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02. Broken From Inside
03. All Creatures Damned and Divine
04. One Among Vermin
08. End of All Things, The
Philadelphia's Starkweather don't write for the fair-weather fan. Their material requires patience, attention and time to absorb, none of which is endearing to fickle consumer or commercial interest. They've refused to follow the standard rock regimen of recording routinely and touring regularly; the band spent over a decade constructing 2005's Croatoan. Though Starkweather influenced genre-shaping bands (Converge, Isis, Dillinger Escape Plan), they've remained one of metal and hardcore's longest running and underrated bands.
Given the band's reluctance to embrace a parochial musical viewpoint or acquiesce to trends, Starkweather remain devoted to existing on their terms. The band's insularity informs their work. Starkweather harkens to the noisier end of the metal-hardcore spectrum of the mid-90s. They don't sound much different today than on 1995's Into the Wire. Then, as now, one cannot easily trace Starkweather directly to antecedents. Instead, the band squeezes various influences (death metal, drone, prog) through the musical meat grinder to produce something novel.
This Sheltering Night consists of long, shifting songs that operate more like classical compositions than traditional rock. This has always been the band's approach to song writing; yet it feels more jarring and abrupt here. While impressive, the lengthier songs are harder to digest. Starkweather could have developed more cohesive narratives to thread these songs more tightly together. But this flaw doesn't deep-six what is the band's most forward-thinking record.
The pros and cons of Starkweather's M.O. can be explored in "Broken From Inside." The song bears some resemblance to Atheist, with jazz percussion, constantly changing tempos and creative guitar work. Unlike most of Atheist's material, this song stretches nearly ten minutes. A brevity-minded band would have chopped it into an album's worth of individual songs. But despite its desultory nature, the song highlights Starkweather's awe-inspiring skills. A casual listener will struggle to keep up, which is probably the band's intent. "Broken From Inside" and much of the album require multiple listens to grasp and appreciate. This is a lot to ask of a world suffering from nose-diving attention spans. But Starkweather is uninterested in catering to the tastes of the masses.
That's not to say This Sheltering Night isn't a visceral thrill. Even in small doses, the vitriol and dread intrinsic to the Starkweather experience serves the same purpose as slasher films or driving too fast (after all, the band named themselves after a mass murderer). Credit the shredded-larynx screams and creepy croons of Rennie Resmini for providing much of this sense of terror. Though This Sheltering Night works on a cerebral level, the songs also placate a hunger for punishing music.
To accentuate and diversify its metal miasma, the band employs unlikely guest contributors. Oktopus, Elizabeth Jacobs and Sophia Perennis lend a hand with a quintet of electronic and noise interludes. Starkweather would have benefitted from incorporating such atypical elements into their actual songs. Nevertheless, the pieces still serve the record by providing a necessary breather.
If Starkweather seem out of sync with the times, that's probably the point. An album this obtuse could not have been concocted to accrue fame, wealth or busloads of groupies. This Sheltering Night can be daunting, but it is well worth the effort.
Bottom Line: This Sheltering Night differs little from most of what Starkweather has done before. It's a colossal and complex record from a band that refuses to quit.
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