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Jack Starr’s Burning Starr

In 2009 former Virgin Steele guitarist Jack Starr, for the first time in two decades, released a new as Burning Starr; ’Defiance’. A magnificent traditional heavy metal album with Jack’s distinctive sound and style of playing, who was accompanied by long-time partner in crime, bassist Ned Meloni, ex-Manowar drummer Rhino, and the (at the time unknown) vocalist Todd Michael Hall. Burning Starr was back, and two years later the even stronger ’Land Of The Dead’ was released. The third Burning Starr album since the rebirth took almost six years to be realized, but in late August ’Stand Your Ground’ was finally unleashed; another typical Burning Starr album with all of Jack’s signatures, and with that a high-quality, top-shelf traditional heavy metal album. Once again yours truly went head to head with the man himself for a chat about the past six years, and of course the new album, and more.

By: Nima | Archive under heavy / power metal

Welcome back to the metal front with a new Burning Starr album, Jack! How does it feel to be back on track and finally releasing a new album with Burning Starr?
Hi Nima, I am happy to be reconnecting with you and all the Dutch fans, and also it is a great feeling to finally have a new album released after almost six years.

The album has been released for few weeks now and the reactions so far are tremendous, to say the least. Are things going in the same way you had expected and hoped for, and – as strange a question as it may be – are you still 100% satisfied with the record?
Well, first of all it’s a wonderful feeling to know that our new album is being well received by the heavy metal community. The reviews are very important to me because they are a good barometer of what the general reaction is to this album, so my answer is yes, this is what I had hoped for but was never so arrogant to expect it. I am for 95% happy with the record, because as we all know nothing is perfect. But the little things I see that I would change are not very important, so it is a big yes for me, I am very satisfied. But of course it is not for me to say, because that would make me sound conceited, so I leave it up to you and to the metal listeners to judge for themselves

There is almost six years in between the new album its predecessor. ‘Land Of The Dead’ was quite a successful album and things seemed to go into a greater direction. But then it became a bit quiet around the Starr camp. Todd of course did Reverence and also joined Riot V; Rhino was involved in several bands and projects, but what happened and what were the main reasons that it took you guys such a long time to release a new album?
The reason why ‘Stand Your Ground’ took so long is twofold; first of all we really recorded enough material for two albums and in fact the vinyl version is a double album. We had to leave out two songs off of the CD because single CD’s cannot go past 80 minutes and this album, even without the extra songs is almost 80 minutes. Secondly I’d like to quote Ned (Meloni, the bass player of Burning Starr – Nima) for this answer: “we could have made four mediocre albums in the six-year period but instead we decided to make one great one”. I think that sometimes good things take time and we don’t want to be a band that makes a lot of average albums but instead we prefer to make a few great albums.

With the “comeback” album, Defiance’, you had released an amazing and a strong album and put Burning Starr back on the map. ‘Land Of The Dead’ – in my opinion – was even stronger. In our last interview you told me that there was indeed some pressure on you for that album. So with the success of the last album, was the pressure even bigger this time around?
Yes! We knew that because of ‘Land of the Dead’ many people were starting to discover Burning Starr and that the musical direction of melodic epic metal was what people were now expecting from us, which is the style that we ourselves love too.

So in truth this was our main objective to make an album as good as ‘Land of the Dead’ or even a better one, and that is what we tried to do. Our producer, Bart Gabriel, also encouraged us to think big and not settle for anything that we were not 100% happy with. What that meant in practical terms is that it took a lot of time to get the drum sounds and the guitar sounds that we were all happy with. Also we had a vision that some of the songs would require a lot of vocal overdubs and this is something that Todd (Michael Hall, singer in Burning Starr – Nima) is very good at. In some of the songs there are over twenty tracks of vocals and maybe twelve or more guitar tracks, so this became a big undertaking to mix. Ned has bought a Pro tools set up and learned how to use it, which was a big plus because Ned wanted to get a certain sound and with a studio in his house he was able to work on it and perfect his bass lines. In my opinion Ned’s playing on this album is on a very high level and I think that now he is getting more recognition for his great contribution to the band

band imageAs I mentioned in my review the long wait was definitely worth and is highly rewarded with another masterpiece. Something else I mentioned in the review is that Burning Starr is one of those band from you know what to expect, and you are the kind of musician that when you wish to do something different you do it under a different name and leave Burning Starr being Burning Starr. How important is it for you to keep the Burning Starr signature on a new release?
It is very important to me because I want people to know that we will do everything possible to make a high quality album that can compete with the biggest names in metal. Maybe I’m crazy but when I listen to the new Saxon, or Accept or even Iron Maiden I don’t hear much difference in the quality of the production. That to me is very, very important because I don’t expect people to buy an album if the sound will not be as good as another album, even if the playing and singing are great. I want our band to be able to compete on every level with bands that have much bigger recording budgets, and that is also why the whole presentation is very important, from the cover artwork by the great Ken Kelly (known from his arts for Kiss, Rainbow, Manowar, etc. - Nima) to Bart Gabriel’s sharp production, to the high quality engineering of Kevin Burnes and the brilliant mastering of Patrick Engels. If this album looks and sounds great it is because all the people I mentioned did a great job; it really is a team effort in my opinion and we have some very talented people on the team.

In continuation of the previous question, stylistically ‘Stand Your Ground’ has Jack Starr written all over it and is indeed very much recognizable as Burning Starr. However, what did you want to do differently on this record compared to ‘Land Of The Dead’?
To be completely honest, I really didn’t want to do anything different but instead I wanted to do more of the same with better production and better sounds. For instance the title song of ‘Land of the Dead’ is an epic song with lots of changes and signature riffs. On ‘Stand Your Ground’ we also have an epic title track, which has quite a bit going on and is almost 11 minutes long. I hope that everyone will listen to it because it is an 11 minute song that doesn’t feel long and I’m very happy about it. To me this song is like a mini opera that takes the listener on a voyage of musical discovery

Something I have always admired about you is that your name equals quality. And it is even more admirable that you have never compromised and have always walked your own path, regardless of what kind of album you put out. You let your music speak for itself and the love for what you do is always audible in your work. Do you think that – well except for musical talent itself – has been the key to your success and of course quality in general?
I do think that as the years have gone by I have been very careful to not put out bad or average albums. Sometimes I really think that I have to work harder because I’m not so well known, so I don’t have many opportunities to catch the ears of the listeners, but when I do I have to make it count. So if someone even accidentally hears a Burning Starr song and they don’t know us, I would want the song to make them curious and want to check us out, just like the first time I heard Black Sabbath or Deep Purple; it started with one song and I liked it enough to want to discover more. This is what I hope will happen more and more with Burning Starr

You now seem to have found the perfect line-up who share the same passion and attitude as mentioned in the last question. A striking point about this record is the audible tightness and the unity in the band. ‘Stand Your Ground’ is recorded in the same line-up as both its predecessors, which is definitely audible. In how far where the other members involved in the whole process compared to the two previous records?
Well, first of all I agree that the longer musicians play together the tighter they become and the more they understand each other’s style. When we write songs we all have a strong idea of what Rhino will do on the drums and we know that he will find the groove in even the most complicated riffs. Rhino is one of the best drummers in metal and it’s an honor to play and record with him. His playing is very versatile and he can play with the heaviness of a Cozy Powell or a John Bonham but he can also swing like a Mitch Mitchell. I am certain that there is no music that he would not be able to play. On this album everyone was involved and it makes sense when you have talented people like Ned, Todd and Rhino in the band. Todd besides his incredible four-plus octave range is also great at coming up with melodies and harmonies which add so much to the songs. There is a vocal middle part in the song ‘Stronger Than Steel’ that is just incredible and I am sure that there are very, very few singers in all of heavy metal who could record such a part. Every time that part comes up in the song it puts a smile on my face and I am amazed.

Let’s put your band mates in the spotlights for a moment, and please share your opinion about them and what they mean and have meant for Burning Starr.

Starting with Ned Meloni. Ned has been your “partner in crime” since 1984 if I’m not mistaking, and has been on the majority of your releases:
Ned is the hardest working musician I know. He is also the most improved player in Burning Starr and deserves an award for most improvement. I feel that Ned has never gotten the recognition he deserves. I strongly urge everyone to listen to the bass playing on especially the track ‘Stand Your Ground’, because it really is brilliant

Todd Michael Hall. When Todd joined Burning Starr he wasn’t that famous, but he amazed the world with his beautiful, powerful voice and amazing performance. Since he joined the Starr he’s become, and has deserved the status of, one of the most respected vocalists in the scene, rocking the world nowadays with Riot V as well:
Todd really is a force of nature. His voice is very strong and he enunciates clearly so the listener will always know what he is singing about; which is something that I always loved about Dio, too. When reviewed our album, both the web owner and Giles Lavery (who is also the manager of Graham Bonnet) really liked Todd’s vocals on ‘Stand Your Ground’. In fact, Giles told me he preferred Todd’s vocals on ‘Stand Your Ground’ to the Riot V album, which he loves too by the way. So needless to say this made me very proud and grateful that Todd really put out 100% to make this album great.

Rhino. Needless to say that Rhino is a magnificent beast on the drums and definitely one of the highest ranking drummers in metal. In the beginning he was more of a hired gun, but fortunately has become a full member since ‘Land Of The Dead’:
There is not much I can say about Rhino, but something I have noticed after all these years of playing with him is that just when I think I have heard all of his “tricks” he shows us another bag of new tricks, riffs and rhythms that I didn’t know he knew, and I think that this comes from the fact that he listens to a wide variety of music and has played every style of music; not just metal, but even playing country music with his father in Nashville.

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Although your current line-up is the strongest in my opinion, you have always had the gift to gather talented musicians together. One of them is of course the late Rhett Forrester. And if I’m not mistaking he also appears on ‘Stand Your Ground’ at the end of the song ‘Stronger Than Steel’, right? Please tell us a bit more about this track…
There is an interesting story about the song ‘Stronger Than Steel’ and it all came about because one night Ned was listening to old cassette tapes of the demos for the ‘Out of the Darkness’ album that I did with Rhett in 1984, and which Ned also played on. Ned called me on the phone to tell me that one of his cassettes had Rhett, Ned and myself working on a new song called ‘Stronger Than Steele’. We both agreed that we should revisit this song and finish it more than 30 years later, and that is what we did. Todd also contributed lyrics and so what was once an unfinished song now has a place on our new album.

As mentioned; Todd is also in Riot V nowadays and has a quite busy schedule. Does his activities in Riot V affect his role in Burning Starr? I remember seeing live footage without Todd, and the vocal duties being done by guest vocalists, as well as by Ned and Rhino (who both did the great job, I must add). Is it possible that you do more gig without Todd fronting the band?
Todd has assured me that he will be available for gigs if we start to get some good offers. I think that everything depends on how good this album does, and we hope to get some concert and touring offers; then we can make plans and of course everyone in the band loves Todd’s vocals and I know that quite a few of our fans in Europe would love to see the line-up with Todd once again

Speaking of gigs, it is no secret that it’s not so easy to get a decent gig nowadays for underground band. How is the situation regarding shows for a veteran band like Burning Starr? Both nationally and internationally.
Veteran bands like us have an advantage in some ways, because there is a long history and the name has a certain recognition that people can relate too. Also we get people at our shows that have always wanted to see us but couldn’t. So now that they are older they can more easily buy merchandise and concert tickets that were harder to do when they were younger. One of the advantages of getting old is that – hopefully – you are not as poor as when you were young, haha!

To make it fast with one last question, what can we expect from Burning Starr in the near future? If I’m not mistaking the ‘Blaze Of Glory’ album is about to be re-issued again? (Meanwhile the re-issue has been released. For more information, go to this location)
Yes, the ‘Blaze of Glory’ album will get a proper reissue, with bonus tracks and nice booklets. There may also be a reissue of the Guardians of the Flame album (oh hell yes, please – Nima) which is really a Burning Starr album as it was the start of Ned and I working together again in 2001.

Alright then, Jack, I guess we can call it a day for now. Unless of course there is something left that you’d like to mention…
Yes, thank you Nima for the great interview, and before leaving, I really want to say to all our fans a big thank you for supporting our band and that I really hope all the readers of Lords of Metal will at least check out our new album and play it loud!

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