After seven patient years Starkweather releases their third split Divided by Zero with Portugal’s Concealment. The two-song split cements itself with every listen as masterful. Like a vitamin, it’s not to be consumed on an empty stomach, or listened to with impatience. But brevity being the byproduct of vigor, and in summing up an emotionally exhausting 49 minutes of listening experience, I can only draw sharp distinctions.
Unsettlingly, "Divided by Zero"’s essence peers into the bi-polar mind. The height of horror Starkweather is capable of drums its rhythm into our skulls. The production value is what This Sheltering Night should have been: Harry’s drums flourish, Vince’s bass dominates while remaining intelligible, Todd’s Guitar is a kick in the chest, Bill’s solos pierce, and Rennie’s voice is as versatile as ever.
The song starts off exchanging dualities—melody and rhythm, complexity and simplicity, calm and chaotic, soft and harsh—before melding into a death spiral of complexity canceling itself out resulting in a final chug that begins the first note of the song. It begins and ends with, for lack of a better term, a totalitarian rhythm. Only after we know hell is possible are we shown its inner workings.
Because Starkweather is a thematic band, their songs tell a story, not always with plot, but they move from one end to the other. We’re given a soundtrack of a mental prison as an end result of the two musical motifs at war. On the one hand the song slows down, extends its harshness, and emphasizes the lower register of guitars, and bass. On the other it feels as if we are let up for a breath of dirty air before forcibly thrust and held down in mud. These motifs trade blows, establish regularity, and then are broken down to pure horror and anxiety, while the lyrics narrate poetic descriptions of what is going on.
The questions implicit in these descriptions are “Why punish the listener?” “Isn’t it a bit self-centered?” But the value lies in transfiguring pain into music, which is a definition. We are given vision into the mind of mental instability, and we take from it a positive feeling of identification, and (if your psychopathic enough) joy.
Concealment’s "Liminality" is a perfect companion to "Divided by Zero". The song’s rolled off bottom end frequency brings a welcomed clarity to Concealment's liberal use of complexity rivaling that of Gorguts, and sparing use of melody rivaling that of Deathspell Omega. This technical mastery makes them part of a recognizable lineage of carefully orchestrated metal, a well-earned placement not only due to their steadfastness following Starkweather’s masterpiece without sounding derivative or redundant, but also their near flawless musical performance. Although Concealment is following the fields plowed by other metal giants, their contribution is far from overplayed or undeveloped.
I do find the deliberateness of their structure as a slightly unorganized “if it fits, keep it” style of writing. This technique makes a few sections seem out of place and awkward, trying the listeners’ patience. At the same time the songs main motifs remain an essential centerfold to a satisfying first listen, and even more illuminating repeat listens.
Starkweather is by far the most concertedly serious bands that transfigure dark emotion into art. They give vision to new landscapes relatable to those who dare look. Given their penchant for morbidity and depression, their constancy speaks only of their artistry and utility; not to mention they are gravity for artists like Concealment to gain a wider audience through association. And I thank both bands for their weight and generosity.
8.7 / 10
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