Friday, 22 May 2015

Starlight Ritual – Starlight Ritual (2015) / 85%

Ritualistic offering to the starstruck god

Starlight Ritual is a new quintet from Montréal and they just gave birth to their first child. Labeled as an extended play, it should be a full length in my opinion. It's forty minutes long and it's totally professional. This length is totally justifiable for a LP and has been since the dawn of metal time! Shenanigans aside, the four songs album is one of the best debut I heard this year.

The first thing you'll really notice is the tremendous vocals. Damian definitely has the pipes to fight his way through heaven and hell against the strongest contenders for Dio's throne. He's freaking awesome and it's impressive that this band is (to my knowledge) his first foray as a recording artist. Maybe he was waiting to achieve a high level of quality as a vocalist? Anyhow, his strong delivery and great range are what a traditional metal band needs to compete with the best of 'em. He's able to unleash some powerful melodies and screams like Russell Allen used to do before turning into a boring groove metal machine. The awesome vocals are combined with mystical, well written yet simple lyrics that are more allegorical tales than your pure Fantasy sword & sorcery sort of stuff.

Most of the songs are quite long, they even open with the fourteen minutes “The Triangle” and only “
Civilization Lost” could be considered to be a typically built track with its almost six minutes duration. The tracks are busy with a ton of excellent solos emanating from the two guitarists and there's no boring moments to be found. One of the guitarists is actually Athros (he's using his real name here, J-F Bertrand) from well known black metallers Forteresse, Brume d'Automne and some other projects and it's fun to hear him play something else, he's surely good at it too! The leads all have this old school flavor to them with some NWOBHM tendencies and even some middle-eastern influences (see the ones midway through “Astral Flames”). These solos are one of the strengths of the band, they keep the songs grounded and interesting. I think the bass has a good place in the overall mix but I think it could be more thundering and heavier at times even though it's noticeable enough.

While I usually love long songs and this band is good at them, I think a full length album could benefit from having a bunch of shorter, punchier tracks. An album like Iron Maiden's comeback classic
Brave New World managed to pull off. It had fantastic epic tracks like “Dream of Mirror” while also making sure to include rippers like “The Mercenary”. I'm sure Starlight Ritual could make this work too. Nevertheless, that's only my suggestion, it's quite fine like it is, guys!

Well, since these guys sure dig Rainbow's Rising and its proto progressive metal approach so much, the long song formula isn't an obstacle for them as it wasn't for Blackmore and company either. They manage to write compelling songs with enough dynamite and variations to keep us entertaining while never actually changing their formula too much by including useless atmospheric” moments to justify the extended length of a song. The first track starts with a short but needed introduction but it's not syrupy or disposable.

Before I actually heard the band, I thought they were gonna be some sort of stoner rock/metal due to their imagery. Speaking of this, I don't think the cover art, while lovely, fits their music, it doesn't have the epic traditional feel their songwriting has. I was surprised to hear the actual style of the band, a full bodied heavy metal machine ready to explore many different continents. Starlight Ritual is certainly a varied band, there's some doom, stoner and hard rock flourishes alongside the heavy metal core and this gives a fresh sound to the band since it's not a very common blend of ingredients. I mean, the closer “Seal the Light” is basically epic doom. Damian is taking a more somber tone on this track and it works like a charm. Like the whole band, he's a versatile singer and has a lot personality.

I think the fact that they mostly explore heavy/doom territories is giving them a lot of latitude. I like this style since it's mostly mid-paced and isn't afraid of incorporating flashy musicianship into the fold, think of a band like The Gates of Slumber as an example. The doom component somewhat ensures that the album doesn't fall in a overly cheesy disaster.

They're mixing “Heaven and Hell” era Black Sabbath with a bunch of other influences and it's super legit. I can't wait to see these guys live, they're about to start doing gigs and that's pretty good for our metal scene since they fucking rip and do something different from what we're accustomed to. They're a vivid proof that the Canadian and Quebécois metal scenes are truly diversifying themselves. Starlight Ritual is a band that everyone with an interest in heavy metal or doom should follow.

Thanks to the band for the review opportunity. The CD is available for a meager 5 bucks plus the shipping, just contact them on their Facebook page.  I think they're still considering a way to sell it more easily online as well.

Listen to the full EP on Youtube:

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