Perhaps the most difficult and most important decision any band can make during their career is this: stick to their guns and continue putting out music similar to that of their early days, pleasing old fans at the risk of not gaining new listeners, or attempt to experiment and try a different angle of composition at the risk of displeasing their original fans and audience. Many musicians opt to go with the red pill, choosing to experiment with their ideas, broadening their horizons and trying something new. And let's be honest here, putting out the same album for ten plus years would be incredibly boring and most likely breed a displeasing repertoire of half-assed musical endeavors and uninspired albums. However, many bands have been quite successful (in terms of critical acclaim, not commercial success) with a controlled musical evolution, never forgetting where they came from but always adding something new. However, very rarely is it seen for a band to take a very similar idea over many albums and draw it out, and actually breed successful and interesting records. Bal-Sagoth is one of those bands, and Starfire Burning Upon the Ice-Veiled Throne of Ultima Thule
marks the creation of the sound that will follow them all the way through their latest musical effort.
Bal-Sagoth's debut, A Black Moon Broods Over Lemuria
, was somewhat of a flawed gem, showing great potential and often times displaying it wonderfully, but in some places, seeming forced and placing certain elements where they ought not to be. Starfire
rids Bal-Sagoth of all creative hitches and succeeds in creating a seamless album that knows exactly where it's headed and doesn’t diverge for any reason. Retaining the same lineup as the former album, with Jonny and Chris Maulding heading the musical direction and Byron Roberts handling the vocals and lyrics, Starfire
realizes so much of the potential shown on A Black Moon. Losing most of the death metal influences so prevalent in A Black Moon
attempts to craft a greater atmosphere and a larger soundscape in which each member can explore the limits of their instruments. This is perhaps the album that warrants the broad definition of Bal-Sagoth being referred to as symphonic black metal, for Starfire
is much more influenced by the black metal sound than the previous effort. However, more prevalent than even the obvious black metal influences are the epic sounds of an ancient mythological world that define Bal-Sagoth's work.
Among the slick, well-executed lines of tremolo picked riffs and dark guitar lines rides the keyboard compositions that launch the sound into another niche altogether. Starfire
brings to the very forefront the use of keyboard melodies, increasing the weight of the atmosphere and perfectly embodying the vision set forth in the inclusion of tales of the world's ancient history. From synthesized strings to full brass orchestras, the full realization of the keyboard in Bal-Sagoth's music gives it the ability to stand out from the rest of keyboard laden music. The triumph though lies not in the ability of each instrument to sound good, but the perfect meshing of each sound to create the full sonic functionality. Bal-Sagoth proves that metal is the only medium through which the ancient Atlanteans would have wanted their sagas retold. Byron Roberts returns again with his tales of legends past, and, while almost completely dropping the death grunt used before and relying heavily on his high pitched rasp and deep, narration worthy voice, delivers once again with both lyrical and vocal strength.
However, don't let the stigma of a slight power metal influence stray fans of extreme metal away from the newly realized sound. While not quite as dark and gritty as their last effort, Starfire
epitomizes Bal-Sagoth ability to not sugar coat an idea. The melodies are dark and foreboding as they are epic and battle ready. Unlike most power metal, which seems to dwell on shining stories of untouched warriors and battlefields bereft of death and pain, Bal-Sagoth captures the atmosphere of a war-torn society, complemented by the heavy and crushing guitars and dark story. The riffs, both on keyboards and guitar, are memorable and interesting, never slowing down to an honorable crawl and still as fierce as ever and as unrelenting as a swirling metal storm. Each instrument is executed with perfection and the production is clean and crisp with just a tinge of grit needed for a concept of such deep and focused direction.
Bal-Sagoth crafts their magnum opus with Starfire Burning Upon the Ice-Veiled Throne of Ultima Thule
and perfects the ideas they've held since day one. While proving they hold a unique niche in the musical world they still manage to create an album that is both accessible and fun while balancing a heavy and furious atmosphere with darker overtones. The only question left behind after an album like this, as with any album deemed a band's best work is, where will they go from here? Starfire itself seems to give a pretty good indication of what path that will be.