Starcastle – Starcastle (1976)
Welcome back to YDCS! We’re really diving into the depths of classic prog rock this week with the self-titled studio debut from a band called Starcastle. Starcastle was a prog rock group that formed part of the American prog movement, along with acts the likes of Kansas and Frank Zappa. Starcastle is a pure prog album that features a much lighter sound than other acts of the time. While bands like Rush and Jethro Tull were trending towards a heavy rock-influenced sound, Starcastle opted for an airy, ethereal debut album. The album is a very pleasant mix of guitar, synthesizer, and breathy harmonies. Most of it is instrumental to boot, making you feel like you’re travelling through the stars. The album is a delight to listen to and one that you’ll need multiple listens to catch everything happening in each song.
I really love Starcastle. They’re such a weird group to have come out of the prog rock movement and they never really gained a lot of attention. They opened for some of the big acts in prog like Jethro Tull, Rush, and Yes to name a few but never really garnered their own fanbase. I feel like I owe it to groups like this to care about them. Starcastle is a delightful prog album. Sure, it sounds a lot like a Yes album, but would you complain about having another Yes album to listen to? I wouldn’t! I like finding music that’s really good but bubbled just under the surface and Starcastle is one of those albums that had it gotten more press, we would be mentioning Starcastle right next to Jethro Tull and Yes. I hope you enjoy this lesser-known album from the history books of progressive rock!
Dad’s Thoughts- The Breakdown
Lady of the Lake: “Lady of the Lake” is a bold opening track. Not many bands can pull off a 10-minute long epic to start their DEBUT album, but I will say two things about it. First, I’ll give credit to Starcastle for knowing immediately what kind of band they wanted to be. It’s immediately apparent that they’re a prog group from the lengthy opening track, unconventional song structure, and heavy use of synthesizer to create a gleaming sound. Second, they nailed this song. “Lady of the Lake” tells a great story and the musicianship is captivating. This track makes you feel like you’re soaring through space looking for an intergalactic ‘Lady of the Lake,’ all capped off with tight vocal harmony (I’ll mention that a lot on this album, the band was known for it). “Lady of the Lake” shows that Starcastle had a lot to offer and they could play with the best of the big prog acts of the mid-1970s. Dad’s Rating 10/10
Elliptical Seasons: “Elliptical Seasons” is one of the first songs where you can really hear the close comparison between Starcastle and Yes. Compare this song to any off of Tales From Topographic Oceans or Close to the Edge and it feels right at home on either album. One of the highlights for “Elliptical Seasons” though that makes it stand out from the rest of the pack is the slight funk influence. There’s an audible jazz bass that makes an appearance towards the end of the song that adds a cool twist and is something fun to wait for. Otherwise, this is a pretty standard prog song. Good effort! Dad’s Rating 6/10
Forces: I liked “Forces” quite a bit. Tuning up the bass on this track made it feel like an early Rush song with more keyboard. It’s still distinctly a different band, but the comparison can be drawn. There are lots of little additions that make this a cool song, from interspersed claps to vocal harmonies that sound like they came out of a “Katamari Damacy” video game. “Forces” has a solid rocking moment in the middle solo, and it’s one of two real rock out moments on the whole album. This is an interesting track with enough to be found throughout that you’ll want to listen to it more than once. Dad’s Rating 7/10
Stargate: This second shortest song on the album is sandwiched between two of substantially longer length, and it doesn’t help it stand out. While “Stargate” hits the theme of ‘flying through space’ well with the twinkling synth, there’s not much to it and it feels like fluff. Dad’s Rating 4/10
Sunfield: While the whole album is a hidden gem, “Sunfield” is the first of two songs that are highlights from the B-side, the second being the following song, “To The Fire Wind.” It’s just as much of an epic adventure as “Lady of the Lake” while barely missing that bar. This track is the most reminiscent of any track off of a Yes album. The vocal harmonies are the highlights of these two tracks, and the song structure is, like most prog, more closely resembles that of a story than an actual song. If you like high vocals and a really cool guitar segment that’s more digestible than most prog, this is a good one for you. Dad’s Rating 8/10
To The Fire Wind: “To The Fire Wind” is one of the more rocking tracks on the album. It’s another great example of the band’s exceptionally tight vocal harmonies but also gives their lead guitarist a little room to breathe in the opening and closing riffs before their synth player opens up the throttle with a blistering solo at the midway point. The vocal harmony is really the highlight for this track though, and it’s cool to hear so much emphasis being put on a part that doesn’t get as much attention. Dad’s Rating 9/10
Nova: We’re finishing Starcastle with a big explosion, a “Nova” if you will! One of the best things about progressive rock is that it’s not afraid to experiment with something different, and on “Nova” we get a big drum solo to open this closing track before launching into an instrumental synth solo. It’s not a spectacular song since it doesn’t really have time to get going (it’s also the shortest song on the album), but it is, perhaps, the most fitting they could have chosen to close a sparkling, prog story. Dad’s Rating 5/10
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