Prior to receiving a promo copy of Stand Your Ground, my exposure to Jack Starr’s Burning Starr was pretty limited. In fact, I knew exactly three things about them:
1 – their namesake guitarist founded long-running American power metallers Virgin Steele way back in the early 1980s, performing on their first two albums, neither of which I’m very familiar with. Starr departed after clashing with singer David DeFeis over the band’s direction, and DeFeis has been at the helm of Virgin Steele ever since.
2 – Burning Starr was responsible for a wonderfully goofy 80s rock “anthem” called “Rock And Roll Is The American Way,” from their 1985 debut, Rock The American Way.
3 – in addition to Burning Starr, vocalist Todd Michael Hall pulls double duty in the latest incarnation of Riot, a.k.a. Riot V.
So finally I’m getting around to checking out this nearly thirty-year-old band, and I gotta say I’m a little disappointed I haven’t found my way here before, although I guess it’s better late than never, right?
Stand Your Ground is Burning Starr’s third record since their return in 2009, after a 20-year hiatus. I clearly can’t speak for this album’s relative quality compared to the other two new-ish ones – or to much of what came before, besides that one gloriously corny tune – but I can speak to the overall quality of Stand Your Ground, which is a surprisingly strong offering, and a damned fun listen, although perhaps not an absolute world smasher.
Stylistically, Stand treads the line between power metal and traditional, squeaky clean and melodic, rife with soaring chorus and dancing guitar leads, and what it may lack in grit, it makes up for in spark and polish. Hall is a damned good singer, even if he isn’t the most distinctive power metal vocalist on the planet, and Starr can certainly play, even if he isn’t exactly the most fiery guitarist around, either. The production is perfectly slick, although not overly so, and the whole of Stand is capably performed.
What that really means is that it comes down to the songs, and here’s the verdict: If the swords-and-sorcery album art didn’t clue you in, basically what we have here is a polished take on epic metal, with a hard rock bent, sort of akin to Hall’s other gig in Riot. And like that last Riot album, Stand Your Ground is a very good record, but not a great one. Songs like “Hero” or “The Enemy” or “Escape From The Night” or “The Sky Is Falling”: These are all very good trad metal songs, albeit none are absolutely year-end-list killer. “Destiny” treads oddly close to Stryper territory, in the good way, while “The Enemy” treads pretty close to those Christian bees in lyrical content, to no detriment. The Maiden-y guitars on the epic-length title track are among Starr’s most memorable moments on hand, although that one could stand a little trimming on the very tail-end, the slower part that drags on about twice as long as it should.
The only real negative is the one ballad-y tune, the pretty lame “Worlds Apart,” and beyond that there’s nothing really wrong with any of Stand Your Ground, except maybe the running time is a bit long, but that’s an extremely nitpicky concern (especially for a band that took two decades off). It doesn’t quite achieve absolute dominance, largely because I prefer a bit more grit in my power, but it’s very much a fun record from a band that I’d heretofore overlooked, but shall overlook no more.
Thirty-something years and the Starr is still burning – I suppose that counts for something, so if power-trad’s your thing, perhaps, like me, you need to catch up on your Starr-gazing…