Starset, ‘Vessels’ – Album Review
Are Starset the next big breakout in rock or something far more heady being fortunetellers for a world advancing so rapidly with technology that they're able to foresee the future evolution of relationships and mankind as a whole? Either way, it's pretty evident that Starset are carving their own path in both music and message, steering clear of some familiar tropes that their peers in the music scene seem to use to great extent.
Vessels is the band's second "transmission," penned from the ideal of a world where the conventions of love, life and death have evolved, but some of the same truths remain. The human connection is still on full display even as the world around it changes, and leader Dustin Bates and his masked collaborators Ron DeChant, Brock Richards and Adam Gilbert find a way to infuse their message with melodic atmospherics and pulse pounding power.
The album opens primarily with synth-driven, infinitely listenable melodic lamentations on the desire for connection, with Bates begging, "Satellite are you here tonight? / Shine your light and set me free" on the excellent upbeat likely future single "Satellite." "Frequency" is a more driving, at time trudging rocker sung from the point of someone who is slowly losing touch with a loved one. The track even breaks into some mid-song guttural vocals just to drive home the angst of the situation. "Die for You" is the big love song, with Bates promising "There's no pain I won't go through / Even if I have to die for you" and professing platitudes of love through a dreamy soundscape. The pulsing rocker "Ricochet" and the dreamy "Starlight" also deal with the gravity of relationships.
The album's mid-section ups the intensity, with the more aggressive and triumphant "Into the Unknown" and "Gravity of You." This leads into the propulsive, full throttle "Back to the Earth," in which the listener can almost envision hurdling through space at warp speed. It's the standout of the album's midpoint, with sounds both darkly ominous and heavy and atmospheric at the same time.
Following the over the top "Back to the Earth," we get a welcome breather with "Last to Fall," a song that opens soft, builds with dreamy melodic verses and then brings us right back to full aggression by the chorus. "This world is changing but I'm still the same," explains a defiant Bates, before later claiming he'll be the last to fall. But as we head toward the conclusion disc, the internal struggle becomes all the more real with the aggressive "Bringing It Down" starting a bit of the transformation while making masterful use of backing strings and synths. A full on metamorphosis is underway with "Unbecoming," an over-the-top in a good way aggressive rocker. And the old gives way to the new with the current single, "Monster," which becomes all the more impactful when heard within the context of the rollout of the album's story. The catchy rocker shows the regret of the world that our narrator has adapted to, with the hope for change still looming.
Wrapping up the disc, Starset attempt to reconnect with Bates singing about the wish for having "Telepathic" heart and finishing out with the dreamy epic coda of "Everglow."
Simply put, Starset's Vessels works on multiple levels. If you're looking for engaging singular tracks to fill your playlist, this album has several songs that could keep the band on radio for a long run. But if you're looking for a deeper connection and a full listening experience, Vessels truly takes the listener on a journey both musically and thematically, utilizing synths, drums, guitars and Bates' at times dreamlike, at other times aggressive vocal approach to make you feel like you've taken every step with him. Add in Starset's penchant for building a narrative beyond the music through transmissions and live demonstrations, and you've got a band you can truly dig into and get the full experience.