in the early press as saying that the band maintains a melodic death core, but wants very much to incorporate the disparate sounds of headlines acts such as Children of Bodom, Nightwish, Amon Amarth, Dimmu Borgir and Dragonforce. You can imagine that the resulting product seems scattershot in its worst moments, and at the risk of being harsh, lucky in its best. “Fires of Life” suffers from the disease of ‘too much,’ which can be forgiven in light of the band member’s relative ages, but doesn’t make it any less true. Their ability to seize the moment is tenuous, as a song like “This is Our Battle; This is Our Day” should be a walk-in-the-park super favorite, but the pieces don’t assemble correctly. What could have been a homerun ends up as a pile of musical parts that are nice independently, but fail to gel. Add on to that all the roles that Jameson is trying to play and one becomes concerned that he personally may be taking on too much. These are the errors of youth however, and while they detract some from “Fires of Life,” they do not tarnish the band’s potential going forward.

What we have in the meantime is a band that wants to be all things to all people and gets lost in the detail of it all. If Starkill can learn to grasp and wield their fledging sense of the moment, then the follow up to “Fires of Life” will be a blockbuster album. This debut isn’t a bad record and shows buckets of promise. If you hold out, I am confident that the next record will be more rewarding than this one. I look forward to it.

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