Commercialized metal is one of the strangest and most unnatural phenomena our beloved genre has gone through. I’m not talking about metal that happened to get mainstream recognition, by the way. Even Metallica, with the most lucrative metal act in history, started off as a thrash metal band like any other and only gained widespread fame after 5 albums. I’m talking about bands that seem to have been created or molded precisely to sell metal to the masses, like Amaranthe or Sonic Syndicate. Bands that don’t create music, but produce it. Bands that hone and tweak their music, not to make it better and more in line with their artistic vision, but to make it more marketable, often under guidance (or force) of the label. This sentiment is so contrary to the nature of metal it’s insane, yet it persists in all its plastic, dull, predictable and overproduced horror. Enter Starkill.
Now, I won’t say Starkill is as bad as the two examples above. For one, they don’t have the obligatory hot woman to prance about in videos (well, not a permanent one), nor do they incorporate an utterly sickening amount of poppy electronic bips and boops aside from a keyboard lead in the opener ripped straight from the annals of Pain. The harsh vocals are actually not that bad either; although a tad toothless and forced, it doesn’t have the grating halfheartedness of most pop metal.
But “it’s not as bad as Amaranthe” is pretty much equivalent to “it’s not as unpleasant as a handjob from the Hulk.” Starkill still has all the makings of a band aiming square for that Hot Topic crowd. While the harsh vocals are tolerable, the more prevalent clean vocals are whiny, flat, and have the reach of a T-rex. Most of the time these are joined by either male or female backing vocals, both sounding just as lifeless. The band tries to have a symphonic edge by using the standard ‘symphonic’ setting on the keyboard and accentuating any particularly hard hitting chug. The solos are not bad, but there is little variety in technique, mostly focusing on rapid tapping across the scales, which means they all sound extremely similar. To top it off, the amount of variety in the rhythm guitar is less than nil, recycling a Sisyphean chug instead.
Now, I don’t mean offense to the musicians. One thing comes through from the music, there is an enthusiasm to what they do. It’s not an album that’s bad from lack of spirit, it’s not a lifeless slog. It’s the way the music feels so artificial, so constructed. Each song is built like a blueprint, put together mechanically from ingredients that work well for singles but become a grating repetition on an album. The songs adhere to a rigid pop structure, and staples keep reappearing, like dropping most of the instrumentation to give the vocals a quiet moment to introduce the final chorus. These are very specific tools, and every tool can be a good one in the hands of a skilled artist. But to combine a variety of tools to make something unique and organic is what creates art. To use the same selection of tools for every task is what creates a product.
This album already has a pre-made market, I am absolutely sure of that. Just like there’s a pre-made market for phones, clothes, and automobiles. People will always want, need and buy products. For many people, a type of music that never requires a moment of thought from them is an important product. But being simple is never an excuse for being bad. Bands from High Spirits to Soilwork make music that’s simple but fun, engaging and emotional. Not Starkill. Shadow Sleep is bland, formulaic, predictable, a product of commerce, and just plain bad. But hey: at least it’s better than Amaranthe.