August 4, 2022

This is top-shelf traditional power metal with an epic edge, and if that’s your particular cup of meat, then you’re in for an absolute treat here.

For those unfamiliar with the name, Burning Starr (or ‘Jack Starr’s Burning Starr’ to give them their full, though rather unwieldy name) were formed back in 1984 by former Virgin Steele guitarist Jack Starr. After a long hiatus, Starr resurrected the name in 2008 and has continued to work under the banner since. The first part of the name is included in parentheses here as the disc itself credits only ‘Burning Starr’ while the ‘Jack Starr’ name on the cover is so small as to be virtually invisible. Now, I don’t think it is exactly requiring a ‘Spoiler Alert’ warning to give away what the musical content you’re going to get here is. With the name, the Virgin Steele background, and a cover featuring a cemetery, a huge dramatically hilted sword and a dragon fashioned from flames, there’s kind of a hint that you won’t find flute or mandolin in the instrumental credits. This is, obviously, old-school, old-fashioned, straight between the eyes ’80s-vintage epic power metal. It rocks hard, it rocks dramatically, and it rocks heavy. And that’s all it does. You love classic power-metal? You’re going to love this. You think it’s a laughable bunch of hammed-up tosh? Well, get along with you, because you’re wasting your time here. This does, as they say, exactly what it says, and illustrates, on the tin.

So what are the chief influences here? Well, that’s easy to nail down right away. Get a picture in your mind of the ’80s output of Dio and Iron Maiden. Mentally algamate them together into one glorious cacophony. Now, while that’s playing in your mind’s ear, stir just a little bit of ‘Essence Of Judas Priest’ into the mix. Voila! Souls Of The Innocent is now playing in your head. However, there has been a significant development since the band’s last album, 2017’s Stand Your Ground, in the shape of a major personnel change. While the rhythm section of Ned Meloni on bass and Kenny ‘Rhino’ Earl on drums is still in place, the first change since the band reformed and recorded 2009’s Defiance has seen the departure of much-loved vocalist Todd Michael Hall, to be replaced by the new man, Alexx Panza (double ‘x’ intentional, for no particular reason). While this could have been a blow, there should be no such worry as Panza possesses a set of lungs which is, to these ears, every bit as powerful as his predecessor. In fact, a direct comparison can even be made, as the twelfth and final track on this album, When Evil Calls, is a hold-over from that previous album and features the voice of Hall in all its glory. For that reason it is labelled as a ‘bonus track’, though it fits in seamlessly in a stylistic sense. Which in a way pinpoints the major drawback with this otherwise fine album.

The twelve tracks here are all of a high quality, let’s get that absolutely clear. There are an embarrassment of riches on the steamhammer riffs and ‘Ride Of The Valkyrie’-type choruses. This is basically stuff which Manowar would nod sagely at and wonder whether they should maybe up their game. However, it is a little more concise and – whisper it – one-dimensional than Stand Your Ground in the sense of its musical template. Whereas that album featured a little more stuff veering towards the ‘progressive metal’ side of things (such as the ten-minute title track), and just a little more ‘light and shade’, that side of things has been reined back here for a much straighter power-metal approach. Which is fine, and each track is a triumph on its own terms, but it does set the mind yearning for a little bit of stretching out as the twelve tracks wind towards their end, in an effort to prevent some ‘metal fatigue’ setting in.

For that reason, and that reason alone, this album gets a ‘four star’ rating for me. Had it contained one or two slightly more ambitious moments it could well have been five, as everything on here is superbly done. Even Manowar had their March For Revenge and Battle Hymn moments, while Dio gave us Egypt (The Chains Are On) – and let’s not even get started on Maiden! Even just one track with that sort of ambition, putting its head above the pack, would have made all the difference here in a contextual sense. That said, this is top-shelf traditional power metal with an epic edge though, and if that’s your particular cup of meat, then you’re in for an absolute treat here. Fine stuff.