Review Summary: Starkweather's finest hour.
Starkweather have been around for over two decades now and yet still they continue to respire. Their music is considered influential in the pioneering of the metalcore genre. However to Starkweather they refer to their part in birthing such a controversial genre as like spreading cancer. This hatred of their own progeny is the truth that their music is based upon; the sludgey yet progressive, intricate and, in its own twisted way, melodic sound. For twenty one years they have created this music to the few who would listen. Now their fourth offering is here and it is easily their best yet.
Just like previous albums, This Sheltering Night
is a hardened and embittered entity that takes time to understand. Rennie's vocals are still as claustrophobic with their seeming forcedness, the guitar riffs are still slow yet unpredictable with their odd time signatures and the song structures are as still the same controlled chaos they were before, interlinked with acute melody and dissonance in equal measure. These are all the conventions of Starkweather's sound yet here they are tightened to an even greater degree. The details are honed down to the tiniest cogs that make up this pocket watch of an album. Nothing is wasted; the repetition is kept within precise lengths and any unnecessary instrumentation is discarded. The result is an album that is more cohesive in its binding of acidic melodies to dissonance and one that can be deconstructed to an even greater level than before. Little cogs such as the guitar solos on "One Among Vermin" can be appreciated in this timepiece of an album as much as the unity of every single one of these elements allows for whole songs to be enjoyable.
Yet for its minute construction, This Sheltering Night
is far from cold and mechanical. In fact it is Starkweather's most evocative piece so far. The album is laced with supposed faux emotion through forced instrumentation. Indeed Rennie's vocals are one or two notches more forced than before, the guitars riffs and bass lines are weighted with more lead, hammered in by extra acoustics and electronics and even more unpredictable drum patterns. However, through the use of the careful songwriting, Starkweather used these improved elements as the watchmaker uses his small tools. They play with the cogs of the listener's mind, eliciting purposeful emotions. The album captivates and then pulls the listener through a plethora of emotions, from the horror of Rennie screaming "mother ekidna lays with animals, rip her flesh, break her bones" upon "Broken From Inside" to the sadness of the lost piano within "Receive." This journey is nearly one smooth movement, never relenting in dragging the listener through a void of thousands of clocks chiming in echoes before dimming to silence as they confront the images of serial violence and despair in their own isolation. This album exudes terror, desperation and many other emotions as it tells its story.
This story is not one of words, indeed at certain times Rennie's vocals are submerged beneath layers of sound, but one of the musical whole. It's emotional power makes This Sheltering Night
feels more like a story than any other Starkweather album with the introduction of mordant instrumentals. These instrumental sections not only act as transitions but help to channel the ever changing emotions from one song to the next. They are not merely filler but integral to the album, pushing both the listener and the story forward. Because of these sections, this album may lack the fullness of music that bound Croatoan
with the lesser number of true songs. However it feels more rich in texture, more purposeful in telling a story and overall more complete. There are moments of excess, the ending of "All Creatures Damned and Divine" and the opening of "Epiphany" with their chugging repetition but these moments are slight. They still mesh well into the whole of the album's sound and do nothing to detract from the overall experience.
In the end though, like all Starkweather albums, this is hard-shelled, an album that will not appeal to everyone and one that requires patience and an attentive ear to listen to. For all the time and emotional exhaustion though, one will be rewarded with a story that is subtle but vibrant in the darkest emotions, a rare musical moment within a saturated world. For such a moment it will be hard to improve upon this album as the band have always progressed upon every release yet here they may have reached their denouement, their finest hour. However one can do nothing but wonder...