HEAVY METAL is one area of rock where competence really pays off. Because the music depends so heavily upon meeting listeners' expectations, a band's ability to play with the power and precision of the top-line superstars tends to matter more than originality. Which is why DC Star, after years of building chops on the local heavy-rock circuit, seems perfectly poised to make the leap to the big time.

It isn't simply that its self-released album, "Rock & Roll Whirl," was good enough to finally land the band a major label deal; what matters most is that on the record, DC Star sounds strong enough to compete on a national level already. Kenny Taylor's tenor fits the heavy-rock formula to a T, demonstrating both power and accuracy, while the twin guitar attack of Dave Simmons and Jeff Avery packs precisely the sort of snarling punch the music demands. On the live side of "Rock & Roll Whirl," DC Star is all aggressive confidence, and sounds more than capable of taking on Ratt or Twisted Sister on their own terms.

Where the record fails, though, is in its material. Although none of the nine numbers are in any way clunkers, neither are they likely to set the world on fire. "I Wanna Rock Tonite" delivers the expected cliches with fervor and something resembling originality, while "Feelin' Good to Me" plants some memorable hooks in an otherwise forgettable song. But that's all too typical of DC Star's material, and though "Rock & Roll Whirl" is strong enough to put this band into the running, it'll need better songs than these if it expects to win, place or show.

DC STAR -- "Rock & Roll Whirl" (Escape ESC 007); appearing Saturday at Club Saba.