A recent entrant in Stormspell Records’ Trend Killers series is Starborn’s debut EP, a 5-track, 34-minute affair entitled ‘The Dreaming City.’ The Newcastle, England based quintet (which features in its ranks several staff writers for the excellent Metal Crypt website) released a 2-song cassette, ‘Born by the Wind,’ last year to somewhat muted response, with the prevailing impression being that the lads showed promise but weren’t ready for prime time. A year later, Starborn strike back with ‘The Dreaming City,’ a worthy exercise in speedy semi-technical guitar-oriented power metal that straddles the European and American variants of the genre without sounding exactly like anybody else.
At their inception, Starborn evidently aspired to go full-on Euro power metal, with a band name nicked from the classic Iron Savior song off ‘Unification’ and a boatload of influences along the lines of Blind Guardian and Falconer. Over time, however, Starborn have tweaked the recipe a bit. The Euro power metal elements are still there, and there are plenty of moments that, from a guitar standpoint, evoke happy memories of Hansen/Weikath in their formative years. However, ‘The Dreaming City’ shows a band that’s incorporated more muscular U.S. traditional metal stylings to go along with the European class and flair. One reference point that crops up in many reviews is Arch-era Fates Warning. Yes, I hear that on this EP in terms of certain guitar riffs, the twists and turns in the songwriting, and the high-pitched vocals of Bruce Turnbill. To be clear, Turnbill doesn’t come across as a dead ringer for John Arch the way ex-Alpha Tiger singer Stephan Dietrich did at times; however, he does attempt the same kind of challenging, unorthodox vocal lines that were Arch’s stock in trade. I’m not sure Turnbill’s efforts are entirely successful here, but he’s obviously worked hard to develop his voice since the ‘Born by the Wind’ days and kudos to him for never taking the easy way out but instead pushing his vocal abilities to the limit.
The centerpiece of ‘The Dreaming City’ is the title track, a sprawling 13-minute epic with overtly Christian lyrics telling the story of Pontius Pilate’s betrayal of Jesus. It speaks well of Starborn that, for such a young band, they have delivered a lengthy track that neither loses focus nor wears out the patience / attention span of the listener. There are no weak cuts, but the highlight for me is “A Merciless End to Words,” which finds Turnbill exploring his lower range alongside sterling guitar melodies and a terrific catchy chorus: “Toll, toll the church bells toll for thee leaving me.” Not far behind is “Cruelty Unchained,” another top-notch song. To me, the key with this EP is the band’s ability to blend fine musicianship with excellent melodies, while keeping the buzzsaw speedy rhythm guitars (again, sometimes reminiscent of ‘Walls of Jericho’ or ‘Keepers’ era Helloween) front and center. Are Starborn a finished, polished product at this stage? No. Sometimes I feel like the songs are less than the sum of their parts and that Starborn haven’t quite figured out how to parlay their outstanding ingredients into compelling songs. But that’s why it makes perfect sense for Starborn to use the Trend Killers platform to release an EP at this point, while they continue to hone their craft for what promises to be a monstrous full-length debut album.
If you enjoy fast, classy, guitar-driven power metal that draws from both European and American schools with great melodies, super twin guitars, and high-pitched vocals, then ‘The Dreaming City’ should be on your shopping list. Regardless of whether you check out this EP or not, remember the name Starborn. If they can put it all together, these lads from Newcastle have the talent, the understanding of the genre past and present, the uniqueness and the melodic acumen to unleash something truly special. I’m not betting against them.
~ Review by Kit Ekman ~