Starkill“Starkill Starkill shining bright, is this band a bag of shite?” Well, no, actually far from it, I was just wondering if the band’s Press Release would be more entertaining if that was all it said. But that aside, if Symphonic Melodic Black/Death Metal with a twist is your thing then this band are a good distance from the arse-end of the shite-ometer!

I guess you would expect a decent production from a Century Media band so it should come as no surprise that “Virus Of The Mind” has a pretty bloody good one, and right from the off these angry Americans seem to have class. Picking up just about where last year’s well received debut “Fires Of Life” left off (I say debut, they did release an album two years earlier in their incarnation as Massakren). The effective synthesised violin intro initially threw me as it does lean very much towards the symphonic (Nightwish would be proud!), but as the orchestration builds and the song steadily emerges to engulf the orchestra, the band’s intentions become much clearer – though the violin thread crops up throughout the opening track which is a really great hook. Breaking the band’s sound down to basics and choosing the best known comparisons, the song scampers nicely between the symphonic blackness of Dimmu Borgir, the melodic death of Arch Enemy and the lead-work orientated shreddings of Children of Bodom, and this is pretty much the sound blueprint for the rest of the album.

But far from being straight-forward or predictable, each style is pushed to the fore or reduced as every individual song dictates – as well as sneaking in a few other elements of course. The following track ‘Winter Desolation’ seems on the surface to nudge nearer the melodic death side, re-affirmed by the introduction of highly effect-drenched and layered clean vocals (sounding like early Into Eternity), but as the piano-led outro segues into it’s neighbour ‘Breaking The Madness’ we find ourselves more entrenched in classic Borgir territory – yet it was all so seamless! The band constantly push their style throughout “Virus Of The Mind” – for instance, there’s a really cool Moonspell style Gothic vibe to ‘Before Hope Fades’, yet also, especially in the clean vocals but also in the music, I hear a generous amount of Audrey Horne. This is rapidly becoming the track I keep returning to along with the opener, but in doing that, the rest of the album gradually takes shape on different levels in between those tracks.

The blending of extreme styles is obviously one of the band’s main strengths, and though it’s a trait that is nothing new, Starkill manage to put their own slant on it. As the album unfolds we are treated to intricate time changes, brave arrangements, attention to detail, complimentary yet not overly intrusive orchestration, excellent drumming and some pretty damn fine lead guitar-work and riffs throughout. If Symphonic Melodic Black/Death Metal is your thing then I reckon Starkill are one of the better exponents around at the moment.

(7.5/10  Andy Barker)