Starblind - Never Seen Again

Starblind Never Seen Again cover
Never Seen Again
Pure Steel Records
The list of commendable traditional heavy metal bands from Sweden grows longer with the advent of Stockholm’s Starblind, a thriving and hungry twin guitar venture which has recently released its third full-length, “Never Seen Again”, under Pure Steel Records. To be honest, I initially expected something tacky and vocally ridiculous like Helvetet’s Port due to buddy’s outrageous diamond patterned pants and a fellow connoisseur's diligently rendered feedback admonishing the quintet for its glaring Iron Maiden emulation. I haven’t heard said release yet but this latent effort does indeed sound a lot like a Bruce Dickinson fronted X-Factor, especially the croon laden, “Sign of the Cross” evoking closer, “The Last Stand”. Even so, I feel it’s unfair to outright poo-poo these staggeringly talented musicians for faithfully following in the masters’ footsteps; in my book, there’s nothing wrong with doing so as long as it’s done right. Maiden sound-alikes may be a dime a dozen and then some, but Starblind happens to be one of the more competitive and engaging of the lot.
For one thing, the musicianship is top-notch. The superimposed, expedient guitar riffs give way to incredibly melodic and pronounced lead trade-offs which rival anything by team Murray/Smith/Gers. Believe me when I say you’re at risk of breaking out into an animated air guitar frenzy upon gleaning the atomic, fiercely phrased solos on “The Shadow out of Time”, “Tears of a Soldier” and “Avarice (The Fourth Soldier)”. The bass lines hook, jangle and plug away with reckless fury and pizzazz; Steve Harris would be proud of his protégé! Overall, the drumming even surpasses Nicko McBrain’s, which to my ears was always Maiden’s weakest link as it often felt irritably happy-go-lucky and formulaic. Maybe I’m wrong but the drum fills and overall resonance are a lot more varied and vigorous. Dig the double bass kicks and festive cowbell tocks half a minute in to “Pride and Glory”, which also features a conclusively awesome, downwind guitar riff which grippingly elbows its way in after the singer confidently yawps “You sailed across the oceans/To reach those distant lands/Where no one’s ever been before”.
These guys are certainly no second rate Johnny-come-latelys seeing as how mercurial and concise the song constructs are. The group as a whole does a great job of holding multiple concepts; the tracks in themselves are far from repetitive and include stellar bridges as well as more than their fare share of lead pyrotechnics. Alternatively, the production and overall package comes across as somewhat clinical and contrived. For the life of me I don’t see the point of bumming out the listener with the “guimauve” (saccharine) ballad, which is the 6,5 minute “Eternally Bound”, especially coming on the heels of the first three utterly explosive tracks. I loathe to harp, but lighter waving and swooning is not what I signed up for! Mind you, the mellifluous solos are as poignant as usual, but at the very least it would have made sense to place this track next-to-last. Regardless, “The Last Stand”, with its plentiful and thumping bass line, is an apropos closer as much as in name as in ambiance.
Perhaps I was led astray (or starblinded) by my early morning caffeine kick, when first listening to Starblind’s “Never Seen Again”, as it initially sounded like a rad cross between Iron Maiden (is my soup cold yet?) and Enforcer, while blessed with incendiary Wolf style leads, but the deeper I dug the more I realized this release is above all lacking soul. Don’t get me wrong – the instrumentation is very good, some of the solos will knock you flat on your ass and the rhythm section is as stout as it gets in regards to the genre. The run-of-the-mill operatic vocals and fantastically plain lyrics won’t move mountains, but won’t make you cringe and hit the deck either. While I wouldn’t want to be marooned on a desert island with it, I don’t think I’ll mind hearing it now and again, if only for some of its more memorable, ear-pleasing chops.