Formed in 2013, Starset hail from Columbus, Ohio and describe their music as Cinematic Rock (although it is influenced by Science Fiction and science). Vessels is the follow-up to the group’s 2014 debut album Transmissions (which sold over 250,000 copies worldwide). Starset is: Dustin Bates (vocals), Ron DeChant (bass), Brock Richards (guitar) and Adam Gilbert (drums).
Ominous and corrupted electronic sounds greet the listener before clearing as of light invading the darkness of a room. Satellite is an amalgamation of Modern and Symphonic Rock along with Electronica. The song structure is fairly standard but presents the strength of Starset which is the firm grasp of intelligent song writing which they possess: you can be assured that a hook will turn up within the first minute. Even though this is the sort of tune that, if you heard on a radio or net station, would catch your ear it wouldn’t make the necessary impact – the album needs to be heard in its entirety. Certainly, while the verses give an impression of something of Electronic Pop once the chorus kicks it is stadium-sized Modern Rock all the way (enhanced by the saw-toothed and symphonic synth sounds which pervade throughout this song and the album). However, this is most assuredly Rock and can’t be taken any other way – Starset are merely using ideas combined with the requisite sounds to create something stirring and strong but not so Populist. As an introduction for this album Satellite works a wonderful and glittering spell and segues seamlessly into Frequency which has an upfront Metal tang to it. The guitars are pushed more to the front of this mix and have more presence in the progression overall. This has more action to it and has the signature of a classic for the quartet – the grittier sound communicates passion along with Dustin Bates going for some screamy / shouty vocals. Don’t be under the delusion that this album is building towards an audio highpoint by becoming more Metal as it moves from song to song: this is a carefully planned album meant to take the listener on a far more engaging and intellectually satisfying journey. After the intensity (in the context of this album) of the previous track we are presented with Die For You (a love song) which has more of the gigantic production but nevertheless provides an epic Modern Rock ballad showing that Starset pay no less attention to such a song as any other. The synthetic backing provides layers which are necessary to this tune and there is much to listen to although there is a complete lack of untidiness with so many things going on. This is definitely a symphonic piece and the crushing chorus brings everything together in sharp focus. The fourth song Ricochet bristles with dirty sounds grinding away mixed in with clean and polished synth washes. This represents a break from the Rock stylings and comes across more as a plaintive pop song that has been redressed as Rock but this still works within the character of the album and Starset‘s sound. The song makes a nod in the direction of Nine Inch Nails but with a stadium Prog Rock focused nature adding more down-temp sentiment where it is actually required and less off-the-wall complexity. Starlight has the atmosphere of an album closer but within the Science Fiction surroundings of Vessels it is the prelude to the next part of this fourteen song opus. Clothed once more in the synth heavy milieu (guitars laying somewhere just out of plain earshot) which infuses this offering, the listener is confronted by the subdued but uplifting philosophy towards human existence within the universe maximised by an almost theatrical / operatic Starset.
As if to reassure us that this is the next step in the journey Into The Unknown, Gravity Of You and Back To The Earth make their irresistible presences known – a powerful Rock punchiness pervades from the outset to the point where it seems that this album is well and truly under way. Again, the melodies, energy and simplicity culminate in an incredible experience at the forefront of which are not only the choruses but also the build up to them and the details that are dotted around each of these songs. The dramatic shift in atmosphere represented by Last To Fall serves to show the already diverse influences of this quartet are broad and expansive initially providing an Electronica backed crowd pleaser (reminiscent of The Black Queen) before launching into another huge chorus – again it seems like a Pop song that has been injected with some Modern Rock sensibilities but the intelligence shines through delivering cold digital textures before breaking out with the organic sounds provided ably by DeChant, Richards and Gilbert. And so Bringing It Down: an eerie and menacing creature which turns into another monster Rock tune with comparable riffs lacing through the verses and chorus, yet the sinister digital backing intensifies the Sci Fi sense of drama making this into another epic mini-adventure in the Starset universe. And still the end of this album is a little way off, although this is the last third, Unbecoming brings it a step closer. This is definitely a prelude to the following song, and as with most of the other songs there is the impassioned, symphonic and theatrical about its execution and production. There is a rather nice shift during the middle eight section where the tempo changes and the ‘strings’ come even more to the front of the mix – bit of a King Diamond moment. But this atmosphere and musical theme reaches into Monster with the previous track acting as a launchpad for the current song. Caustic synth sounds replace the strings as the main backing focus creating a Cyber Rock air to this part of the opus but otherwise the grandiose statement the music makes remains the same. The penultimate number Telepathic returns to the similar ground trod by Last To Fall – more intelligent Electronic Pop enlivened by discreet razor-blade guitars. Everglow is the closer and shows Starset as having worked away to create a masterful epic finale expounding their love of Electronica with underplayed simplicity and startlingly engaging introspection. It gently builds towards its ultimate crescendo with a few deceptive stops but ultimately delivers in the awe-inspiring way anyone would expect – they must have recorded this in the Grand Canyon itself. This borders on being the closest thing they created to a requiem: it is beautiful, graceful and yet filled with longing for a resolution. Well, until next time…
Starset have taken the idea of being Prog Rock and turned into an easily accessible form of music. They may shy away from referring to what they do as Prog Rock but this is only because that genre is suffering from over-pretentiousness again. Meanwhile, Starset are getting underway with what will be another successful album full of drama, eloquence and the raw-edged Rock that they so evidently love – a continuation of the concept started by their debut album. Having said that, they haven’t moved too far from what they created on Transmissions although the quarter million people buying this second album will hardly complain about that. With such an incredible musical view full of light and dark, a cornucopia of textures, sounds and style Starset appear to be a group who can go on to bigger and better things as evidenced by this.
Starset create another massive sounding, finely crafted Cinematic Rock album. Vessels is the follow-up to the group's 2014 debut album Transmissions (which sold over 250,000 copies worldwide).