Female fronted metal bands are, sadly, lumped into two categories; those who treat their singer as a gimmick, and those who provide operatic qualities men can't manage on their own. It's a gross over-simplification, but a large swath of the bands do fall into those categories. What is most disappointing is how little room there is in the current scene for a band to play classic heavy metal with a female voice. There are a few bands doing it, but none muster a fraction of the attention even second-rate male dominated bands lay claim to.
Huntress may be the exception to all of this. They managed, with their debut “Spell Eater”, to make people stand up and take notice. Here was a traditional metal band, that happened to be fronted by a woman, that still managed to kick ass. A year later, they strike while the iron is hot, unleashing “Starbound Beast”.
After the obligatory intro piece, “Blood Sisters” is a clever twist on the clichéd blood brothers concept, although the title is the best thing about the song. The riffing sticks with basic chugging, while vocalist Jill Janus shouts her way through a song without much in the way of melody. Her throaty roar is not what you would expect, but is undeniably metal. Unfortunately, she gives herself nothing to work with, even when juxtaposed with the brief sections of her harsher screams.
The next song, co-written with the living legend Lemmy, is the sort of thing that leads bands like Huntress to be relegated to back-burner status. “I Want To Fuck You To Death” might on the surface seem like an anthem of empowerment, but it goes too far in sexualizing the material and bringing the band closer than they want to be to accusations of gimmickry. It's a shame, not just for the sociological reasons, but because the song is a damn fine bit of classic metal that would be amazing with a different set of lyrics.
The rest of the album struggles to live up to that catchy blast, instead moving along as a workmanlike album of standard-fare heavy metal that doesn't really offer up much that makes it stand apart from any other similar record. The riffing is so textbook that you can almost get ahead of the song as it unfolds, and the vocals rarely offer up much that will stick in your head. The title track takes a stab at being a bit more epic, but slowing down the delivery and stretching out the notes isn't the same thing as being truly grand, so the song never reaches the level it tries to achieve.
The most puzzling aspect of the album is the band's inability to give Jill Janus the material she deserves. Her vocals are the band's best selling point, one of the few voices I've heard that can satisfy even those stubborn fans who don't think women belong in heavy metal, but the melodies she and the band write do little to show her off. I can't say whether it was a strategic decision, or if the band lacks the necessary songwriting chops, but the band goes through the album with one arm tied behind their back.
There are good songs on “Starbound Beast”, and the record is still enjoyable, but throughout the whole thing I had a yearning for more. All the elements could have been sharpened just a bit, and the end result could have been killer. But based on what I hear, “Starbound Beast” is wasting the talent the band obviously contains.