If you happen to have missed out on the previous offering, the Starwolf series is based around a novel titled Starwolf – The MessengeRs, which was exclusively written for the band by writer Victor L. Pax. Messenger has even gone so far as to take on the role of the main characters from that science fiction tale. Lead guitarist Frank Kettenhofen is “Chainmaster”, rhythm guitarist Patrik Deckarm is “Pyro Jack”, bassist Benny Strauß is “Dr. H.R. Strauss”, and drummer Markus Merl takes on the part of “Merlin”. Just think Gloryhammer or Lost Horizon in the sense of full immersion to the music’s story, and you’ll get the idea of what you’re in for conceptually as the team ventures further into the infinites of the universe for this chapter.
In keeping with the band’s recent releases, Starwolf – Pt. II: Novastorm sticks with the traditional heavy metal and speed metal values of pioneers like Helloween, Gamma Ray, and Iron Savior to name a few. “Sword of the Stars” kicks things off with an introduction that throws some classically inspired riffs at the listener, though does slow down to a subtle punk inspired attitude behind the a standard glorious presence that picks up in the chorus with powerful singing, a quick falsetto layer, and infectious hooks. “Wild Dolly”, on the other hand, is more like a rock opera piece than anything else. There are some steady heavy metal influences felt at times, suh as during the chorus, but for the most part you can sense an eighties back alley rock vibe at the song’s core.
But then there’s “Wings of Destiny”, which has more of a restricted pace in the main verses that nicely builds up a heated, aggressive tone that pays off greatly in the lighter, more enthusiastic chorus that feels like a ray of sunshine in the middle of some sort of struggle from a seventies or eighties clash of fantastical good and evil. The tenor singing during the build around three minutes eveb completes this world before heading into the addicting guitar solo and harmonized chanting that leaves you compelled to sing along. It’s the polar opposite of the following slow paced ballad “Frozen”. Much like it’s title, there is a chilling tone to the performance thanks to the cleaner chords and mixture of higher pitched to hushed vocals. The only downfall to this incredibly depressing piece is the use of keyboard effects or synths in the background [which one it is, if not both, I’m not entirely sure]. For the most part, this has a natural, almost unplugged presence that very element clashes against for the final third of the length.
“Warrior’s Ride” plays up the speed metal aspect of their sound with a fast paced assault with additional keyboards in the background that cast an epic light that is as enthralling as it is empowering. Like an actual battle cry at times, the furious speed and tight execution of the drums immediately get the listener’s blood pumping with imagery on par with vikings holding their hammers of Thor high while riding on winged unicorns of brutality to slay their foes, even though there are band pulls a Rhapsody tactic by cutting to quieter passages with choir chanting to play up the classical influence to their sound briefly by the half-way point. “Fortress of Freedom” doesn’t quite live up to that level of adrenaline, but there is a heightened level of grandeur one would find on a Helloween or Gamma Ray album. Edgy main verses that assert a subtle level of dominance give way to a lighter, far more melodic chorus that will have you swaying along to the soothing, victorious rhythms that the guitar solo feeds off. The just over seven minute performance also nicely wraps up this metal opera chapter, leaving you feeling whole, even a bit more upbeat compared to how you entered this adventure.
There’s also a limited digipack version of this release that comes with two bonus tracks, a prospect that might appeal to the more dedicated Messenger fan. And, really, that’s who one of these songs seems to appeal to. “Keep Your Dreams Alive” sounds fairly out of place compared to the other ten. Like a mixture of “Frozen” and “Wings of Destiny”, there’s just an odd abruptness to the changing paces that make it seem more like a cover track (which it doesn’t seem to be) than anything all that original to the concept of this album. This also makes a nod to their debut album by mentioning the “Titanic Suicide” at one point. “In Morgan We Trust”, however, does feel right at home. In fact, it’s unclear why this one was cut from the album. The music has a great deal of energy, enhanced by the various bouts of layered vocals and background falsettos, not to mention the generally faster, tighter performances all around. This is one of those moments that makes you wonder if the label opted to exclude this from the release, and not the band, as there’s no real reason for it to only be part of a special edition.
When all is said and done, Starwolf – Pt. II: Novastorm stands as a solid entry into the traditional heavy metal and speed metal world, though not really one that stands out the most. All ten compositions that make up the standard conceptual piece are well done, full of catchy hooks and nostalgic influence from many signature bands that took the already established sounds of the styles and created something beautifully grand with them, and it nicely suits the engrossing conceptual world of this mini-series Messenger is playing around in. It’s just a shame that one of the better tracks is omitted for the sake a digipack pressing. But, honestly, if you enjoyed the first part of Starwolf or any of the bands mentioned in the review, Pt. II: Novastorm won’t let you down, as it stands as a safe bet to wrap up 2015 with, not to mention a catchy effort you won’t oppose revisiting from time to time.