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October 4, 2023

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Jack Starr's Guardians Of The Flame
Under A Savage Sky (Crash Music)

By: Vinnie Apicella

Well I learned two things from listening to this album. The first is that Jack Starr can still play and Rock and Roll is still the American way... even if it sounds a tad more European the last several years! The second-- is Joe Hasselvander really "Godfather Of Doom." What would that actually imply anyway? Sorry Joe, had me wondering there. Luckily, his playing is way more enthusiastic than the nickname might indicate! Guardians Of The Flame is another installment from prominent '80s guitar icon and former Virgin Steele alum, Jack Starr, and in much the same way as perhaps the better known Shrapnel staple, David T. Chastain, who designs a different group theme with every new release. Guardians is far from the earlier, dare say, more commercially-vivid stuff of his "Burning Starr" days. The power chords and scale shredding came easily but the music was a bit tender compared to this new "Under A Savage Sky," which is a full circle convergence of the original lineup from back in the day, finishing business some eighteen years later and meaning business to boot!

The ten tracks are methodical and maniacal works of skilled musicianship, highlighted of course by Mr. Starr's fleet fingers along the fretboard, though hampered by a drab production that does nothing to accentuate the rhythmic aspects of the music and the four others comprising the Starr support-staff. Embodying everything from classic Metal chops to Celtic-flavored, Middle-Eastern, and Eastern European flavors in the mix, "Under A Savage Sky" is a dynamic display of technique and thematical triumph that's comparable to stout favorites of the time like a Virgin Steele, Riot, Saxon, Manowar, not to mention the many age old German pioneers. From the opening "The Flame That Never Dies" with its story of self-preservation and power to the music, to the instrumentally tantalizing tour of the early years, "Anthem For The Nations," the melodic and atmospheric "Sharon Of The Woods," or the defiant fury of epics like "I Stand Alone" and "Masters Of Fate," Starr and co. are on target with a dense yet dynamic package; one intended and succeeding to satisfy traditional Metal purists, tactical practitioners and Tolkien followers of the finer points of fantasy and free-spirited frolic.

Starr is supported by like-minded veteran musicians as the aforementioned Hasselvander, whose drumming both aggressive and efficient as fits the song, long time bassist Ned Meloni, and returning vocalist Shmoulik Avigal, who opted to rejoin the ranks when his previous solo jaunt, simply entitled, "Shmoulik" failed to light the commercial fires. Joking-- But seriously, Avigal, whose previous work included stints with underrated '80s metallers, The Rods, belts 'em out like a vindictive vocalist on the last track to leave a legacy. The end result is a spirited re-entry into the ranks of classic Metal anchored by age old schematics of riffs, runs, and drum rolls, virtuosic playing and ambition, that'll be embraced by Metalheads most of the world over and eventually make for another "Cult Metal Classic."

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