Starblind - Darkest Horrors - (7/10)
Published on April 30, 2014
I find myself yearning for the days when bands like Wolf, HammerFall, Tad Morose and Morgana Lefay ruled the Swedish heavy-cum-power metal scene. Those bands all had their own (relatively) unique take on the style but with the deluge of NWOBHM-worshipping acts of recent years it’s becoming more and more difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff. Sure, In Solitude keeps on ploughing their own little furrow (with their latest album veering down some unexpected avenues), and the guys in Enforcer are doing a bang-up job of fusing the reckless abandon of early speed metal with the classiness of Iron Maiden, yet when it comes to bands like Katana, Steelwing Air Raid and, recently, Starblind, it really is more of a case of style over substance.
In and of itself Darkest Horrors is not a bad album. Sure, the polished sheen of its production job robs it of some of that organic grit, but from a technical point of view it gets the job done rather nicely. The songs are all requisitely catchy and vocalist Mike Stark has a set of pipes that operate in the expected higher register yet has enough character of its own. The overriding problem with this album is the shamelessly unadulterated Maiden worship that courses through just about each and every track. Rather than borrowing some of said band’s legendary twin (now triple) lead melodies and incorporating them into something vaguely original these guys pilfer wholesale from Maiden Metal 101. Those lead melodies in “Ascendancy” reek of those found in “The Trooper,” the acoustic intro of “Crystal Tears” basically sounds identical to “Out of the Shadows” and the main riff of “I Stand Alone” is a total rip-off of “Fear of the Dark”. Yeah, yeah imitation is the most sincere form of flattery and all that jazz but things get a bit ridiculous on here.
Look past these moments of sheer sonic plagiarism, however, and Darkest Horrors is quite a fun listen. They may not be in abundance but the album is at its strongest when the band takes the odd detour from their core sound and throws the listener a few curveballs. Case in point: the hard rockin’, beer-swillin’ boogie of “The Great Hunt” (where the feel-good vibes are interrupted intermittently by “Now you will die!” growls, which are curious to say the least). The heavier “The Reckoning” is also quite nice, its punchy riffs complemented well by the expected Maiden-esque rhythmic gallop. These moments are spot on and effectively save the album from being a complete copy & paste misfire. The production is solid, the energy level high and the riffs are catchy. Aside from a little less blatant Maiden worship I can’t ask for much more from a release like this.
Oh, and that album cover…