By masterfully combining the musical styles of Rock, Symphonic and Electronica, mixed with an underlying Science-themed story, Columbus, Ohio’s Starset emerged on the music scene in 2014 with the release of their excellent first album, Transmissions. Needing a public outreach outlet, The Starset Society commissioned the band to help spread awareness of ‘The Message‘ that they’ve received in an attempt to spare humanity’s future. Starset’s first album stuck to this premise, in turn, setting the ground work for the band’s narrative.
Picking up where Transmissions left off, Vessels looks to continue that narrative by pushing boundaries to propel the listener into an “interconnected interzone” of four separate dangerous visions. The journey of Vessels takes the listener on a return to PROX (The “Back-up Earth” in Starset’s narrative that is the source of “The Message“) to an admonishment of the dangers of genetic engineering and into a near future where advances in artificial intelligence defy convenient notions of love, life and death.
Even if you’re not into the band’s narrative, Singer/Songwriter Dustin Bates does a fantastic job of still connecting to the occasional listener with some clever and well thought out song writing by using incredibly smart and touching lyrics. By adding in some elements of EDM into Starset’s arsenal, Vessels is hauntingly beautiful, yet remains hard hitting. It is foreign, yet familiar. It is powerful, yet vulnerable.
The Order: Vessels starts off with the foreboding and dark ambient intro titled “The Order.” This track defiantly sets a stark contrast to the tone to let the listener know that we are dealing with an entirely new monster this time around.
Satellite: This track emerges from the dark skies that shrouded the opening of the album by immediately showing off new elements of Starset’s aural arsenal including the occasional vocal effects, which ultimately enhance the experience. Beckoning the lyrics “Shine your light and set me free, take the darkness out of me,” this song is an absolute beacon that combats the darkness.
Frequency: This song starts off with it’s incredibly well written Chorus that points out the troubles with staying connected through way of radio-wave telecommunication. This well-paced song with smart lyrics and an incredibly heavy bridge seems like it will be a definite favorite among Starset’s “Messengers.”
Die For You: Starting off with a very laid-back EDM-inspired verse, Die For You shows a softer side to this album with an extremely catchy chorus that kicks in with guitars and emotional symphonics. This song revolves around the premise of doing anything for someone.
Ricochet: This is the yin to Die For You‘s yang. Although still a slower paced song, Ricochet follows the idea of pouring your heart to someone just to get shut down and blocked out by them. Dustin’s vocal work on this song matched with the big sound of the guitars and symphonics really bring the feelings in this track to life.
Starlight: Starlight has this very ethereal tone to it’s verses which get immediately contrasted in a very regimented chanting pre-chorus which flows into a driving chorus. I don’t know how or why, but it works extremely well. Be prepared to be delightfully caught off guard by this track.
Into The Unknown: Picking up the pace, Into The Unknown blasts off the listener through a song that is very reminiscent of Taproot in some spots. As the title suggests, Into The Unknown talks about travelling the path less traveled and leaving things up to chance. Very cool track which integrates some aspects of Drum and Bass into the mix which pays off.
Gravity Of You: Starting off slowly, you think Gravity Of You is going to be another one of those laid-back songs until the chorus kicks in pushing Dustin’s vocals to the point of screaming. Very well balanced song which uses the vocal effects again in a tasteful manner that makes sense. The reliance of technology and the inherent danger that follows is one aspects that Starset has followed in their music and Gravity Of You looks to be no stranger to this theme.
Back To The Earth: Using complex time signatures, Back To The Earth is a stand out on Vessels that uses a very synth-reliant backbone to help drive the song. As the song progresses and starts to feel more like a piece to a soundtrack, I can’t help but think of the re-entry sequence from the movie Gravity while listening.
Last To Fall: This emotional powerhouse uses a driving beat in it’s chorus mixed with touching lyrics throughout to deliver a memorable and beautiful arrangement.
Bringing It Down: Taking a dark turn, Bring It Down brings a heavy Breaking Benjamin-meets-Deftones like sound which touches on the subject of self-destructive tendencies. “There’s something inside you that isn’t right. There’s something that haunts your dreams at night. There’s something that you have lost and you’re bringing it down, you’re bringing it down on top of us.”
Unbecoming: Another song that starts off on the softer side but kicks in at the chorus, Unbecoming is another incredibly written song lyrically. “And I swam in the wakes of imposters just to feel what it’s like to pretend. There’s no dreams in the waves, only monsters and the monsters are my only friends.” The symphonics mixed with the dark electronic elements in Unbecoming give the listener a contrasting treat that you don’t want to end.
Monster: As the first single off of Vessels, Monster delivers with a driving beat backed up by symphonics and electronics playing incredibly well with one another. The magic of the song lies withing the bridge. “My heart’s an artifice, a decoy soul. I’ll lift you up and then I’ll let you go. I’ve made an art of digging shallow holes, I’ll drop the darkness in and watch it grow.”
Telepathic: Perhaps the most “radio-friendly” sounding song on the album, Telepathic starts with a very robotic feel and explodes into a big chorus that sounds like it could find it’s way on a top 40 station and do quite well for itself.
Everglow: Where to start with this song. In a word, it is beautiful. Starting off sounding like an easy-listening love song with Dustin damn near whispering as his versatile vocals pull the song forward. Eventually, electronic elements begin to emerge until midway through the song until being brought to a halt. Everything stops, save for a lone piano which builds into the bridge and, after another stop, eventually explodes into a symphonic-guitar driven outro which evokes a feeling of disarray and inevitability.
Overall, Vessels is a fantastic album, and I could not find anything that I did not like with this album. The vocal effects that were used, although they weren’t needed, were done in a very tasteful manner in which the effects add to the underlining meanings of the songs instead of taking away from or being a distraction. The fact that none of the songs imitate any of the songs on Transmissions is proof that Dustin Bates, along with Producer Rob Graves, succeeded in pushing boundaries while writing this album and avoided the ‘sophomore slump’. Vessels is a solid Sophomore album that proves that Starset has what it takes to have staying power on the rock scene for years to come.