Seemingly an embassy for Scandinavia in the American metal scene, Starkill are a symphonic blackened melo-death band that proudly wear the influence of bands such as Children of Bodom, Wintersun and Dimmu Borgir on their metaphorical patch jackets. Virus of the Mind is their follow up to Fires of Life, an album I really liked. Though they have gone from strength to strength, a couple of unresolved errors and a poorly judged alteration to their sound keep Starkill from the excellence that they are so close to.
At Starkill’s helm is Parker Jameson, a remarkably skilled guitarist who is capable of producing leads and solos that have a good chance of out-DragonForce-ing Herman Li. He defines the sound of Virus of the Mind with kind of frantic shredding that precedes an unexpected audit. Despite being more subtle than the theatrics used by Fleshgod Apocalypse or Septicflesh, the symphonic aspect of this album gives it a grand scale that makes the guitar masterclass above it feel even more powerful.
Often Virus of The Mind feels darker than its predecessor as Starkill have given more space to their gothic and black metal influences. There’s also a strong neoclassical element to both Parker’s guitar playing and the orchestration that supports it. Unfortunately, among these changes some of their issues have been left untouched. The same mistake that was made in ‘Wash Away The Blood With Rain’ has been repeated in ‘God of This World’, where some of the faster snare rolls sound as if Spencer Weidner completely delegated his job to Addictive Drums. The adolescent lyrics to ‘Be Dead or Die’ are another repetition of something I disliked about Fires of Life. I’m not asking for Shakespeare, but “I want you to be dead/Existence erased/Nothing left of you/Not a single trace” is distractingly bad.
Clean vocals which seem to have resulted from listening to a couple of Trivium albums are a new and unwelcome addition to Starkill’s sound. Surprisingly, they don’t feel out of place and manage to avoid the predictability that plagues many examples of this style. It’s just that Parker isn’t very good at them – ‘Before Hope Fades’ almost sinks because layers and layers of vocals and reverb can’t hide that he is straining an unexceptional singing voice to hit vocal lines which aren’t particularly challenging. ‘Breaking The Madness’ and a couple of other songs do have some rather good backing vocals, but the leads should have been left harsh.
More mature songwriting and improved production makes Virus of the Mind a very positive second step for Starkill. The combination of compositional skill and virtuosity that is behind their overclocked melodic death metal is just as compelling as it was when I first heard it. It’s a shame that this is marred by embarrassing lyrics and poor cleans which suggest Parker’s weaknesses have as much influence on the band as his undeniable strengths. If Starkill get someone else to sing and keep doing what they do, they will soon have their Ascendancy.