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Starkill - Fires of Life - 90%

Goldensundown, March 26th, 2014

With an '80s-styled album cover consisting of a barbarian standing on an icy mountain shooting lightning out of his hand, this album could easily be mistaken for an epic-themed power metal album and while the epic atmosphere is evident, Starkill combine elements of melodic black and death metal and filter into them about 20 tons of synth and symphonic elements. What results from this is probably the most fitting description of epic metal that I’ve ever seen.

The 10 songs presented here are half reworkings of previous material from previous reincarnations of this band (as Ballistika and then Massakren) and half new material. This is the official debut of Starkill, although the band (with a different bassist) had released a debut under the moniker of Massakren.

The songwriting on this album is immensely grandiose with Starkill knowing just when to place a soaring solo, when to dive into a ferocious double kick or speedy-riffed passage, when to add a spoken word pre-battle speech, and when to slow a song down and build it up again with synth and symphonic elements. It is said about a lot of music that attempts the epic battle style of aesthetic, but Starkill really truly make you want to pick up a sword, slay the hounds of hell, and stand upon their corpses bloodied, but victorious.

It helps that for such a young band their playing is extremely tight. The neoclassical lead work and solos are fucking impressive and they don’t push into Malmsteen's douchey territory, the rhythm guitar switches between vicious extreme riffing (of both melodic death and black metal sorts) as well as ‘epic’ chord progressions, the vocals dance craftily between melodic death metal growls, blackened shrieks, and spoken word while the drumming can lay out heart-pumping, double kick-laden sections as well as heavily emphasis the more grandiose and rousing parts of these songs. The synths that are featured in this album are extremely effective at holding the atmosphere together, like some sort of musical glue and for the most part they don’t layer the album in an oozing cheese (cough cough... Wintersun... cough cough) and the lyrics are pretty top tier Good Vs Evil themed: “This is our battle, this is our day!” for example.

In saying that though, this album does suffer from exuberant cheese on the very rare occasion, especially in a couple of sections where Starkill’s melodic death metal elements strike eerily similar to Dethklok’s works as well as some of the synth work having a very MIDI, Summoning-esque sound to them (it works with Summoning’s material, but not here, unfortunately). Luckily these blemishes are few and far between and the general grandiose atmosphere of the album manages to stay nicely on the middle point between far too serious and far too cheesy, leaving the listener with a fun, blood-pumping, but well-crafted symphonic/melodic death/black album.

Extremely recommended if you feel you haven’t been getting your daily dose of monster slaying metal and you don’t want to have to crack open that moldy case of cheesy power metal.

Originally written for:
http://fetiddead.wordpress.com/

Heroes wear black under the dying stars. - 95%

hells_unicorn, October 24th, 2013

Heroism is something that might seem out of the ordinary when dealing with the murky realms of black and death metal, even in their more melodic strains where the order of the day usually involves a greater degree of melancholy and anti-heroism. Perhaps the best example of a band that at least presented this sort of lofty musical image of a black clad hero triumphing against the light would be that of Sweden's own Skyfire, but even then the lyrics didn't quite match up with the power metal oriented sense of triumph and majesty heard in the ensuing game of notes. Leave it to a younger batch of Americans to go the distance, as Starkill has done with this very impressive collection of songs in "Fires Of Life".

While it should be duly noted that this is technically not the band's debut given the other material that they put out between 2008 and 2012 under different names, this has all the makings of a hungry wolf stalking its first kill. Inhibition is definitely not in this album's vocabulary as it refused to shy away from being massive in sound, technical in execution, yet utterly catchy and easy to grab onto all at the same time. The sheer amount of lead guitar gymnastics on here is enough to rival "Follow The Reaper" and "Timeless Departure" with little difficulty, whereas the power metal-like riffing and harmonic structure definitely hints at a heavy influence from both aforementioned albums, along with a bit of later 90s Dimmu Borgir and Emperor.

There are definitely no slouches in this fold, but it should be noted that much of what makes this album so killer is owed to vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Parker Jameson. With an uncanny ability to match the raspy blackened shrieks of Shagrath and Ihsahn, as well as the deep guttural bellows of Corpsegrinder, as well as a very strong sense of atmosphere in his orchestral arrangements and keyboard work, it makes one wonder how he makes time for handling guitar duties alongside Charlie Federici. Together these two respective axe slingers manage to marry a nimble assortment of virtuosic guitar solos that are fancy enough to rival what the Amott brothers brought to us via Arch Enemy, though definitely tilted a bit more closer to Children Of Bodom stylistically.

From start to finish, this is just an exciting album that is frenetic and technical enough for those who miss the days when Sam Totman and Herman Li went by Heimdall and Shred during the pre-Dragonforce days of Demoniac, but also organized and bombastic enough to rope in a lot of fans of late 90s Finnish melodeath. There are no weak spots to speak of, but the truly spellbinding moments are to be found on "Whispers Of Heresy", "Immortal Hunt" and "Wash Away The Blood With Rain". Nevertheless, this is the kind of album that should first be listened straight through, and preferably with some neck protection for the inevitable head banging fits. Raise your fists to the sky you bloodthirsty barbarians, for the deaths of your foes is close at hand.

Below The Darkest Depths - 87%

Azmo_Ammar, August 24th, 2013

The power of youth has always been one of the main inspiration for creating excellent extreme metal releases, that's why most of extreme metal bands get lazy and soft when they age, but I really hope that American new young band Starkill wont get age so we all can enjoy their music for a long time. The band has released the debut album Fires of Life in April this year by Century Media Records, to provide the world with a super symphonic extreme metal album full of death and black metal influences for the fans of melodic and symphonic extreme metal music around the world.

For the people who don't know Starkill, the band was called Massakren before 2013, and they've released the great full-length album Immersed in Chaos and the good EP Massakren under that name. The new album somehow will remind you of the bands Children Of Bodom and Norther, and sometimes Wintersun will cross your mind too, but the great thing is the band is not copying any of these bands at all, because the members have managed to create their own signature on the music they make. I will ignore the cheesy artwork because it doesn't describe the charm of the musical elements of this record, I think the band didn't pay attention at all about the designing of the artwork. The bright solos and the melodeath keyboards are mixed professionally with the technical bass-lines behind the hammering drumming, making the whole atmosphere symphonic and aggressive in the same damn time, and the whole sound was really unexpected from these young musicians.

I gave this album many spins, and I found the total work flawless and full of extreme metal talent, that's why Century Media Records gambled on this professional record. Some tracks like "Strength In The Shadow" and "Below The Darkest Depths" reminded me of Wintersun, but with more symphonic elements, so I guess the fans of Wintersun will enjoy the elements of such tracks. Some tracks like "Sword, Spear, Blood, Fire", "Withdrawn From All Humanity" and "Immortal Hunt" have more symphonic black metal atmosphere, with violent technical solos from time to time, the fans of Illnath and Graveworm will enjoy such dark sound. There is nothing in this album to be complain about, everything has been managed perfectly to be enjoyable and memorable, and I guess this album is one of the best extreme metal releases of the year.

A call to those who search for excellent symphonic and melodic extreme metal releases, you have to get your copy of this album now, because you will miss a lot of enjoyment and pleasure if you don't get the chance to listen to this wonderful record. If you search for aggression, majesty, anger and skillfulness, then I can tell you that this album has it all.

Originally written for:
www.jorzine.com

How to Pull Off a Little Bit of Everything - 90%

TheStormIRide, August 14th, 2013

Starkill is a relatively young band which burst onto the Metal scene with their debut album, “Fires of Life”, which was released on Century Media Records. The band has been around in various incarnations since 2009: initially they named Ballistika until 2010; Massakren from 2010 until 2012; and finally as Starkill. “Fires of Life” is one of those super professional and technically proficient albums that straddle the line between melodic death metal, power metal and straight up extreme metal. While the members of Starkill are young, their song writing and instrumentation challenge the likes of bands that have been at it longer than the members of Starkill have been alive.

“Fires of Life” showcases fast paced guitar lines, speedy and technical double kicked drum beats, atmospheric keyboards and mid-range shouted vocals. Basically this sounds straight out of Finland, as you've no doubt heard this style done by the likes of Children of Bodom and Kalmah, but Starkill adds a bit more power metal flair in the lead department and bit more oomph in the death metal influence. With their debut album, Starkill attempt to bring this powerful style to the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. The absolute highlight of this album is the impressive lead guitar work, fraught with high speedy scales, sweeping arpeggios, intense, chaotic trem lines and crunchy melo-death riffs. When the lead lines are blasting away, l am consistently reminded of the high speed solos of Dragonforce combined with the technicality of Luca Turilli. Even when the band is sloughing away with fast riffs and blasting drums, I feel like Starkill could be considered a death metal version of Dragonforce (minus a lot of the pretentiousness).

Starkill dabbles with a little bit of everything including blastbeats at the beginning of “Withdrawn From All Humanity” and some chaotic trem picking during “This is Our Battle; This is Our Day”. Even with all of the side influences coming in, the band always comes back to sounding like an extremely heavy power metal act with death-styled vocals. The drums are freaking intense for the entire ride, ranging from fast paced and technical double kicks into the previously mentioned blastbeats. Occasionally things gets to be a little hectic and overbearing, like the hyper-blasting, extremely inhuman snare and double bass sections on “Wash Away the Blood With Rain”. The keyboards are fairly solid, with some parts sounding like Janne Warmen wrote them and other parts sounding more like something on a film score. The bass, aside from a few thunderous runs, mostly follows the rhythm guitars, lacking an identity of its own. The vocals are mostly some form of deeper shouting with a few raspy screams thrown throughout. The vocals are probably the most one dimensional piece of the puzzle, but they are still solid and enjoyable.

Further recalling the likes of Rhapsody and Dragonforce, tracks like “New Infernal Rebirth” show off some medieval tinged keyboard lines, which almost borders on absurdly silly. I know the album's themes mostly entail fantasy adventures and whatnot, but the keyboard work is slightly over the top at times. The keyboards honestly sound best when relegated to the background, putting a strong backing to the impressive guitars and drums. While the band does vary tempos, mostly from fast to faster, after several listens everything starts to meld together. There are definitely some standout sections, usually entailing lightning fast lead work or impressively blasting drum lines, no tracks really stick out as better than the rest. The entire album flies by with only fleeting glimpses remaining after the album stops.

Aside from some wonky symphonic keyboard lines and some overly jarring sections, Starkill has a real winner here. With the band being so young, hopefully we can look forward to a long career full of album's like “Fires of Life”. This isn't the most original album in the world, as the band completely shows off their influences here, but it's technically proficient and energetic as hell. This is a pretty awesome debut and they have definitely scored a fan here. Melodic death metal combined with extreme metal combined with power metal; it actually can go together and it works a hell of a lot better than you think it would.

Written for The Metal Observer:
http://www.metal-observer.com/

Sword-fightin' mountain-top high-fives, all around - 89%

Pale_Pilgrim, June 4th, 2013

Every once in a blue moon (maybe even less often than that) an unknown young band releases a major label debut that sounds more seasoned and competent than half their labelmates could ever dream of achieving. Starkill pulled that off, right here, with ease.

Alright, so let's clear one thing up - this isn't this band's first outing - they've been active in slightly different forms since 2008. But really, just think of it - 5 years isn't all that much time. These are *young* guys - the vocalist at the time of recording is only 23. The other look even younger, I'm not sure, but the point is this - these guys sound like they've been playing in general their whole lives, and they sound like they've been bandmates for about 20 years. Upon first glance/listen, they harken to mind the likes of classic Children of Bodom. Indeed, they are similar - very bombastic keyboard-sprinkled melodeath songs with blazing solos, clean production, harsh vocals, double-kick, kinda cheesy art/lyrics - all of that good stuff. In contrast, though, I find this band to be a bit less frenzied - it's intense, fast and they're clearly having fun, but it's a more controlled madness, and comes across more 'professional'.

Listening to this album, it's hard to find anything one could consider faults, actually. The solos are absolutely ripping - check "Sword, Spear, Blood, Fire" for reference - but you could pick any song, really. Speed, technicality, melodicism, it's all here. The rhythms are crunchy and concise. Only the bass doesn't really stand out much, mostly shadowing the rhythm guitar, but that's fairly in line with the style and speed. Finally, and I really must make it a point to say this isn't just hyperbole - awesome fucking drummer. This Spencer guy sounds like this generation's Hellhammer. Just a master behind the kit. Did I mention the double-kick earlier? Of course I did, it's beastly. Beautiful fills, tight rolls. My arms hurt just imagining being in his shoes for a set.

Every solo fits. The extra-keyboard-tinged track "New Infernal Rebirth" is a huge standout, really burning brightly. Hell, the keys on track 9 will practically make you do Snoopy dances. "This is Our Battle" shows off a sweet soft section with unexpected female vocals, followed by the only section where the bassline really hits the listener. Starkill don't just play the same song 10 times and call it an album. The writing and musicianship is quite tight/technically adept, but unlike many technical players, they don't just sit around wanking their instruments off. This isn't dumb music, though it's not necessarily thinking-man's either - it's intelligently structured, yes, but at its heart it's all just heavy high-octane fun. See, these guys actually remember the 2 cardinal rules that too many of the myriad modern melodeath bands (yay, alliteration!) forget about - play with heart and actually write songs. Oh, and without MINDLESSLY CHUGGING. They never let up, either. No filler here. Starkill deliver big riff after big riff, Hellhammer understudy after Hellhammer understudy... cheesy keyboard line after cheesy keyboard line.

Recommended to any and all fans of extreme metal. Period.