Of the many age-old comebacks in this new millennium (of which there are many) and of all the past year or two’s new signings to Candlelight Records (of which there are equally as many) Starkweather rank as one of the most peculiar. Metalheads today tend to think of metalcore as a relatively new malaise taken up by the discontent teenage population as the successor to grunge alternative, but Starkweather have been playing metalcore (more or less) since some of those kids were born, all the way back in 1989.
Even more peculiar, when Emperor came to the US to play two exclusive venues this past July, the opening bill for those black metal legends included this very band of wife-beater-sporting, middle-aged thugs from east Pennsylvania. As one might expect, the crowd was ambivalent. Some, (such as myself, a lucky attendee) intrigued by their experience and history, found their set to be a fresh perspective, if not the most enjoyable I’d ever seen. Others were less kind, heckling them and booing. Those two opinions, one lukewarm, the other benignly disinterested at best, seem to form the general opinion of the public regarding Starkweather.
‘Croatoan’ marks the first release from the band in a decade— ‘Into the Wire’ being their last release in 1995— and despite the space between the two, Starkweather’s music has remained essentially unchanged. Plodding, irresolute riffs with rabidly uncomfortable vocals, loosely classifiable as metalcore, but also equal parts hardcore and sludge—‘epicore’, I described it to one companion at Emperor that night in July.
And it is indeed epic. The average song here is nearly seven minutes, crawling through dissonant riffs, Rennie Resmini’s tremulous clean vocals and choked, barking growls that are on the one hand fascinating and unique and on the other grating and amateur. Most songs on ‘Croatoan’ do not feature the standard ‘verse/chorus/verse’ progression, which is a refreshing step outside the ordinary, but a step they may not be quite ready to take, despite their experience with it. Sometimes their freeform style leads them to powerful motives that build to a shattering climax, but more often, these tracks communicate little more than clutter and frustration.
Although they may be called metalcore, Starkweather should not be held responsible for the stigma of the genre today, and those unfamiliar with the band should not let the genre title scare them away. If metalcore today had half the raw passion, unusual lyrics, and inventive determination heard on ‘Croatoan’, we would be much better off. However, although Starkweather are certainly a unique group, and their rancor is really quite impressive, it is difficult for anyone outside their original fanbase and a smattering of new-age critics to see their music as anything other than a temporary diversion.
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