The release of the first Starcastle album was a dou­ble-edged sword for this tal­ent­ed group.  It got them noticed and helped them in get­ting more and bet­ter gigs out­side their heart­land-America tour­ing base.  Unfortunately, this album was round­ly crit­i­cized by prog fans and crit­ics alike for bor­row­ing too heav­i­ly from the sound and style of Yes.  This “Yes-clone” stig­ma would fol­low them through­out their short career but the snob’s loss is the cultist’s gain in this case: the group would go on to record fur­ther albums, includ­ing two that remain pop­u­lar cult items with fans of prog and pomp/AOR sounds.

The first of the­se fol­low-up cult clas­sics was Fountains Of Light, an ener­get­ic and com­plex piece of work that found the group grow­ing beyond the Yes influ­ence that so heav­i­ly marked their debut out­ing.  The first thing that you notice about this album is how pow­er­ful it sounds.  In con­trast to the straight­for­ward, effects-free approach the debut release, Fountains Of Light comes bar­rel­ing out of the gate with a grandiose hi-fi sound.

This new barn­storm­ing son­ic approach was mas­ter­mind­ed by Roy Thomas Baker, a leg­endary record pro­duc­er whose resume includes Queen, The Cars and Journey: the key­boards and twin-gui­tar har­monies soar, the rhythm sec­tion has a high-tech bom­bast and the vocal har­monies are thick­ly stacked à la Queen.  The end result is as grandiose as the group’s approach to instru­men­ta­tion, mak­ing this son­ic mar­riage a beau­ti­ful one.

The music also has a new-found matu­ri­ty to it.  Like the debut, Fountains Of Light opens with a ten-min­ute epic in the form of “Fountains.”  However, its approach to the prog epic is more ambi­tious and shows greater com­po­si­tion­al savvy: it starts off with a suit­ably grandiose instru­men­tal motif that is brought back in a cycli­cal fash­ion as the song nav­i­gates its way through a vari­ety of moods and tex­tures.  There is also a rous­ing cho­rus that gives the lis­ten­er an anchor to hold onto amid­st all the instru­men­tal fire­works.

The end result is as showy as you’d expect from a 1970’s prog epic, but it’s also dis­ci­plined and tight­ly arranged, with every flour­ish and tem­po shift sup­port­ing the whole of the piece beau­ti­ful­ly.  “Fountains” also shows the group step­ping out­side the Yes influ­ences: vocal­ist Terry Luttrell still sub­scribes to the Jon Anderson School of Airy-Elfin Vocalizing and Gary Strater’s bass work is Squire-tre­bly but the dual-gui­tar sec­tion charts its own path and Herb Schildt’s sophis­ti­cat­ed use of pro­grammed synths takes things into a more pomp-rock direc­tion.

Speaking of pomp, Fountains Of Light is also note­wor­thy in Starcastle’s his­to­ry for point­ing the band in its even­tu­al pomp-rock future.  Like Kansas, the group always had a unique fusion of melod­ic com­plex­i­ty and are­na-friend­ly bombast going for it and this album finds them start­ing to explore the more acces­si­ble end of that spec­trum.  For exam­ple, “Dawning Of The Day” har­ness­es the band’s com­plex­i­ty to sup­port a gen­tle, folky melody high­light by a sin­ga­long cho­rus (there are some great vocal-round har­monies used to flesh it out as the song pro­gress­es).  Another effec­tive step in this direc­tion is “Diamond Song (True To The Light),” which mar­ries the group’s prog ener­gy to a song with a dri­ving radio-rock melody and anoth­er strong sing-along cho­rus.

Another cut wor­thy of spe­cial men­tion is “Portraits.”  This gem allows Starcastle to give vent to an influ­ence that is less often acknowl­edge in their work: name­ly, Crosby Stills & Nash-styled folk-rock.  There’s an echo of Yes’ “And You And I” here — par­tic­u­lar­ly in the way acoustic gui­tars are meshed with syn­the­siz­er squig­gles — but the lush melody gives it its own per­son­al­i­ty.   Imagine prog­gy soft-rock and you’re on the right track.  It’s also worth nto­ing that “Portraits” only takes up five min­utes on the album but works its way through a vari­ety of moods and tex­tures in that time.  It’s the album’s deep-cut clas­sic and deserves to be bet­ter known amongst pomp and prog fans.

To sum up, Fountains Of Light is a strong and well-craft­ed album that found Starcastle work­ing towards a more dis­tinct, American iden­ti­ty as a prog/AOR crossover band.  As fate would have it, their time as a major label act would be short-lived but this album is good enough to make fans won­der about the future they might have had if they’d been able to crack rock radio.