Furiously paced melodic death metal is an oversubscribed club these days but when it’s done with such panache the door is always open. Influenced by a host of bands, which mostly ran out of steam a few years ago, these boys from Chicago have fired off a highly polished hook frenzy that throws in a few much needed tunes where others that should know better have begun to fail. Fires of Life brings the right amount of hero worship mixed with a decent stab at challenging the old guard. It’s a skill in itself to walk a path so well trodden and still manage to blow away those cobwebs with a vibrancy increasingly rare among more tuneful of the heavy hordes.
They’ve obviously been turning heads. Starkill began life as Ballistika in 2009 before changing their name to Massakren the following year. In December last year there was yet another name change that coincided with a contract with Century Media. It’s also seen them clean off most of the fake blood and corpse paint but the sound is broadly the same. Let’s be honest, the term melodic death metal is so widely used as to be almost meaningless so let’s be a little more specific. The band specialises in Children of Bodom-style fret board widdling, the occasional Dimmu black metal blast-beat avalanche and super-fast melody that would make In Flames look pedestrian. But the true heart of this release, as with a lot of melodic death metal these days, burns with the fires of European power metal. The spirit of neo-classical guitarists like Luca Turilli is present and beneath the galloping guitar riffs are orchestral arrangements would please any Ensiferum fan. Tracks like Strength in the Shadow and This is Our Battle, This Is Our Day could have easily been taken off their last two or three albums.
The barrel-loads of hi-energy puts this outside the darker realms of metal despite the growled vocals. But it is also that and the keen ear for a tune that separates Starkill from the others trying to cut through the noise of today’s metal scene. This most definitely has a whiff of shrink-wrapped, factory-fresh about it but the gleaming finish doesn’t make it any the less enjoyable. The faster tracks best unleash the band’s power such as the title track and the more interesting final track Wash Away the Blood With Rain. If only we could make a rule that melodic death metal (or its close bedfellow symphonic black metal) needed to be at least this good before it reached my ears then my life would be much easier and less painful.
Unfortunately this is a field increasingly washed free of inspiration and original thought. But a little depth, a similar dose of originality and the tunes to make up for whatever it might be lacking in true grit lifts Fires of Life above the norm. It’s probably going to be a little predictable for some tastes. But with the train to Bodom central running out of steam over the last few releases – as have so many others in this field – Starkill manage to breathe a little new energy and life into an old formula.
(7/10 Reverend Darkstanley)