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Decryption: Starset’s fourth studio album, “Horizons”.
Transmit response: Starset’s latest offering is, without a doubt, their best musical work so far. “Horizons” is a colossal 16-track album that spans well over an hour. In this album, the group delve deep once again into the Starset Society universe, and that’s the precise word to describe what is present here, a universe. If you’re not familiar with Starset, their music is one part of a much, much larger concept on which their ideas and themes are based. Concept albums are one thing, but it’s really quite incredible when the concept is so expansive that multiple albums become concept volumes. These albums go on to tie in with a novel commissioned by The Starset Society, titled “The Prox Transmissions”, as well as a graphic novel of the same name.
One thing I truly admire about this band, however, is that even though there exists an overarching theme and story in which the more dedicated fans can be fully absorbed, the tracks and lyrics alone are still incredibly relatable to absolutely anyone, making the band’s music widely accessible and enjoyable.
I don’t mean to suck up to the band, or anything, but I really felt quite privileged to not only be able to hear such a magnificent album before its release date, but also write something that could be digested and picked apart by an insanely dedicated fanbase, affectionately known as messengers. To get the full scope of how committed Starset is to conveying their concept and narrative, I went back to their musical beginnings, and read the book. The narrative goes deep, and I came out of it exceedingly impressed. Now I can’t stop thinking about terraforming, BMI’s (Brain Machine Interface), and “everything machines”… With that being said, if you’re interested in a comprehensive exploration into the Starset universe, that’s something I’m afraid I can’t provide. There is a subreddit that’s dedicated to this, so I would absolutely recommend you head there.
Throughout the group’s discography, the musical arrangements have shifted and transformed around the realms of metal, cinematic rock and electronica. The previous album from 2019, “Divisions”, had a slightly different feel to the two earlier albums which were considerably less heavier. Whilst the general workings of Starset were ever-present, it was as if they decided to lean more into both styles of metal and electronica for “Divisions”. The heavy parts became noticeably heavier, whilst the electronic and symphonic elements grew into much more extensive and colorful displays that further emphasized the compositional talents of the band. Despite these two styles having their obvious differences, Starset beautifully weaved them together and came up with some unique and valuable tracks to add to their discography.
First and foremost, the production on “Horizons” is massive. It was immediately noticeable that it was heavier than the previous releases. There is so much space in the sound of “Horizons” that it sounds like the instruments and layers are all a world apart. What stood out to me the most was how powerful the drums came through in the mix. The kicks have this incredible punchiness to them, as if each kick has a vapor cone, also known as (let’s get technical) a Prandtl-Glauert Singularity around it as it speeds towards the listener. Am I saying big words just to impress the members of the Starset Society? Probably.
The drums are carried out by Isaiah Perez, and they are carried out with incredible fortitude. His personality exploded across the album, and it felt like he was constantly being proactive in finding unique spots to throw in small fills or variations, and this helped massively when there were certain repeated sections or rhythms. In the bridge of “Annihilated Love”, Perez plays a pretty slow and simple beat, but turns it into a blank canvas on which he can add some style in the way of little triplet kicks or flams on the toms. I also appreciated the super quick but incredibly sweet fill immediately before the first chorus to “Dreamcatcher”. It’s understated, but is the perfect percussive build up for what follows. After “Divisions”, on which the well-known and insanely talented Luke Holland recorded drums, one could say that Perez had big shoes to fill. I think you’ll agree with me in that he did a fantastic job in terms of technicality, but also providing a unique flare to the percussive side of “Horizons”.
The guitar work on this album is flawlessly clean and polished. When necessary, the guitars become accompanying layers that only thicken the mix and add to the melodic progressions, such as in the chorus to “Alchemy”, a track that brings about huge Breaking Benjamin vibes. “Earthrise” holds a similar guitar performance, and they fit perfectly into the stunning chorus. “Earthrise” is, while we’re on topic, perhaps my favorite track primarily due to the lyrics. All of Starset’s lyrics are well-written, but lines like “just a hollow moon that you colorize” struck me intensely.
At other times, the guitars come through in a dominating way. Their lower-tuned aggression comes out especially in tracks like “The Breach”, or even “Endless Endeavour”, which introduces itself to the listener as an inferno of heaviness that could easily sit on an Architects album. “Leaving This World Behind” is also notable when talking about the guitars. The bridge section blasts the listener in the form of a djent-style riff that’ll surely blow your socks off.
This band definitely knows how to make a great bridge. “Symbiotic”, a track that takes me back to the early days of Linkin Park, has a bridge that was actually much more memorable to me than the chorus, which was in itself already quite catchy.
Another hugely positive thing I took away from the production was the presence of the bass guitar. It holds a subtle yet powerful persona. The rattle of the strings comes through in the mix and gives the tracks an extra bit of grit. I first noticed it in the 4th number, “Icarus”, and immediately restarted the album to appreciate Jasen Rauch’s performance in the beginning tracks.
Speaking of beginning tracks, Starset proves once again that they’re able to create tracks worthy of a place in a big-budget sci-fi film soundtrack. “Unveiling the Architecture” opens the album in vast ambient drones and synth layers, and we’re subsequently dropped straight into “The Breach”, a dominating and energetic track to really kick things off. This was one of the few singles the group has released in the build up to the “Horizons” release, so fans will surely love to see a familiar track bringing them into the album.
“Otherworldly” follows on as track three, and is the track that properly (and beautifully) introduces us to the symphonic section for “Horizons”. From this track onwards, the listener will experience an exquisite symphonic exhibition that almost overshadows the drums and guitars. Fortunately, all of these musical components work so symbiotically throughout the album that I never felt that anything was encroaching on the sonic space of the other. It pains me to say that at the time of writing this, I couldn’t find out who produced and mixed the album, but once that’s disclosed, I hope they are given all the praise they deserve.
“Otherworldly” has this gorgeous swirling orchestral and synth combination that emanates a bright and optimistic personality to it. It feels like the sonic representation of being so in love that you feel like you’re floating in the air. The lyrics allude to this idea as well, so I’m confident in that it was the intention of the band to invite the listener to conjure up these imaginations.
It’s also nice to see that the transitions between tracks aren’t ignored. “Otherworldly” finishes with a voice-over that briefly narrates the story of Icarus, before we are then transported to the following track of the same name.
Going back to the strings, “TunnelVision” has one of my favorite performances. The simple staccato hits on the stringed instruments throughout the choruses are compounded with a pulsing synth layer that sits just behind in the mix, pushing the rhythm along whilst the drums accentuate the vocal and guitar melodies. The astounding final cinematic piece, “Something Wicked”, has a synth and orchestral performance towards the end that is a twister of immense and dramatic sounds spearheaded by Bates’ vocals. It’s also straight-up ready to be inserted into the scene in Interstellar when Matthew McConaughey’s character attempts to dock the Endurance whilst it’s spinning into the atmosphere below. It’s not so much the melody, specifically, that caused me to think of that scene, but more the song’s energy and how it builds and builds into this epic finisher that leaves you exhilarated, then giving you space in the near-silent aftermath to reflect on what you just experienced.
Dustin Bates, the front-man and mastermind behind Starset, has performed impeccably on this album. His vocal projection can be felt through your headphones, and the melodies and articulation he brings to the tracks exponentially increase their likelihood of getting stuck in your head. Things such as his pitch bends on each note in the bridge for “Something Wicked”, or his pronunciation of a word like “kiloton” during “TunnelVision” are so simple, yet add that little something extra to further emphasize a track’s unique personality. With that being said, “TunnelVision” is a standout track for me for its instrumental arrangement alone. The verses are uniquely funky, the tempo is upbeat and it pushes you to feel the energy it’s putting out. If you’re not bopping your head back and forth like some kind of intergalactic pigeon, then you’re not listening to “TunnelVision”.
Something that could go unnoticed, but definitely won’t here, is Bates’ spectacular ability to switch from a powerful chest voice immediately to a breathy head voice, via a voice break, whilst staying on key. This happens in the first verse of “The Breach” when he sings “you said I could fly”, and once you recognize the considerable control required to pull it off so cleanly, you end up appreciating him as a vocalist even more. Watch out Chris Martin, if you’re not on your A-game you might lose your spot in Coldplay.
Bates’ gritty vocals are also used throughout “Horizons”. They have undoubtedly improved since “Divisions”, and that’s saying a lot, seeing as I heavily enjoyed his use of them in that album. “Infected” has some of his best gritty clean vocals in the bridge, and it carries home the sense of anarchy that’s portrayed in the track. The chorus to this is pretty fun, as well. The vocals are broken up across the section which reminded me of a similarly scattered synth/vocal ideation in Bring Me the Horizon’s track “Can You Feel My Heart?”.
The screaming on this album is sparse, but it’s well-placed, and fiercely executed. “Devolution” contains some brutal screams from Bates, probably the best we have ever heard from him. The final moments of “Something Wicked” are also notable. He growls with a swelling animosity to close out the epic track before you’re dropped completely into the void, accompanied only by an ominous piano motif and Bates whispering an equally chilling warning to the listener. With that warning as the final communication to us, I’m sure that I won’t be the only one who is already itching to hear the next chapter of this story.
They say that sequels are never as good as originals, but Starset are improving with every single release that adds to the universe they have created. “Horizons” is a perfect culmination of their past work, and a new chapter in the development of their sound. The 16 tracks are captivating, entertaining, and easily replay-able, over and over again. Whilst it ties in with the main narrative, new listeners will be easily drawn in, understanding the relatable lyrics and being infected by the contagiously catchy tunes. The overall experience that is on offer is enough to launch Starset into a league of their own; hopefully we can still see them as they wave to us from the stratosphere.
One final note, I know that Starset take influence from the legendary composer Hans Zimmer, so, as a homage to both the band and the composer, this transmission is littered with film titles for which Zimmer composed the soundtrack. If you can locate them all, please transmit a response.
[End response transmission]
Releasing On: October 22nd, 2021
Released By: Fearless Records
Genre: Alternative Rock / Cinematic Rock
- Dustin Bates / Vocals, Keyboard
- Jasen Rauch/ Bass, Guitar
- Isaiah Perez / Drums, Percussion
- Siobhán Richards / Violin, Keyboards (Touring)
- Zuzana Engererova / Cello (Touring)
- Unveiling The Architecture
- The Breach
- Leaving This World Behind
- Annihilated Love
- Endless Endeavor
- Something Wicked
“Horizons” is truly a step forward for Starset, and arguably a demonstration of them at their best. They’ve taken their past releases and distilled them all into an optimised collection of tracks, whilst introducing some new ideas to continue the concept narrative. “Horizons” is a beautifully arranged combination of a number of different musical styles, and despite being a continuation of the Starset narrative, it’s easily accessible and relatable so that any listener, fan or not, can join in and appreciate this band thoroughly.