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Articles Home » Interviews » Jack Starr's Guardians Of The Flame - 2003 Interview
Jack Starr's Guardians Of The Flame - 2003 Interview

WRITTEN BY: Gdazegod (JUNE 2003)

Hey, did you guys know that Gene Simmons isn't the only well known rocker coming out of Israel? We've found another one, though in all fairness he's a transplanted Israeli by way of the Netherlands and now the USA. We're talking of course about Shmoulik Avigal, lead singer with Jack Starr's Guardians Of The Flame. This outfit, which features three quarters of the eighties hard rockin' outfit Burning Starr, have finally come together again after eighteen years, with Avigal joining them at the mike-stand.

They've just released the hard-hitting 'Under A Savage Sky', which was also recently reviewed here at GLORY-DAZE to excellent acclaim (90/100). As a result of that album release, and the good work done by the people over at the Greek HM label Cult Metal Classics, we've managed to hook up with Shmoulik, to help add a bit more info on the Guardians Of The Flame project. Firstly though, a run down on the Guardians Of The Flame lineup. It is:

Jack Starr - guitars
Shmoulik Avigal - vocals
Ned Meloni -bass
Joe Hasselvender - drums

A brief history then. Jack Starr, better known for his involvement with the early incarnation of Virgin Steele (featuring David De Feis) is an axe-slinger with a sound and style all of his own. His reputation was enhanced on those first few Virgin Steele albums, plus appearances on Shrapnel Records US Metal compilations courtesy of Mike Varney. The much-publicized fallout between Starr and De Feis saw the former leave Virgin Steele to start up his own band Jack Starr's Burning Starr. The other factor in the overall equation was US metal hopefuls The Rods. Starr, and Rods drummer Carl Canedy formed a friendship that would prove useful and fruitful later on, particularly where Avigal was concerned.

Meanwhile over on the other side of the Atlantic, a young singer was making his mark on the scene in Holland. He was a recent arrival from Israel - Shmoulik Avigal. His earliest forays into rock included playing alongside the talented Arjen Lucassen, who of course went on to play briefly with Bodine and more notably Vengeance, before finding recent success with Ayreon and Star One. Shmoulik's first notable achievement was replacing Ronald Van Prooyen in the band Picture, and featuring on 1983's 'Night Hunter' (also rebadged as 'Diamond Dreamer' later that year). He then went on to play with Dutch melodic rockers Horizon, a band plagued with mixed results and a turnstile-like roster of players coming and going.

Even before Horizon called it a day, Avigal decided to move on, and was introduced to Carl Canedy via Jack Starr. He was offered the lead singers role with The Rods, and thus made his way to the USA. He appeared on their last studio album from 1987 called 'Heavier Than Thou'. However, The Rods and the Jack Starr connection has remained strong throughout the years, with Shmoulik keeping up his vocal 'chops' during the intervening period even right up until now. Another thing that has remained strong throughout is the powerful voice he possesses. Time has not weakened this hard-out rocker at all, his voice recognized as one of the most powerful in all of HM!

Despite his origins, it was clear that Shmoulik was not one to be bought up on Bah mitzvah songs, and paraded around at family gatherings. 'Yes, I was born and raised in Israel, however I grew up listening to Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath and other heavy bands. But there was no heavy rock scene in Israel at the time and I was looked upon as a freak. So as soon as I could, I packed my bags and moved to Holland where I felt at home from day one!'

Well the Dutch have all manner of ways for social correction, in a liberal sort of way. Just hang around Amsterdam at night and I'm sure you'll get the picture. Recently we interviewed Carl Canedy of The Rods, and he stated that Shmoulik's voice was one of the strongest and powerful he's ever worked with. That is some compliment. I wonder then, if the man was weaned on that lovely drop called Carlsberg upon his arrival? They say that Elephant Beer is good for the larynx! 'I tried Carlsberg at first' says Shmoulik, 'but it didn't do the trick, then I switched to Heineken and that made things happen! Ha ha.. Seriously though, with Carl Canedy it's a mutual admiration, he's one of the best drummers I've worked with, if not the best and that's what I love about Joe Hasselvender's drumming too, he's got the same style, feel and skills as Carl. When Carl heard the GOF album he told me so himself, and it was a great compliment for Joe, because Carl is one of his idols.'

After playing in many Dutch bands, Shmoulik moved house and country yet again to the USA. 'AS you mentioned, I was introduced to Carl Canedy by none other than Jack Starr during 1985. Carl offered me a job with The Rods. Our band Horizon had just split up and I was a free agent, so I took the job, moved to the good old USA, met my wife, had 2 kids and here I am.'

I got Shmoulik to summarise briefly in a phrase, a description of the bands he has been involved with up to that point in time.

Picture - Loud and heavy, very tight live band, with them I recorded my very first album.
Horizon - A group of talented musicians with a melodic sound.
The Rods - Great band, very experienced.

Of course the major reason we're doing this interview with Shmoulik is riding on the back of 'Under A Savage Sky', for which he do all the lead vocals. I asked how he came to be involved with Jack in the first place. 'Jack and I go a long way back, we always knew that when the time was right we would make a great album together. When Cult Metal Classics contacted Jack and offered him a deal, he called me and the rest is history.' And the coming together of the other guys; Joe and Ned, who also have some history too, closer to home. 'Yeah, in 1984 Jack, Joe and Ned were in the band Burning Starr, and when that band parted ways, they knew that sometime in the future (18 years later in fact) that they would work together again.'

With this lineup, you just know that you're gonna get years of experience melded together in one tight little unit. But just because the guys knew each other, didn't mean that things could work just as well. There's one little ingredient that stands GOTF out from the rest. 'The great thing about this line up' says Shmoulik 'is CHEMISTRY. You can put the best musicians in the world together and if there is no chemistry that band won't have that little touch that makes the music sound whole, like it is played from the heart!'

'See, when Jack called me I expected just another project, but once we got to the studio there was magic in the air. We felt like we were creating a damn good thing. It wouldn't be fair to compare that to other bands I've worked with, because every band and every experience is unique and different.'

The album is starting to generate a lot of interest out there now. Shmoulik is a bit of a collector too, and appears to have most of most of the press/reviews out there on the Net. It seems to be very encouraging thus far. 'Yes, it is great, it feels very, very good and it validates what we felt while recording the album.'

The clear message coming through is that there is still an audience for 80's styled HM, away from the serious nu-metal pouting of the likes of Linkin Park, Mudvayne and Staind? I mean bands like Slayer, Metallica, Manowar, Iron Maiden and all the German heroes as well (Gamma Ray, Helloween) still command attention. '80's styled heavy metal never really died' states Shmoulik. 'Especially in Europe. But in general, some people will stay committed to their musical preferences and some will get bored and look for something new, that's just the way it is.'

And when looking at bands like Virgin Steele, Burning Starr, and now GOTF, it is also quite obvious that Jack has never once compromised his musical approach, staying firm to the true ideals of 80's styled HM. 'I've known Jack for a long time and he is a musician who wears his feelings on his sleeve and that is how he plays his guitar. He doesn't care about being the fastest gun alive, even though he can be if he wants to. He cares more about the melodies and the feelings in his music and that's his style. He won't compromise because if he does it won't be the same' says Shmoulik.

As the album has been released on the Greek label Cult Metal Classics (well done Manos), to me that says something about the state of traditional American metal - and it's not particularly complimentary either. I asked Shmoulik whether he had a view on the current state of affairs, particularly out of the USA. 'American Metal? No I don't have an opinion. However, I'd rather talk about Cult Metal Classics. Those guys Manos and Chris are great, they are very committed to our music and they are very hard working people, the best.'

L-R: Joe, Jack, Shmoulik, Ned

One thing that is agreed on is that Europe is still the home base for this brand of HM, a situation that both Shmoulik and Jack are obviously aware of. 'Good old Europe always was and is the home-base for our kind of music, nothing along those lines has changed. Maybe it is so because 80's heavy metal imagery is based on European history and traditions, like knights, castles and so on.'

Shmoulik mentioned that the entire band are happy with the way the album has been received and reviewed, and that they are hard at work on a new album to be recorded by the end of this year. As for Shmoulik personally, Who does he rate and/or listen to. 'The same old, same old' he says. 'Ronnie James Dio, David Coverdale, Tony Martin and Bruce Dickinson. My daughter listens to Disturbed and I find their vocalist, David Drainman and the band to be quite good.'

I wonder, do you still keep in touch with Arjen Lucassen? Man that guy is talented - his stuff with Ayreon and Star One is fantastic, and I know you played with him many years ago. 'With Arjen, yes. We keep in touch when we can. Last time I saw him was four years ago. I was touring then with Joe Stump. We played in Holland and he came to see me. I am very happy for him and his success lately because he is a great musician and a great person and that doesn't always go hand in hand.'

I know it's probably not practical to tour these days due to costs and falling attendances. But do you still have contacts back home in Holland, in the event Jack might take the band over to Europe for a few dates? 'I don't see us going on tour this year, but next year with the release of the new album there are plans for a big European tour.'

Finally, I briefly touched on the relationship between old Virgin Steele comrades Jack and David De Feis, but Shmoulik said that there is too much negative vibes in that relationship. It is in the past and they would rather deal with this band now and into the future and remain positive and upbeat. That is a shame, as David continues to keep the Virgin Steele flag flying, and even has the new 'Lilith' extravaganza coming up shortly.

In any case, I'd like to thank Shmoulik for his time, I hope we are able to stay in touch, particularly with the threat of a new album scheduled for late 2003. That would be something! 'Thank you George, the GLORY DAZE team, and all the readers for your kind and generous support in helping keep our music alive. Thanks again and keep in touch!' - Shmoulik Avigal.

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