3. Broken from Inside
5. All Creatures Damned and Divine
6. One Among Vermin
11. The End of All Things
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”Beautiful, Repulsive, Hateful, and Soul Wrenching”
I should preface this review by saying that you will not like this album. You will find it abrasive, jarring and unnecessarily caustic. You will criticize the vocals. The noise tracks will turn you off and spur you to skip to the next song or stop the album altogether. You will find reviews heaping praise on the album and you will do your best to find the appeal, and, at least initially, you will fail.
Starkweather, genre-defying legends of the Philadelphia underground metal scene, resurfaced in 2005 following a nine-year hiatus to release their third full-length Croatoan. The album was a dense, off-kilter adventure that even previous fans of the group had a difficult time digesting. Incorporating and advancing the doom elements first introduced on their 1995 release Into the Wire, 2005’s Croatoan twisted and writhed with a creative urgency that placed them light years ahead of their peers. Five years later, the group has quietly convened to share their newest creation with the world, This Sheltering Night. The album takes elements employed by the group on past releases and mutates them, gnarls them to create something darker and even more horrific than anything previously heard from the five-piece.
Starkweather’s sound is truly impossible to define with genre associations despite perceptible elements of death metal, hardcore, doom and thrash peppered throughout This Sheltering Night. The group’s trademark storytelling style of songwriting is firmly in place, an approach that abandons the traditional “verse/chorus” structure in favor of a more nuanced, non-linear approach that evolves organically as each track progresses. Each group member rarely adheres to a consistent time signature, instead dancing around the occasional rhythm or chord with a mesmerizing deftness. Drummer Harry Rosa’s performance is as nuanced and proficient as any you’re likely to find, constantly advancing the group’s erratic sound with a creative series of fills and accents rarely heard on a metal album. The remaining members fill out the group’s sound admirably, which is no small feat for a band as complex and unique as Starkweather.
Minutes into opener “Epiphany,” it’s clear that Rennie Resmini is still as powerful and evocative a front man as any vocalist in the genre. His unique rasps, screams and croons vacillate between slightly disturbing to full-on maniacal, though never fail to nestle comfortably within the context of each track. Other standout songs from the album include the scathing “Broken From the Inside,” the nimble “One Among Vermin” and the haunting “Bustuari,” though honestly every musical moment here is worth experiencing.
Despite the dizzying creative heights reached on This Sheltering Night, many listeners will be turned off by not only the eccentricity and inaccessibility of the group but also the lengthy tracks. Fans of the group will soak up every churning second while the casual listener is more likely to move on after a handful of songs. Another tiny complaint is the presence of several “noise” tracks scattered through the album. While the contributions from Oktopus, Dälek and Sophia Perennis serve a purpose within the scope of the music, they similarly provide yet another obstacle to progressing through the entirety of the album.
Those that do intake the album in full will be rewarded with a collection of music far more advanced than the typical fare generated by today’s metal scene. Though each nuance and subtlety of This Sheltering Night is difficult to grasp even after multiple listens, a tiny bit of patience and repeated headphone sessions will help you understand just how special a group like Starkweather truly is. Don’t let genuine innovation and uniqueness get in the way of appreciating one of the best albums of the year.