Starlight Ritual – Sealed in Starlight Review

Sponge Boy(d) and I don’t exactly have well aligned worldviews or musical tastes, but for whatever reason we both laid claim to the debut by Canadian classic metal act Starlight Ritual. Instead of fussin’ and feudin’, we decided to do a double review of Sealed in Starlight instead. See? People of different opinions can work together! Hailing from Quebec, this crew rocks a heavy metal sound steeped in the 80s. They cite influences ranging from Mötörhead, Rainbow and Judas Priest, but to my ears they have more in common with mid-80s acts like Cities, Shok Paris and Jag Panzer. They have a very specific sound that draws from the era of American power metal circa 83-87 and baby, that’s my goddamn jam. And happily, the band seem to have done their homework, as they nail the style with uncanny accuracy. There are moments that take me back to my misspent teen years and that’s a win for any band in 2021. But are nostalgia and a nifty set of matching swords enough to win the day?

Proper opening track “Marauders” suggests they are. It’s the type of high energy, rabble rousing metal tune I live for, powered by urgent, forceful riffage and the very enthusiastic vocals of Damien Ritual. He sounds like a weird mix of Blackie Lawless, Dio and Sebastian Bach, and his over-the-top performance takes the song to the next level of metallic overkill. I especially love the frequent warnings to “LOOK OUT!” that he drops in true Dio-esque fashion. The guitar-work by Dan Toupin and J.F. Betrand (Forteresse) is outstanding, driving the song with poise and power. It’s catchy, punchy and just bombastic enough to leave a lasting impression. Similar high-quality goods are offered to the Ancient Ones with “One for the Road” which sounds like Keel mixed with Helstar, and once again you get bum-rushed by killer guitar licks and big vocals. “Burning Desire” seems like it was custom ordered by me, and its fusion of Jag Panzer and Helstar tropes is like cold beer for my scorched soul. It’s all go, no quit, full of classic metal attitude and those overdone vocals we all love.

My other favorite piece arrives with the glory and majesty of “The Riddle of Steel,” which is Conan-core all day long with heroic tales of swords, bigger swords and maximum swordplay. The interplay of the dual guitar attack and powerhouse vocals is especially effective here and the best tricks of the olden school are invoked for a romp through dungeons and dragons so earnest it would make 80s Manowar tighten their leather loincloths. With so much retro-centric winning, are there downsides? There are no bad songs present, but there is an unfortunate bloat issue gumming up the works, with some very good tracks running between 1-3 minutes too long, thereby reducing their overall impact. For example, the title track is a classic power ballad and it works very well, managing to be exceptionally catchy and epic, but at 8:24 it runs way too long for its own good. This issue infects other cuts like “Lunar Rotation” and to a lesser extent, “Marauders,” though the songs are good enough to weather the bloat storm and remain impressive. Edit two minutes from the longer tunes and this album rolls up a half point easily.

Damien Ritual has a cool name and an impressive set of pipes to go with it. He sings in that wild, unrestrained style that was the fashion in the 80s and for the most part he does a great job. He has chops but brings a rawness to his delivery which may put some off. He’s like Riot City‘s Cale Savy with guard rails and he’s a big reason the material work so well.  Dan Toupin and J.F. Betrand absolutely dominate the album, dazzling with high octane fretwork from start to finish. I find myself focusing on every little note and detail as the songs burn by and they add all sorts of flash and sizzle without leaving the songs a wanked out ego wasteland.

Starlight Ritual is a young band doing a lot of things very right. The material here is impressive, hook-heavy, and sure to be foisted on all guests of Casa de el Druhm this summer. I suspect these cats have an even bigger album in their future and I’ll be watching for it. If you love 80s style classic metal, let Sealed in Starlight be your guiding light. Star bright!

Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 256 kbps mp3
Label: Temple of Mystery
Websites: starlightritual.bandcamp.com/music | facebook.com/starlightritual
Releases Worldwide: June 2nd, 2021


Written By: TheKenWord

Heavy metal is a weird genre for me. I’ll absorb just about anything out of the metal umbrella with the voracious appetite of a carnivorous dinosaur. When it comes to trad/heavy metal, on the other hand, I’m incredibly picky. Every year that passes by only seems to offer one—maybe two if it’s a really good year—such records that tickle my fancy. Canada’s Starlight Ritual starts off on the right foot in this regard, detailing an origin story wherein they discovered their vocalist in a completely non-professional, almost accidental scenario on the recommendation of a friend to the band. But at the end of the night, what will clinch the sale is the music. Does debut record Sealed in Starlight seal the deal for dear ol’ Kennethy?

The short answer is: almost! Starlight Ritual offer a tried and trve brand of traditional heavy metal based around meaty riffs wrapped in hickory smoked guitar leads and whiskey-soaked tenor vocals. For someone without any experience behind a mic to speak of, Damian Ritual (cannot confirm if that’s his real last name) nails the sound and spirit of classic metal. The riffs span the gamut of heavy metal as established by the usual legendary suspects that we all know and sometimes love. Luckily, they have their own flavor which allows the music to fit well as the soundtrack to a wild night of bar hopping just as naturally as it would suit a swordfight in the desert or a destruction derby. Everybody in this quintet can play their instruments and play them well, and the album overall feels like the product of love as opposed to the product of greed.

The primary takeaway from my time spent with this debut is that it’s heavily back-loaded. “The Riddle of Steel” rocks my world, with an infectious verse set and ripping mini-solos to keep my head a-bobbin’ and my feet a-tappin’. It’s the kind of song I would want to get into a car chase in a bright pink 1970 Dodge Challenger in Arizona with. “Sealed in Starlight,” a semi-ballad, might be overlong but it’s catchy as hell. It’ll sneak up on you as well, as at first it seemed like a snoozer but it’s really a cleverly disguised sleeper. “Lunar Rotation” is a top-notch bar-crawler, filled with cigar smoke and the smell of cheap beer in big-ass mugs. I can practically hear the rumble of thirty-seven motorcycles right outside my apartment every time the first guitar solo at the 2:43 mark rips out of the night. The front half has its moments, though, like “One for the Road,” which is an ideal cruising song for Route 66 at sunset. It’s exciting enough to keep you awake and energized but lax enough to enhance the scenery and soothe the soul.

As enjoyable as much of Starlight Ritual‘s material is, there are hiccups that add up, holding the debut from greatness. First and foremost is, unfortunately, the vocals. Damian’s form is impressive for someone with presumably no training. However, he has this annoying habit of oscillating the last note of a phrase not with vibrato, but by alternating between the resolved pitch and another one which sits a half step down. It’s possible he could run with that and find a way to make it work as a distinctive stylistic choice. As it stands now, it comes across like he doesn’t know what else to do or is simply unsatisfied with letting the moment land without embellishment. Moving on from that, some of the songs on Sealed in Starlight fail to make any impact, either because they are bland and generic or because they have the unfortunate circumstance of being placed right after an album highlight (such is the case with “Burning Desire” and closer “Righteous Ones”). This makes for an inconsistent ride, and considering the journey clocks in just under fifty minutes, those bumps in the road quickly become a pain in the ass.

All in all, Sealed in Starlight is an impressive launch for a relatively new band. They feel like a seasoned outfit as far as performances go, which leaves album composition and overall songwriting as the main areas for improvement. If they liven up the tracks that fall flat, organize the listing a little more smoothly, and trust the biggest moments to land on their own, Starlight Ritual could easily deliver a year-end lister in the future.


Rating: 3.0/5.0

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