When you consider that Starset’s founding member/vocalist/guitarist/keyboardist, Dustin Bates, has a masters in electrical engineering from Ohio University, has done research for the U.S. Air Force and has even taught at the International Space University in France, Starset’s musical vision begins to make a lot more sense.
Basically, Bates is the Albert Einstein of rock and the band’s epic cinematic music acts as the scores to equally epic science fiction tales.
Formed back in 2013 and with only a debut album out to their name so far, you may not have heard of Ohio’s Starset or their frontman, despite their large amount of YouTube and Spotify success. I certainly hadn’t until I received an email about them a couple weeks back. As for the pleasantries, we have the previously mentioned frontman Dustin Bates (who also fronts Downplay), bassist and fellow Downplay member, Ron DeChant, guitarist Brock Richards, and finally, drummer Adam Gilbert. While we’re talking about their members, when the band plays live, Richards, DeChant, and Gilbert all play in their space suit getups, as seen in the above band promo.
Which is a pretty cool gimmick, I must say. It’s like Daft Punk… except there’s three of them…and another who missed out on the store wide space suit sale…and they love space about as much as Neil deGrasse Tyson does.
Anyway, the ideologies behind Starset’s driving force, Bates, was inspired by the likes of Thomas Edison, inventor and physicist, Nikola Tesla, and futurist author Ray Kurzweil (better know as ‘The Father of Singularity’) after Bates read over 100 biographies in the span of just couple months. And as such, their debut album, 2014’s ‘Transmissions’ was filled with all kinds of scientific and spacey themes in order to prompt us as listeners, as mere human mortals on a floating rock in a near endless void, to ponder and question technology; its various applications and what impact it may have on the future of our species, both positive and negative. And I can safely say that their forthcoming second record, ‘Vessels’, is no different after spending some time with it. Excluding thematic intention, Starset’s brand of epic rock music returns as an immensely textured product, with large cinematic effects like booming subs, churning low end, cutting synth lines; monolithic walls of guitars of both the ambient, melodic and heavy, high-gated variety; a potent merging of acoustic and electronic drums; a handful of audio samples; and plenty of vocal layers, screams, orchestral elements, and various studio effects (vocoders and autotune as artistic choices). All of which works in cohesion to create the quartet’s calculated, mammoth sound.
Bates previously described the band’s output as “blending symphonics with electronics and riff-driven, baritone guitar hard rock” [just a really good guitar approach for this kind of music, really] and he’s on the money with that self-analysis. As such, I would implore that fans of Muse, early 30 Seconds To Mars, Tool, Sigur Ros, and Hans Zimmer’s work stream their latest single ‘Monster‘ below, as they should hopefully feel right at home with Starset’s blend of progressive undertones, subtle pop sensibilities, post-rock approach, and tight, powerful hard rock sound.
‘Vessels‘, which is out January 20th via Razor & Tie, was produced by Rob Graves (Halestorm, Red) and was mixed by Ben Grosse (Breaking Benjamin, Filter), and is a massive follow-up to the previously mentioned ‘Transmissions’, an album that shifted in excess of 250K combined albums, streams and downloads. Having heard the new album early myself, I can confirm that this is indeed a great sequel to its debut, both in terms of narrative arc and its actual music content. From the low rumblings of ‘The Order‘, the soaring heights of ‘Satellite‘, to the killer mid-album Skillet-meets-Periphery anthemic duo of ‘Gravity Of You‘ and ‘Into The Unknown‘, to the album’s far reaches of the slick radio-friendly tune of ‘Telepathic‘ and the snowballing, climactic finale that is ‘Everglow‘; this is all solid stuff!
This record flows together extremely well, and it could see the band shooting further into the mainstream sector, with the choruses of ‘Die For You‘, recent single ‘Ricochet‘, and the uplifting ‘Starlight‘, among various others, all begging for radio attention and arena crowds singing in unison. There is also a real sense of sonic depth to this record, which holds up very well considering how many moving musical cogs there are here. ‘Vessels‘ is the kind of record that would be a surreal experience in a 5.1 surround sound setup. It would also be a vast experience as there are 15 songs on the record. Now, usually, I’d argue that 15 songs would be overkill – and that it requires the music to be good, you know, good – yet this album’s 70 or so minute length lends credence to the concepts and the journey their music is meant to be taking you on. It isn’t just a metric fuck tonne of music written for the pure sake of writing a metric fuck tonne of music. Because as we all know, quality always trumps quantity, and there’s some damn fine quality enclosed within ‘Vessels‘…even if the song structures do get somewhat repetitive the further along you travel with it.
Now, Bates also stated in a press release that this record is “a collection of 4 exciting near future novellas that toe the line between exciting entertainment and realistic examination of pitfalls and possibilities of technology in the near future and their impact upon the human condition.”
Essentially, this band is the musical equivalent of a Minority Report and Interstellar hybrid. Digging deeper, the band maintains their in-house lore in both interviews and their press releases, keeping up the fourth wall that they have created with their music and rarely do they “break character”, so to speak.
However, while their debut record was tied to just one core narrative, on ‘Vessels’, these 15 songs are told via four short stories, which are all connected to something called The Starset Society, which was introduced on their debut record.
Here, allow me to explain.
According to lore constructed for the band’s music, on January 1st, 2013, humanity received “The Message,” a human-sent transmission from the future emanating from the planet Prox, located in a star within the Ophiuchus Constellation (a real constellation, by the way) from 2047 that tells of the imminent end of humanity, and it also contained the required knowledge to avoid that fate. There’s the closest thing that you’ll get to a MacGuffin here, folks. “The Message” was then delivered to one Dr. Aston Wise, head of a mysterious group called The Starset Society, setting off a chain reaction of violence and obsessive secrecy that resulted in the formation of a four-piece “art-metal” band tasked with delivering this message to the human masses (the band actually calls their live shows “demonstrations”), and this album continues that narrative in varying perspectives. See, where their debut dealt with the wider story, the four stories on ‘Vessels‘ are slightly more microcosmic, dealing with a return to the human haven that is the planet of Prox, a dire warning against dangers of our species dabbling with genetic engineering, to a near future where vast advances in artificial intelligence defy our own intelligence notions of love, life and death; the last two of which Ray Kurzweil warns about in his 2006 book, The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology.
Phew. Got all that? Well, you’re all up to speed now.
Well, kind of…
Bates has even gone and written a book called The Prox Transmissions, to help flesh out more of this already massive saga, even going so far as to release it under The Starset Society moniker, the cheeky bugger. As you can gather, there is a lot of plot here (i.e. ‘good marketing’) to sink your teeth into if you’re up for it. However, I found that like many concept records you can just simply do away with the story and just take the album at its face musical value, with your listening experience will still be just as enriching. (Don’t shoot me, Starset!)
Maybe it goes without saying but fans of sci-fi fiction – whether it be books, video games, and/or films – should get a good kick out of this record. Even anime fans have boarded the Starset hype rocket, taking the band’s music and creating unofficial videos of their favourite series with various Starset songs playing over the visuals, of which the band encourages and shares, keeping the ever-growing cyclic nature of fan-made content flowing through the digital world. After all, there is often a very big crossover between heavy music and the video game/comic book/anime crowds. Oh, and speaking of comics, the band has also revealed they’ve inked a deal with Marvel Comics that will see a full-length graphic novel being released later this year, which will be promoting their music and the vast story being told within it. No matter how you spin that last part, that is fucking nuts!
Of course, even if you aren’t an anime otaku or an all-out science fiction lover, ‘Vessels‘ is still bursting with gargantuan, intricate rock songs that are just waiting to be discovered.
So yeah, that’s Starset, folks.
‘Vessels’ is out January 20th via Razor & Tie/Cooking Vinyl Australia. Keep an eye out for it as its really quite good!