Huntress: Starbound Beast

[28 August 2013]

By David Maine

By-the-numbers metal

[It’s hard to take Huntress seriously. Not because the California five-piece has a woman singer—although that’s still relatively uncommon for metal bands, there are numerous outfits out there with women singers, including Doro, Sister Sin, Blood Ceremony, and Crucified Barbara, all of whom rawk. Rather, the eye-rolling is caused by the way Huntress frontwoman Jill Janus carries herself, which is to say, half-naked much of the time, with her long flowing curls tumbling down her back and her ample bosoms exposed to the sunshine (or the Celtic frost, as the case may be). Janus’s body is well-displayed in the band’s many videos and photo shoots, to the point where one wonders if this isn’t so much a marketing gimmick as it is a vital element to the band’s performance. Or as one YouTube commenter put it in response to a Huntress video: “This porn has good music.”]

The sad fact is that Huntress doesn’t really have much good music to offer. Any band with a frontwoman like Janus belting out a tune called “I Want to Fuck You to Death”—co-written by Motorhead’s Lemmy Kilmeister, no less—should have an instant classic on its hands. In the event, though, “I Want to” etc, with its uninspired riffs and dreary chorus, is one more pallid by-the-numbers rock cliché in an album full of them.

That album, Starbound Beast, is the band’s second full-length, and it sees the musicians grasping at anything resembling heavy metal thunder. Sure, there are some lightning-fast riffs in “Zenith” and “Oracle”, and the satisfying stomp of “Starbound Beast” gets the job done with its sinister midtempo rhythm, but it’s all pretty rote, and sounds familiar to the point of lifelessness.

Some of this could be ameliorated if Janus’s vocals were anything other than the expected heavy-metal howling. Alas, they’re not. Janus avoids any kind of slow-burn atmosphere-building in the vein of Blood Ceremony’s Alia O’Brien, opting instead for a vocal-chord-snapping screech that tries to turn the intensity up to 11 but succeeds only in sounding like a parody of itself. This is especially egregious on “Blood Sisters”, but it crops up elsewhere—it’s her default setting.

The news isn’t all horrible, and I’m probably making the record sound worse than it is. It’s not a terrible album, just a forgettably middle-of-the-road one. There is some decent musicianship here, as long as you’re not looking for anything groundbreaking, and the twin-guitar attack is suitably shredding. The standout tracks are “Starbound Beast” and “Destroy Your Life”, which benefits from some sweet guitar twang and a bit of restraint on the part of Janus (until the last minute or so). Album closer “Alpha Tauri” is another good track, clocking in at six-and-a-half minutes and bringing some clean vocal interludes and sweet fretwork into the mix. And what the hell, I’m a sucker for songs about flying through space.

Metalheads looking for a change of scenery might like what they hear, though they should also consider some of the other female-fronted bands listed above (as well as others, like Purson or Jess and the Ancient Ones), each of which has had success in carving out a signature sound. Casual listeners will be forgiven if they can’t differentiate Huntress from the pack of middlingly-successful metal bands out there. After all, there’s not much to set them apart. Until you watch the video, of course.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/174215-huntress-starbound-beast/