Formed just two short years ago from the ashes of symphonic black metal act Massakren, Starkill’s future is shockingly bright. The stunning new album, Virus of the Mind, is barely a second old and the young Chicagoans are already hard at work on the follow-up. “Whenever we have time off, I am writing and recording,” says ace Parker Jameson. “When Tony [Keathley; guitars] and Shaun [Andruchuk; bass] joined the band, maybe 80 percent of Virus of the Mind was written. They helped a lot with the remainder, and polished the bits already there. Now, it’s time to tackle the next project, and with a fresh start and fresh minds, we’ve already started writing some incredible tracks. The writing and recording never ends!” Clearly, there’s no rest for the wicked in Starkill.
But let’s throttle back Starkill’s hyperdrive for a minute. Virus of the Mind, was written, woodshedded, and fine-tuned over much of 2013. It’s different from its predecessor, Fires of Life, insofar as it represents the group’s songcraft here and now. The able-fingered musician calls it, “currently representative of us.” He’s absolutely right. After touring with Krisiun, Arsis, Wintersun, Fleshgod Apocalypse, Amorphis, and Turisas, horizons broadened (and darkened a little) for Starkill. The quartet—rounded out by drummer Spencer Weidner—understood they weren’t realizing the band’s full potential.
Indeed, songs such as “Be Dead or Die”, “Winter Desolation”, “Before Hope Fades”, and the blistering “God of This World” showcase a group unafraid of what’s in front of them: to tread boldly down an unknown, possibly left hand, sonic path. “Virus of the Mind has a darker mood for sure,” Jameson reveals. “Fires of Life had an overall theme of triumph, battle and conquest, but this album dropped that motif in favor of a more introspective and reflective vibe. The lyrical content is more melancholic and relatable to different people in different ways, the guitar work and drums were approached from a different angle, and most obvious of all is the introduction of clean vocals. That really opened up new doors.”
It’s true, actually. With Jameson premiering clean vocals—check out “Winter Desolation”, “Skyward”, and “Before Hope Fades”—Starkill enters a superlative realm, where reflection can be paired with aggression and emotion of song and lyric can take on new and unimaginable forms. “Some of my favorite metal bands like Nightwish, Wintersun, and Dimmu Borgir have awesome clean vocals,” smiles the multi-instrumentalist. “It’s always been something I wanted in our music, but I never really explored and experimented with my vocal style. Until very recently, I wasn’t comfortable recording it on record. The voice is such a cool instrument. It really allowed us to take listeners to a wider range of places.”
If Virus of the Mind sounds like Starkill abandoned its shred-orch past, well, think again. At no point during the album’s 10 tracks do Jameson and crew miss a chance to infuse flurries of arpeggios, tasty solos, or grandiose string and brass sections. Though Virus of the Mind is more guitar centric than Fires of Life, the classical music influence remains strong and structurally prevalent. “I do spend a lot of time listening to James Newton Howard, Michael Giacchino, James Horner, and that type of stuff. But on this record, I never started thinking, ‘I’m going to go hardcore Hans Zimmer on this track.’ ‘Skyward’ and ‘Into Destiny’ do have some pretty blatant Bach Baroque structured parts, though. Harpsichord always rocks. It brought a Hatebreeder-era Children of Bodom feel to those tracks.”
Lyrically, Virus of the Mind derives inspiration from writer Richard Dawkins. The British evolutionary biologist, college professor, and originator of the term meme compared religion and faith to biological and computer viruses. Starkill delve deeper into the ideas Dawkins posits on Virus of the Mind. “The title track is a reflection on the current world,” the frontman sighs. “So many people are plagued by these mind viruses, being manipulated. More people need to view their own perceived controversies with an open mind and logically break down and assess their lifestyle. The other tracks generally contain ideas of facing and confronting personal struggle.”
Recorded smoothly over five weeks with engineer and producer Chuck Macak at Electrowerks Studios, Virus of the Mind sounds massive. It’s the product of a band going into the studio supremely focused and ready for battle. Tracks such as ‘Breaking the Madness’, ‘My Catharsis’, and, of course, the title track are in-your-face and lava-hot awesome. Perhaps the only rough part of the recording experience was the food situation, but coping with repeated visits to Taco Bell and guzzling cheap beer had their merits. Starkill conquered select Super Nintendo titles in their down time and an invite to Arsis chief James Malone resulted in a vocal contribution to ‘Winter Desolation’.
Jameson freely admits his favorite songs are the title track and the aforementioned ‘Winter Desolation’. Starkill addicts are likely to concur. Actually, fans and newcomers alike have no reason not to like the whole album, even if it’s not a direct continuation of Fires of Life. “It’s an incredible album,” smiles Jameson. “I think most people are going to love it. That said, I think a very small minority might be expecting Fires of Life Two. That’s not what we did. We created something fresh and it’s exciting to have done so.”