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Jack Starr goes down fighting - 90%

VirginSteele_Helstar, August 14th, 2012

After their less than iconic debut the year before, Virgin Steele cast aside their wild spirited approach to music for a more ambitious, carefully molded stance. The result is a lovable 49 minutes of wonderfully made stomping metal with distinct shades of the epic craft that would define the band in albums to come. "Guardians of the Flame" was also the last album to feature guitarist Jack Starr and he owns every bit of it with his fiery chops burning the last word in every musical statement. These were the days before David DeFeis singularly controlled all the songwriting and the band was a more cohesive and collaborative unit. The playing was the tightest it had ever been, void of any excesses, and the songs were all the more memorable for it. Room was made for only one ballad and DeFeis and Starr's lofty aspirations were satisfied with two certifiable epic tracks that barely cracked the eight minute mark. It is a very honest album - concise and straightforward, baring its heart and soul yet still proud and noble in demeanor.

"Guardians of the Flame" has since been dwarfed by the creations that succeeded it but if we're to evaluate with the benefit of hindsight, it is a very important album. Keyboards played a very minimal role in the architecture of sound and general aesthetic values and it is without a doubt, the only Virgin Steele album where power was singularly wielded by the guitar. Jack Starr's riffing and melodic texturing influenced many a USPM band and this album was the finest showcase for his prowess. On the muscular "Go Down Fighting", originally issued on the "Wait for the Night" EP and the equally energetic "Burn The Sun", he started things off with witchy spiraling riffs that led to exciting super tight mid sections which when embedded into Joe O'Reilly and Joey A's consistent bass and drum rhythm synergy gave such a propellant head banging experience similar to what was happening in the thrash metal world at the time. Starr’s guitar solos on "Burn The Sun", "The Redeemer" and "Go All The Way" sound mature and expertly executed. The tone is just right and all the nuances are captured.

"Go All The Way" pays homage to Led Zeppelin with a clearly Plant-obsessed DeFeis yelping uncontrollably and Starr's clever start stop riff at the beginning evoking Jimmy Page's "For Your Life" intro. Other influences abound elsewhere but the band had clearly developed immeasurably at this point and were on the verge of becoming a major force. Sadly, Jack Starr was fired by DeFeis who then took on the bulk of songwriting resulting in the largely inconsistent "Noble Savage". The album's legacy lives on though and it is arguably the best of their 80's output. Much more honest and noble in its intentions than anything after it.