Years back, Starset were just a YouTube band starting out, hoping to make it big. Thankfully, their sound was enough to bolster their success tenfold. Starset are bringing in heir sophomore record Vessels to start off the year, and it's definitely a contender for best of the year.
Starset are no strangers to immense soundscapes. Vessels is full of massive, almost unfathomable spacious atmospheres that make every song sound huge - the trademark of Starset. It's apparent from the start that if you're not ready to fight this album, you're going to be overcome by its grandness. The haunting strings and cinematics of 'The Order' brings the album in as the album's cosmic spaceship lands on Earth, signaling a new era. It transitions directly into the first full track 'Satellite,' beginning with a poppy delivery and punchy bass synth. Guitars and driven drums kick in confidently shortly after as vocalist Dustin Bates delivers powerful vocals. His versatility shines all over this record, and on this song alone you get a taste of quite a bit of it. The song begins with his softer, poppier delivery but soon kicks into a more rocky, raspier tone. The instrumental constantly builds too, with strings and electronics joining the mix to make things more epic.
The first track has changes everywhere, but that's only the first of many to come. This hour clocks in at ten minutes over an hour, and there genuinely isn't a dull moment anywhere on the record. Starset is a band that can deliver epic choruses at the tip of a hat, making their anthems such high caliber assaults. There's a mix of different types of deliveries, too: there are dreamy, big choruses like that of the poppier track 'Die For You,' there are belted, emotional choruses full of power and drama in songs like 'Ricochet,' and there are the driven, dark, and epic alternative rock choruses in tracks like the powerful and heavy 'Frequency.' There's variation in each track while still maintaining the band's core principles - that's true artistry.
Perhaps the most notable change from the band's debut album Transmissions is its increasing focus on electronics. When the band released the first single from the record, 'Monster,' many fans noticed a distinctly more poppier sound than before. No one really had much of a problem with it, though, as 'Monster' is still a huge song. It's punchy orchestras are backed by massive blaring synths that lead into giant, groovy choruses that beg, "You're the love that I hate / You're the drug that I take / Will you cage me... Can you change me from the monster you made me?" There's an industrial pop vibe on 'Telepathic' that is a very interesting sound for the band, somewhere between the lovechild of Nine Inch Nails and Bring Me The Horizon's That's The Spirit album. 'Gravity Of You' is one of the cleanest and clearest crossroads on the record, the electronics playing a major part of the song while heavy, chugging guitars play an equal role in the track, both coming together to create a sense of urgency and drama.
Familiar elements of Transmissions still remain in Vessels, and that's part of what makes it so great. The best of the band's debut is what makes it onto Vessels, and it combines the old with the new in beautiful ways. The most notable thing is perhaps the orchestral movements and interludes at the ends of songs. They are absent until the end of the record, first appearing at the end of the massive pop rock and symphonic metal infused 'Last To Fall,' the cinematic scene bursting with such drama, Hans Zimmer would be impressed.
Vessels is full of huge jams. Every song is a new punch, a different vibe and a different idea being channeled in each track. There's fantastic melodies and a huge instrumental build in 'Starlight,' a beautiful song featuring Bates singing sweetly and longingly above beautiful synths and pounding drums. The bridge comes to a huge turn though, turning the track from a longing love ballad to a confident, explosive track about perseverance. The final chorus explodes with huge space rock guitars and pulsing synths, the epitome of space rock meeting pop rock. Single 'Back To The Earth' is similar. Our original review of the track noted its fantastic blend of Starset's dark symphonic rock legacy and a new element of electronica, and it stands out so much more powerfully on the record. The synth intro contrasts the pulsing, powerful guitars of the choruses in the middle of the record, marking a turning point in the album's narrative and sound. It's like you're listening to a movie that has you so entranced that you're moving along with the character, daring not to blink. It's massive ending bursts into a new, epic frontier as the song is taken out with huge power.
What's most important about this record is that Starset grew as a band, and that it is evident. Lots of bands continue to pile on slightly different songs album after album, the difference being palpable after three or four records. The maturity and growth for Starset is immediately visible. There's the signature Starset desperation channeled in 'Unbecoming,' and it's backed by absolutely immense guitars and synths, a homage but still an evolution from Transmissions. 'Into The Unknown' is similar, the timid synth lines pairing up with extremely heavy guitars, finding that perfect blend. Perhaps the most striking song in terms of the band's growth is the closure 'Everglow.' The nearly eight-minute track starts off peacefully and retrospectively, gently pulsating as Bates sings sweetly and cleanly. The song grows with more momentum, synths becoming more grabbing and wavy, before the breakdown occurs after a brief, beautiful piano section. The guitars come in full force, a deathly scream coming with the emotional climax. It's the perfect end to the album, exploding with true might and all the strife and triumph the rest of the record before it built. It's the legacy of Vessels.
If there's any band out there that you need to get on board with right now, it's Starset. They evolved flawlessly in this sophomore record, and as a prior fan, it's truly amazing to see such a powerful and intelligent follow up. Every moment of this record was meticulously planned, and the vibes that came with it were absolutely unforgettable. It takes a lot for a band to follow up an already critically acclaimed debut, but Starset are not the ones to fall short of anything but phenomenal.
Favorite Tracks: Back To The Earth, Everglow, Starlight, Unbecoming, Into The Unknown
Least Favorite Track: Bringing It Down
Rating: 97 / 100
Buy or listen to Vessels here: