Starcastle - Chronos I

Year of Release: 2001
Label: Sunsinger Records
Catalog Number: 8001
Format: CD
Total Time: 70:10:00

The members of Starcastle are going to hate me for saying this, but... yes, Virginia, they do sound like Yes. I say that not because my opinion has been swayed by that of others who have made a similar observation - and listening to this Chronos I, a collection of previously unreleased tracks, demos, etc, you really could draw no other concluson. And, I'm not saying they sound like Yes because I am on a mission to put them down a peg as Yes immitators. But the evidence is there, such that only those who have never heard Yes wouldn't say such a thing. I say this because the keyboards sound Wakeman-like (when they don't sound Emersonian), the guitars sound like Steve Howe, and the vocals have that high, falsetto that we know so well from Jon Anderson. In fact, there were various points during the album where I kept expecting the phrase "Silly human race" to issue forth from the mouth of Terry Luttrell. "To Fire The Wind" and "Fountains," are two of many examples of their Yes-like approach to making music, the latter perhaps eerily so. Funnily enough, though, I thought of another artist entirely with the rolling bass and drums intro to "Fountains," that being Billy Joel, and of his "Angry Young Man" track. But, after this, it is a airy, breathy, and spiritual like the best of Yes. And, I guess if you are going to sound like someone else -- and recall that Starcastle were contemporous with Yes, not a revivalist act coming to the fore in the 80s or something -- sounding like Yes is not a bad thing. I mean...they could have done much worse... choose your own example. And how they sound like Yes is part and parcel of why they are a very good band. I mean...despite these being demos and such, you can hear a great sense of craft, as with Yes. However, as much as they sound like Yes, the pieces don't sound like particular Yes tracks... though "Close To The Edge," "Heart Of The Sunrise," and "Your's Is No Disgrace" and other pieces will flit to mind. The latter of those mentioned, by the way, must be precursor to something later in their career, as The Christopher Currie notes in his review of Starcaste's Reel To Reel CD that "you can actually sing along with the Yes lyrics, at times," in reference to "Half A Mind To Leave Ya."

And yet ... and yet, with a track like "Lady Of The Lake" it at first sounds like a symphonic America or Crosby, Stills and Nash. There are organ passages (Herb Schildt) that come to sound very much like Tarkus-period Emerson, but once the guitar solos (Steve Hagler or Matt Stewart) begin, we get what might be termed a rockier version of Steve Howe ... there are parts here, too, that make you wonder if Pendragon were influenced by Starcastle. There is here a type of bouncy energy with the guitars, bass, and keys that I associate with that "neo-prog" sound. And, to pull another thought out of my head, the repeated "da"s that come at the end made me think of Belgium's Now... which is the one thing I recall about that band (other than their cover of Led Zep's "Kashmir").

"Forces" is very much un-Yes like ... rather it is more like ... upbeat 70s rock. Again, at times, America is the reference, but it's America with Jon Anderson -- well, Luttrell -- on guest vocals. And yet, those thuddering bass lines 4-minutes in are Squire-esque. Take out the proggy middle section and could put Starcastle right next to bands like Badfinger, The Guess Who, The Grassroots... etc. Some of the passages in "Morning Fall" sounds as if we're going to get a MIDI version of George Benson's "On Broadway." But, with the light sing-song from Luttrell... well, you know.

"A Fall Of Diamonds," which became "Diamond Song: Deep Is The Light" is very much of it's time. A little more proggy than Pablo Cruise, Ambrosia, other AOR bands of the period (though I seem to only ever mention those two...). In a way, this is a bit ahead of its time, as it sounds more like something from the late 70s... say sometime between 1978 and 1982... While there are Yes-like moments during the bridge, for the most part, it is fluffy, airbrushed, and glowing AOR. I think I recall reading about this band in some magazine... something published by Scholastic, who sold (and still sells) children's books and magazines through the school. There was one particular publication called Dynamite that I read, and...well, the Starcastle logo triggers what may be a memory, may be my imagination, or some transference to another band entirely. I relate this seeming unimportant anecdote because, if my memory is correct, it shows either how popular Starcastle were in the early-to-mid 70s that they were even featured in a kid's magazine, or how out of favour they were by then that they could only get press in a children's magazine. Well, just to close off this part of the review, after a longish search of the Internet, I turn up no references.

So, let's get off the "who they sound like." As mentioned above, Chronos I features alternate versions of tracks that appeared on one of Starcastle's four albums, as well as tracks that didn't make an album. One that is that category is "Where Caverns Wind," which was intended for their second album Fountains Of Light. This is a mellow piece, with guitars (six and twelve string) and vocals over "incidental bass synthesizer...and percussion." One can hear the potential in the track, how if it were finished, it'd be quite beautiful. It's almost there, but it feels a little sketchy, a little uncertain towards the end.

Another previously unreleased track is "Dance Of The Physotrons," about which Gary Strater says in the very informative liner notes "This is an early science fiction song about some vague alien invasion plot that involved the water towers that are everywhere in the Midwest." Starcastle were based in Champaign, IL. "Dance," is a dark, growly rocker. The high tenor vocals undercut the drama somewhat... making this very much B science-fiction... not indication whether the humor was deliberate or a by product, but I think they were wise to not release it. A kitsch band could get away with it...

In between these two tracks is "Portraits," which begins as a moody, low-key piece before keys enliven things a bit. Actually, I found the initial darkness a little more interesting. When percussion really kicks in, and light, and a bit whimsical, guitar phrases dance across, it regains some interest. Vocals are again layered, playing off each other.

Closing off the album is the driving, dynamic "Breath And Thunder" (the first song the band composed) -- thunder is the operative word, as Steve Tassler verily assaults his kit. Had the band continued in this direction - nary a hint of Yes other than in the guitar stylings - their career path would be quite different. The lyrics here are down to earth, or seem to be so. They aren't printed, but I'm left with the impression of them singing about Native Americans...

Having not heard the finished versions of those pieces that did make it to a Starcastle album, I can't tell you how they compare. But, I can tell you that I do like Starcastle, and not just because they sound like Yes ... though because I do like Yes...or rather, what I like about Yes is what I like about Starcastle.

Lady Of The Lake (9:55) / Forces (5:21) / To The Fire Wind (7:10) / Fountains (10:18) / True To The Light (6:29) / Morning Fall (5:02) / A Fall Of Diamonds (5:38) / Where Caverns Wind (3:09) / Portraits (5:09) / Dance Of The Physotrons (5:08) / Breath And Thunder (3:51)

Terry Luttrell - lead vocals
Herb Schildt - keyboards
Gary Strater - bass guitar, bass synthesizers, vocals
Steve Hagler - guitars, vocals
Steve Tassler - percussion, vocals
Matt Stewart - guitars, vocals

Starcastle (1976)
Fountains of Light (1977)
Citadel (1977)
Reel To Real (1979)
Chronos I (2001)
Song Of Times (2007)

Genre: Symphonic Prog

Origin US

Added: July 30th 2002
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Artist website:
Hits: 466
Language: english


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