[2nd July 2013]
01. Enter The Exosphere
02. Blood Sisters
03. I Want To Fuck You To Death
04. Destroy Your Life
05. Starbound Beast
09. Spectra Spectral
10. Alpha Tauri
Female-fronted metal bands are like foreign language movies: they all get dumped into one catch-all bucket, even when that one characteristic is the only thing they have in common. In film, this means that you find The Raid bafflingly in the same section of the shop as Let The Right One In, and in metal, comparing Nightwish and iwrestledabearonce makes about as much objective sense as comparing Dimmu Borgir with a presentation basket of fruit muffins.
But it is inevitable that in any assessment of California-based Huntress and their second album Starbound Beast, the presence of striking vocalist Jill Janus is going to dominate.
The band play a very traditional brand of metal, and we all know the demographics of that particular fanbase. So, if your band does include a tall, blonde, ex-model with a predilection for skimpy outfits and a habit of talking candidly about sex and drugs, then you may as well push her way out in front of the bearded herberts in cut-off denim jackets.
Even the biography on the band’s own website devotes the lions share of its wordcount to Jill’s life story. The band’s recent crowdfunding campaign offered its hairier-palmed fans the opportunity to buy original pieces of ‘vulgar art’, scrawled by Jill herself, for a mere $75 a go. As seventeen were snapped up, they clearly know their market.
Following the release of 2012 debut Spell Eater, the band attracted the attention of hoary wart-legend Lemmy, who felt moved to write a song for them. Obviously, the opportunity to associate with a living chunk of metal history shouldn’t be passed up lightly, but when the song in question carries the spine-breakingly cringe-worthy title “I Want To Fuck You To Death“, maybe they should have politely declined.
As a one-off, this may have been a forgiveable curiosity, but throughout the album the lyrical themes carry as much poise and subtlety as a drunk buffalo after an hour on a Waltzer. Ham-fisted mythological references and very thinly veiled peons to smoking weed jostle with passages that barely make sense.
In “Destroy Your Life” we are told that “Three things to fear at home are fire, thieves and ghosts.” Well, two out of three isn’t bad – but the course of action recommended in the next line is “get rid of all you own and burn the whipping post.” seems thoroughly bizarre.
What’s more, Jill’s vocal performance is barely a shadow of the quite promising talents showcased, particularly on previous single “Eight of Swords” – rasping, lacking power and veering dangerously close to being simply out of tune more than once, it sounds like she has become a bit too keen on the bong hits she constantly talks about.
Musically, it sounds as though the band have just chosen to ignore everything that has happened in metal since around 1988. Thrash-lite cliches mix with hackneyed Sabbathisms. Widdly and directionless solos fall into place with a numbing inevitability, presumably because that’s what hard rocking metal songs do, right? The riffs themselves do have their catchy moments, but the rhythm section do barely anything remarkable or distinctive at all.
This album has followed hot on the heels of their 2012 debut and, frankly, it sounds like it. This is a hurried and half-cooked album by a band who seem like they’ve believed a bit too much of their own hype. Whatever they are smoking, they had better either quit or double the dose, because it clearly isn’t working.
Perhaps if they had taken an extra six months to write some more interesting songs, and spent a couple of extra weeks in the studio to really nail the performances, Starbound Beast would be worth a listen for someone on a bit of a retro kick. However, the band has clearly built its identity around the overt sexuality of Jill Janus, and the bottom line is you can’t hear a sultry vixen stalking around in tiny clothing on a CD.
If you do hanker for some heavy metal augmented by the additional range and tones that a female vocalist can bring, then there are much better examples out there right now than Starbound Beast, because once you push past the almost brazenly cynical image the band presents, there’s virtually no substance to be found whatsoever.