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Twisted, dark, evil, cold and desperate - 85%

730, April 19th, 2011

An album this twisted, dark, evil, cold and desperate rarely presents itself, regardless of genre. But Starkweather have always had these elements in them, thus sitting through their latest album is a trying, unsettling and uninviting experience. This can only be the work of artists with utter disregard for fan and critic expectations, contemporary genre standards, and notions of what is cool or popular at the moment. Starkweather pisses all over music categories. They always have.

Starkweather is hardly a prolific band, what with the low number of releases (considering the band's age) and limited touring schedules to support their releases. But such is the route some of the more artistic and introvert bands amongst us choose to tread.
It was in 1996 the band showed up on my radar due to an advertisement from Edison Records, for Into The Wire, featured in one of those delicious Very mailorder catalogs of old. The groups name was mysterious enough and the album artwork invoked bad scenarios in my mind, resulting in me remembering them and immediately picking the record out from a pile of hundreds in a record store in Dresden, Germany later that year. I just had to hear it. And boy was I taken aback by the enigmatic and dismal sounds that rushed into my skull, unlike anything I'd heard before. Hardly the "jams" you'd force on your friend a six pack deep into the night. At that point in my life, I felt as if I was intruding on something I shouldn't be hearing. That I should not be listening.

Fourteen years later I'm alarmingly close to feeling the same way, although my own cumulative experience and seemingly endless amount of music consumption puts restraints on my imagination and senses. All the same, it speaks volume about Starkweather's power. I literally feel a tad uncomfortable with This Sheltering Night in my headphones. It makes me want to turn the stereos off just as much as it makes me want to hear what the hell happens next.

This Sheltering Night threatens to fall apart from the beginning to end. I have to be frank and tell you that I was not overtly thrilled with the album opener "Epiphany". It felt void of effective structure and compositional keystones. Yet it is an effective introduction for what is to come, a warning that this will not be an easy ride. In fact it will do everything to discourage you and push you away. I was tempted to reject Starkweather this time around, but if you stick with This Sheltering Night, its dark allure will reel you in and force you to engage. It will reward you for your bravery and openness.

This is a record that demands concentration and maturation of its listener. The multi-layered and sometimes seemingly incoherent, discordant and angular guitars take some getting used to and Rennie Resmini's unafraid and spirited (possessed?) vocals are just as likely to turn listeners off as enthrall them. One feels like a guest in a madman's head at times. One case in point (of many) is the beginning of "Broken From Inside" as well as the build-up at the end that leads into crashing insanity... I felt like I was at some fucking occult gathering ready to gut an innocent victim with a ceremonial dagger. And there are quite a few moments like this. How about "Among Vermin" that sounds like Through Silver In Blood meets Monotheist meets Temple of the Morning Star during a horrible crack trip in a dark, cold room with no windows. Deranged. Unlovely.

And this really says all one needs to know about this record. But it is not faultless. A record this punishing rarely is. These abrupt shifts within the songs masterly fuck with you, yet every so often it stops the flow. That is repeatedly the case with bands that object to the standard verse-chorus-verse format. I believe that the unpredictable and erratic structure accompanies the lyrics and thus paints as complete a picture as possible. But sadly, Deathwish Inc. does not include lyrics with its digital promos, which is frustrating 'cause here, more than ever, the listener needs to know what the fuck is taking the songs into the realms we follow them into. What impacts the singer in such a way that he sounds like a man at the end of his rope? Actually, not having the lyrics does the experience a disservice. It denies me an important, elemental piece of the puzzle.

This Sheltering Night is so expressive and rich with ideas that it sometimes overloads each composition and goes over-board on occasion, thus making it less memorable than perhaps it could have been. But that and catchiness are probably the furthest things from Starkweather's collective mind. If that sounds reasonable to you and you are built for that sort of thing, you'd be a fool not thoroughly investigate This Sheltering Night. - Birkir Fjalar

Published on June 12, 2010