Fires of Life
Century Media Records/E.M.I. Music Australia
Reviewed By Justin Donnelly
Not an album to be judged by its cover
Over the last few years, the bulk of Century Media Records’ expanding roster of bands has been the acquisition of well established acts. In other words, there are some fairly well known acts that were once signed to other labels that now reside at Century Media Records. But that doesn’t mean that the label has entirely turned their back on those up and coming acts on the scene, with their most recent signing being Chicago (Illinois, U.S.) outfit Starkill.
Founded a mere four years ago, Starkill initially started out under the name of Ballistika, before changing their name to Massakren for a couple of years, until settling on Starkill in late 2012. Within that four year timeframe, the band managed to release a demo (Immersed in Chaos in 2009 under the name of Ballistika), a full length effort (2010’s re-recorded Immersed in Chaos), and an E.P. (2011’s Massakren). Needless to say, Starkill may have been through plenty of changes in their short time together - both in the musical and line-up sense – but their persistence has well and truly paid off with the relatively unknown band eventually signing up to the mighty Century Media Records. And so here we are in 2013, and Starkill (who comprise of vocalist/guitarist/keyboardist/orchestral programmer Parker Jameson, guitarist Charlie Federici, bassist Mike Buetsch and drummer Spencer Weidner) have just released their debut full-length effort, Fires of Life.
Initially, I was expecting some sort of power metal release based purely on the album’s artwork but after giving the album a listen, I was surprised to find that Starkill are actually a symphonic/melodic death metal act. And a damn fine one at that too I might add.
The opening track, Whispers of Heresy, immediately reminds me of Dimmu Borgir with its piano introduction, and the notion is reinforced with the symphonic black metal sound that follows through beyond the song’s initial introduction. Jameson’s blackened vocals adds an air of aggression to proceedings that matches the relentless double kick work from Weidner, while the tight knit riffing from Jameson and Federici is expertly executed. But Starkill are anything but a mere Dimmu Borgir clone. It isn’t until mid way through the six minute epic that the band showcases their other influences which include shades of Nightwish with the frequent moments of lush orchestration, and Dragonforce-like speed and shred in and around the vocalised passages. There’s a mix of everything within Whispers of Heresy, but somehow the band manage to make all their influences flow into one powerful opening statement.
The follow-up title track, Fires of Life, has an unmistakable Amon Amarth sound, but with an added blackened edge on the lead vocals and an extra element of shred within the lead guitar work, while Sword, Spear, Blood, Fire and Below the Darkest Depths sees the band amalgamating all their collective styles and influences within the songs to create what are undoubtedly two of the album’s real highlights.
From here, the band retains the same level of consistency throughout the remaining six tracks. Despite their lack of pace, Immortal Hunt and New Infernal Birth are another couple of tracks worthy of singling out with their catchy choruses and lead work, while the closing pair of Withdrawn From All Humanity and the symphonic blackened epic Wash Away the Blood With Rain are further worthy selections in the latter half of the album.
Starkill aren’t the most original of bands, and their European influences are fairly obvious throughout Fires of Life. But while there’s a familiarity surrounding Starkill’s material (not just in its sound, but because all but three of the tracks have been previously released on the band’s past efforts), they do it so well that it’s easy to overlook.
After hearing Fires of Life, I have no doubt that Starkill are destined for greater things in time to come. This is one album where one shouldn’t judge the album purely based on its cover!