Entering the Underground #14: Starlight Ritual’s Classic Metal Is “Sealed in Starlight”
As popular and influential as the old Dio and Rainbow stuff are and given the strength of the modern heavy metal scene, you’d think that more bands would follow in the footsteps of Holy Diver and Long Live Rock and Roll. Of course there are a handful of bands doing it—Mirror in particular comes to mind as the shining pinnacle of that sound for me from the current scene- but all around, there just isn’t much competent material like that out there right now.
One theory is the fact that a band needs a really goddamn good singer to pull it off, and there are not a ton of modern heavy metal singers that really live up to the Dickinsons and Dios of yesteryear. Another is that without having grown up surrounded by the same rock bands, most younger songwriters lack the background to effectively write within that style. Whatever it is, I’m glad that Starlight Ritual are rocking us all to hell with their new album Sealed in Starlight and filling a sonic gap that I almost didn’t realize existed in my heart.
Rambunctious riffs, gorgeous leads, melodic catchy vocal lines from a strong singer, and driving rock drums are what Starlight Ritual is all about. The combo is deadly and Sealed in Starlight sounds exactly like how the cover looks: triumphant, powerful, and classy, but not without metal spirit.
Check out Starlight Ritual’s killer music and read below for an interview with the band’s vocalist Damian Ritual.
The band’s first couple of EPs were initially self-released and picked up later on for wider release by labels like Temple of Mystery and Underground Power, but Sealed in Starlight was released outright from the getgo by Annick and François. Would you have spent time label hunting if you didn’t already have a relationship with them, or would you have once again DIY’d?
Damian Ritual: That's an excellent question, my man. I've been friends with Annick and François for well over a decade now, and it was thanks to Annick that I came into contact with the Starlight Ritual guys in the first place. With the exception of J.F., the rest of us were so green in terms of promoting and distributing music, so in our heads it only made sense to record and self-produce our first offering, which gave us the ammunition to now seek out a label to release it officially. We had sent the CD to a handful of labels, including Temple of Mystery, who have always been interested in working with us and have supported us since day one. However, with our foundations rooted in a more European sound, when we got a call back from Mr. Helle Mueller from Germany's Underground Power records, we were so thrilled that a Euro label wanted to work with us, we just couldn't say no. Helle is a gentleman and a true fan of the genre, and was fantastic to correspond with. We were very satisfied with their release of our debut "demo", but in the end we wanted our first full-length to be with Temple of Mystery. They are our local metal family and fellow countrymen, and not to mention their entire roster rules. I have only them to thank for the success in promotion of this album. They put a lot of time and effort into it, all we did was record the music; that's the easy part!
Early on Starlight Ritual played a form of arcane doom metal but now is something higher energy and a bit more rocking; some influence particularly from old Dio stuff seems evident to me. Why the change?
Starlight Ritual as a band existed for about a year before I had joined up with them, back in 2014. They never had a frontman, nor were any lyrics or melodies ever written for their music. However, they had a full-length album of instrumental music already home recorded, and at that point in time the original soundscape featured a darker, doomier sound. We had used that material for the debut, and although I adored coming up with melodies and vocal lines for those tracks, it's not the sound that I personally wanted to continue in. I've always loved the raw, rough edge of 70s Hard Rock: the sounds that set the foundation for what we know as heavy metal today, as well as the passion and emotion that these singers put into their craft. I managed to convince the rest of the guys of this passion, and the freedom this style gave us to work with, and in turn the first track we wrote afterwards was Lunar Rotation, which seven years later has endured still onto Sealed in Starlight. The Age of the Universe EP truly was the product of all five of us working together, as opposed to the demo, which had all the material previously written, with myself coming in at the end with lyrics and vocal melodies.
The artwork for the album provided by Chris Underheimar is easily one of the best I’ve seen in recent years, and is an aesthetic departure from the first EPs. Did the artwork predate the album or was the concept based on the music? How did you choose Chris?
With our debut offering, we followed a kind of concept story that was written by guitarist Dan Toupin and I. It was Dan's wife Emilie who came up with the original artwork and logo for the demo, which we found greatly reflected the theme and lyrics you see and hear. When we sat down to start working on tracks in the newer, more focused direction, we had shown Annick the home recordings of 'Age of the Universe' and 'Lunar Rotation'; which she loved, and thought would make a great EP on cassette. She designed the new SLR logo, which is the same logo you see today. It was like a new branding for the band, which is why we chose to feature only that on the cover art for that cassette. In regards to Chris, him and I have been friends for ages. He is quite the accomplished artist and musician as well, and having a shared love of the Frank Frazetta and Ken Kelly style fantasy art, it was only logical for myself to ask him to come up with something that he found represented our music well, and of course that is what you see today on the album: a proud warrior, swords to the sky, standing strong and immovable to pressure and time. Just as we are.
Tell me more about the concept for the debut that you mentioned.
The self titled debut is actually like a mini concept album. Dan had come up the idea of basing our imagery and music around a Tree of Life, such as Yggdrasil in Norse mythology, and that this tree had the power to control everything that went on around it; such as how far humanity progressed, as well as natural disasters that could wipe everything out. When Dan explained this concept to Damian, he just ran with it and went deep into it. The story goes as such:
Before we had our continents as we know them today, the world was all linked together as one big continent known as Pangea. The Tree (referred to as the One on the demo), was at the center of it all, keeping the harmony and balance of nature in absolute perfection. However, humanity, as naive and often overly greedy as we are, eventually came across the tree and tried to exploit it at any cost. The problem is, every time you take took much, or manipulate the tree for personal gain, whether that be power or control, it will reciprocate and destroy all that you've created around it, via earthquake, volcanic eruption, or some natural disaster; to return the land and itself into balance.
However in turn, every time it does this, the tree weakens, and its roots underground start to break. The roots of the tree stretch out to all corners of Pangea, so every time the tree exerts power, the ground breaks a bit and starts to separate, and the land begins to displace itself, ruining the balance of Pangea and the harmonious single continent.
After thousands of years of humanity exploiting the tree and its resources, eventually the roots have broken completely, and the map of the world exists how it remains today: six continents surrounded by bodies of water. The tree is still out there, yet since the lands have moved so much, no one knows where it is located anymore, or even what it kind of tree it is. It has been reduced to a fairytale of old, told by grandparents to frighten their grandchildren on the dangers of our own ego and greed.
Alas, every time we hear or read about a huge natural disaster (the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, the Aleppo earthquake , the earthquake in Haiti, etc), it could be that someone has found the tree, in whichever form it exists as today, and has again tried to exploit it for whatever resources it still has, and it continues to lash out to this very day, in some form or another.
I thank you for your time my friend, great questions! I had a fun time answering them! Whoever is interested in supporting the band or learning more about us, the easiest way to find all of our links would be through metal archives. Enjoy, and thanks!
Sealed in Starlight released on June 2nd, 2021 via Temple of Mystery Records.