Fires of Life is the fist full-length album by the Chicago-based band Starkill, who previously self-released an E.P. in 2010 under the name Massakren. The band was formed in 2008 by Parker Jameson (lead guitar, vocals, keyboards, orchestral programming), Spencer Weidner (drums) and Charlie Federici (guitars). Bassist Mike Buetsch was added later, completing the line up.
Some of the guys in Starkill are barely out of their teens and that definitely seems to work to their advantage. Where older guys might become jaded and just pick one genre or sub-genre and reside themselves to doing only that, the guys in Starkill still see the world with eyes wide open. They aren’t the least bit ashamed to love and embrace many different types of metal, and it shows in their music.
Vocally, Jameson usually falls somewhere between death metal and black metal. Or he’ll sound one way during one song and the other during the next. I especially hear shades of Children of Bodom’s Alexi Laiho and Dimmu Borgir’s Shagrath in his powerful voice, which has just the right amount of grit. (Unlike all too many death metal singers, it’s usually possible to understand Jameson’s lyrics.) There are other times when his vocals sound somewhat more melodic. To that end, the band as a whole has a keen sense of melody that informs most of their songs.
Musically, the band are all over the place — and I mean that in a good way. Like Children of Bodom, they aren’t afraid to use keyboards in their songs and often do. But they use the keyboards and orchestral programming to give their songs not just an extra element but an epic and often cinematic feel, having been inspired by many films scores as well as symphonic metal bands like Nighwish. At times, like during “New Infernal Rebirth,” they use the keyboards to give their songs a chilling effect, not unlike horror movie score. (Think of classic ’70’s horror film score. Like The Omen and Rosemary’s Baby.) But then there are other songs like “Immortal Hunt” where the keyboards simply help render their songs that much more potent. Where keyboards might make some bands sound watered down or otherwise subtract from their heaviness, the keyboards in “Immortal Hunt” truly make the song sound that much more brutal, that much more of a force to be reckoned with. To that end, many of their songs — like “Sword, Spear, Blood, Fire” — sound like battle music, particularly in terms of Weidner’s massive drum sound. I even hear shades of Viking metal in them from time to time, such as during the album’s mammoth final track, “Wash Away the Blood With Rain.”
Another thing that makes Starkill stand out among their peers is that they’re not afraid to use power metal guitar riffs in the vein of, say, Iron Maiden or Helloween. And most of their guitar solos have a very clean sound, not unlike those bands. Don’t get me wrong — they are plenty capable of delivering raw, bone-crushing riffs in the vein of Amon Amarth or Blackguard, but they don’t limit themselves to that. Often, the rhythm guitars during one of their songs — like “Fires of Life” — will be quite brutal, but then they’ll have a solo that sounds more like Judas Priest or Randy Rhodes. Or even Dokken’s George Lynch. There’s also no denying that Starkill have been heavily influenced by thrash bands, particularly Slayer, Exodus and Testament.
Ultimately, Fires of Life is a fantastic album by a band that I expect to be around for a long, long time. I just hope they continue to embrace their influences as wholeheartedly as they do here, that they don’t let audiences or the industry pressure them into just going one way or the other.
Starkill on tour:
8/6/2013 The Fillmore Silver Spring MD
8/7/2013 Theater of Living Arts Philadelphia PA
8/8/2013 Irving Plaza New York NY
8/9/2013 The Sinclair Boston MA
8/11/2013 The Opera House Toronto ON
8/13/2013 Bogart’s Cincinnati OH
8/14/2013 House of Blues Cleveland OH
8/15/2013 House of Blues Chicago IL
8/16/2016 St. Andrews Hall Detroit MI
8/17/2013 Station 4 Saint Paul MN
8/18/2013 Park Theatre Winnipeg MB
8/19/2013 Riddell Center Regina SK
8/20/2013 The Starlite Room Edmonton AB
8/21/2013 Rickshaw Theater Vancover BC
8/23/2013 Studio Seven Seattle WA
8/24/2013 Hawthorne Theatrer Portland OR
8/25/2013 DNA Lounge San Francisco CA
8/26/2013 House of Blues West Hollywood CA
8/27/2013 House of Blues Anaheim CA
8/28/2013 House of Blues San Diego CA
8/29/2013 Joe’s Grotto Tempe AZ
8/31/2013 House of Blues Dallas TX
9/1/2013 House of Blues Houston TX
9/3/2013 Revolution Fort Lauderdale FL
9/4/2013 House of Blues Orlando FL
9/5/2013 The Masquerade Atlanta GA
9/6/2013 The Fillmore Charlotte NC