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Starkweather: Croatoan

Philadelphia's Starkweather have been on the scene since the early 1990's, and Croatoan is their third full-length release. The band plays a strange mix of styles that include hardcore, math rock, technical death metal, and some psychedelic leanings, and in some cases here on Croatoan they dive into each of these elements in the course of one song, making for a unique listening experience and difficult to classify the band. The opening track for instance goes from hardcore brutality, to jazzy interludes, to some trippy psychedelic spoken word vocals, to intense, almost Cryptopsy-worthy technical death metal. The same can be said for the rampaging death metal meets lounge jazz of 'Taming Leeches With Fire" and song that mixes utterly demonic screams with some laid back crooning, while the music features crushing guitars and bombastic rhythms, as well as moments of avant-garde experimentation.

The band moves into slower and doomier territory on "Slither", complete with bone-crushing guitar riffs and vocals that sound like the singer gargled with broken glass instead of mouthwash. The eight minute "Bitterfrost" sees a return of the clean vocals again while the music chugs along at a textured pace, slowly building in intensity as the guitar riffs start to boil and the entrance off some tribal percussion adds a different flavor altogether. Deep doom rears its head on "Hushabye: Goodnight", while "Verspertilian" and "Machine Rhythm Confessional" keep the grinding and tortured mix of doom and psychedelic rock going strong. The moody and sludge ridden finale "Silken Garotte/The Infinity Coil" contains a myriad of vocal styles, and perhaps has the most passionate clean vocals on the album, along with some lilting guitar chords and pounding rhythms, giving an overall sense of doom and despair.

For the most part, Croatoan works pretty well. I liked the way the different vocal styles worked off each other, as it added a nice dimension to each song. However, after the first couple of tunes, much of the rest of the CD lacked the unique multi-dimensional quality that was prevalent earlier, as the tempos and mood of these songs all remained too similar to each other. Also, while the band seems enormously talented on their instruments, there's very little interplay and almost no solos at all, which would have been nice to break up the monotony that is felt especially on the second half of the CD. In the end though this is a good release from Starkweather, but at times it seems like they are holding back just a little, and only give us glimpses of the truly groundbreaking stuff they are probably capable of.

Track Listing
1) Wilding
2) Taming Leeches With Fire
3) Slither
4) Bitterfrost
5) Hushabye: Goodnight
6) Vespertilian
7) Machine Rhythm Confessional
8) Silken Garotte/The Infinity Coil

Added: March 19th 2007
Reviewer: Pete Pardo
Related Link: Candlelight Records
Hits: 2989
Language: english

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» SoT Staff Roundtable Reviews:

Starkweather: Croatoan
Posted by Murat Batmaz, SoT Staff Writer on 2007-03-19 14:46:38
My Score:

Philedelphia's Starkweather are undoubtedly one of the most influential bands in the hardcore/metal scene. They've been around since 1989 and have helped, along with other gods like Neurosis and Earth, shape an entire genre of bands including Dillinger Escape Plan, who have then branched out and found their own niche. What sets Starkwather apart from every other group out there is their ever-growing will to move foreward and progress, whilst countless bands try (and fail) to emulate their sound.

Croatoan was released exactly ten years after its predecessor, Into the Wire. The album is a signature mix of the band's perfect blend of post-metal, technical death, hardcore, and avant-garde. With such wide-reaching influences, it is not difficult to predict fans of Voivod, (early) Morbid Angel, The Red Chord, Crowbar, and even Neurosis would love this disc. It's a shame that, despite being around for so long, that most listeners out there are unaware of Starkweather, considering their long history. Hopefully Croatoan will put them back on the map, thanks to its varied songwriting, melting gigantic, doomy riffage with bursts of psychotic vocal stylings, and thunderous rhythms. The Eastern-tinged guitars and tribal drumming of "Bitterfrost"; the mournful opening of "Wilding", which switches back and forth between slowed-down riffs and icy acoustic guitars; the blackened shrieks of "Husabye: Goodnight", complete with a good dose of plodding drums and tremelo-picked guitars; and the faster paced, technical monster "Taming Leeches with Fire" attest to the wealth of this album. The vocals range from tortured death metal growls to maniacal screaming and psychotic clean vocals emanating from the depths of hell. The original lineup is still intact, but there are also guest appearances by Dillinger Escape Plan's Liam Wilson on bass and Turmoil's Jim Winters on guitars, both of whom owe a good deal of their current success to listening to Starkweather growing up.

It is pointless to summarise each track on this album, as this album is meant to be taken and enjoyed as a whole. There is plenty of groove-inflected riffery mixed with unexpected flashes of technical genius and the more typical metalcore arrangements here. The production is awesome and mastering was handled by the great Alan Douches, so that should give you an idea too. The artwork, as some avid fans might have guessed, was done by Paul Romano whose work with Mastodon shares certain similarities with it.

Recommended to fans of experimental music with strong post-metal and avant-garde leanings. If you enjoy the works of Isis, Mastodon, Void, Converge, and the aforementioned acts, you need to check Starkweather out. You'll be surprised to discover how much impact they've had on them.

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