Review Summary: Starkweather have reached maturity.
Starkweather, a band that many will have heard of but never listened to. The band has been quiet in its existence, their releases passing like shadows across the sun, and with each one they have matured in the dusty cellar of mathcore. Now it is time to open that trapdoor again for the third release of Starkweather, Croatoan
, their most mature work to date.
Starkweather's previous releases, Crossbearer
and Into the Wire
, were groundbreaking if immature records. Their structures were complex yet too streamlined, claustrophobic but not constricting. They were linear, splitting melody and math into two parts, not entwining and enfolding them into each other. Experimentations with the formula were conducted upon Into the Wire
but the fruits of their labour have not been picked until Croatoan
. Re-recorded songs from Into the Wire, such as "Taming Leeches With Fire" and "Slither", emphasis this evolution in their sound. The songs are denser, the downtuning of the electric guitars adds much needed weight to the song and the use of cascading, acoustic riffs merges melody into the dissonance. It allows for a more harmonious flow from the smooth into the jagged. The songs flow into each other with greater synchronicity and hence the album becomes more organic in feeling.
The "organic" texture and movement is not one of a fluid melody but always one of gnarled edges and all spiralling roots. Songs are slow in progression, repeating sections for extended periods. Upchanging and downchanging is kept within a reasonable scale, riffs are stretched over longer periods of time and tempo changes, while fracturous, are not ridiculous. This sound is driven away from the conventions laid by many of their successors, instead creating a heavier, more rooted sound, one bound in a very acidic melody. Reneé's acerbic singing, the flourish of the more exotic instrumentation and the welcomingly audible basslines are the main elements to these melodies; they melt and erode the edges between the instruments and indeed the song structures. However the result is one of cohesion, not of a miasma. It is in part to the precision of the songwriting; the placing of vocal variations and the interchanging of instruments is careful and well-timed, tightening an already acute atmosphere. It is also in part to the clarity of the production. The production is crystal clear, a great distance from the fuzz and reverb of earlier releases. This improvment, along with the greater ambition of the songwriting helps create a fuller, more engaging release.
Do not be mistaken, Starkweather's sound is still one of dissonance and unease. The vocals are unique and disturbing in their introverted range, the song structures are unpredictable and the entire album is laced with a heaviness that could force casual listeners away. However these elements are played with a level of skill and emotion that exibits their progression in a decade. Reneé's vocals are deeper and less forced, the guitars and drums are of a superior technical level and the basslines throb with more underlying menace than ever before. This and every other part contribute to creating a sound that is rich and mesmerising. It requires patience to dive into Croatoan's
seething anger and brooding despair but the patience pays dividends. Every twist becomes a reward, a surprise that can be extracted from the song and memorised with ease. Whether it is the beautiful flow of melodic basslines into hard-edged riffs upon "Taming Leeches With Fire" or the acoustic mourning of "Wilding," these songs become as enjoyable deconstructed as they are fully constructed.
Despite this enjoyment the album does suffer from faults. The repetition can be stretched too far or completely irrellevant, the most notable instance being on "Taming Leeches With Fire" where the vocals repeat the name of the song in a rather ridiculous manner throughout the middle section of the song. Similarly the addition of certain types of instrument add nothing to the emotional impact that a song makes, the bizarre addition of bongos upon "Silken Garotte/ The Infinity Coil" causes the instrument to float within a musical void. These faults, while not detractors, evidence that their is still a need to prune and improve their sound for the future. Overall though, despite its flaws, Crotoan
is Starkweather's most mature fine wine to date. It's sharp-edged taste requires time and effort but once it sinks in, it leaves a memorable and powerful experience like none other.