Divisions/STARSET by Kamehameron
Starset is a band that became a quick favorite through sensational and theatrical performances;m. They’ve made an immersive world of science fiction bridging to reality with heavy pounding riffs that lay the foundation for soaring lyrics about losing love and reaching the stars. They’ve created an emulsion a fans including sci-fi geeks and rock music lovers alike. On top of that is a published novel and accompanying graphic novel as well as a smartphone for augmented reality (AR) embedded into concerts. Experiencing their live shows is like attending a rocket launch, both in the physical intensity of thousands of pounds of thrust and the awestruck wonder for the mind look through a telescope at the shimmering stars on a clear night.
Starset’s first two albums, Transmissions, and Vessels, set a whole tone that cemented my love for their music. Those are reviews for time already passed, but now is the time to talk about their newest installment: Divisions. I’ll break down the album song by song before finally giving my impression of the work as a whole. Let’s rock!
The title: Divisions. It may be safe to say that no matter where you live, you are being divided from humanity as a whole into subgroups of race, politics, religion, economic class, etc., and from those groups, divided more by style, musical taste, favorite sports teams, and whatever else draws lines in the sand to create your clan, your hive mind. Toss in technology, and we’re in a wildly chaotic street with blinding lights trying to teach you, mold you, sell you, free you, love you, trick you, or kill you. It’s a beautiful and frightening time to be alive, and Divisions is a great choice for the name of this nearly hour-long album. Onto the tracks.
1. A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE FUTURE: The immersion to the new world is immediate with this monologue over shouts on megaphones and drones buzzing through the sky. It feels like prison. It feels like it’s time to break free and find the truth. The whole stage is set in a minute and a half. Having read the novel and graphic novel, this part is exciting! I’ve talked to other listeners that don’t always enjoy these interludes on Starset’s albums, and that’s okay. To me, it’s part of the story and concept as a whole.
2. MANIFEST — When Manifest kicks off, Dustin Bates sounds different vocally than the preceding albums. His inflection and tone are lighter with telltale lyrics. It took an adjustment similar to my early listening days with Coheed and Cambria as Claudio Sanchez would modulate his voice in plenty of songs. Bates is the frontman, but Brock Richards, Ron DeChant, and Luke Holland are the deep-seated concrete foundation helping him stand tall. The guitars and drums of the chorus punch in, and I mean punch hard, like a trained boxer, taking the song forward to gain more ground. It starts to corner you and get you on the ropes, ready to submit to the heavy, thudding riffs with precise drums. There is pleasant dissonance in the strings when the chorus transitions back to verses. I think my favorite vocal range and djent-like guitar rhythms come in for the bridge. It makes me hope they keep this similar guitar tone married to the electronic effects for a while rather than completely transition to electrónica and lose the guitars and drums as some great bands have done in the past (Thirty Seconds to Mars. Sorry, not sorry.) Something about the gut-thumping, chest-pounding sound is perfect for this band.
3. ECHO — Echo is a catch your breath song. If Manifest got you ready to pound on the steering wheel while revving yo to highway speeds, Echo eases the heart rate and declines you back into the relationship side of songs this band is familiar with lyrically. It’s like a rock/EDM ballad about remembering that one person no matter what crowd you’re lost in. Being on top of the world may sound great, but doing it alone isn’t easy. Bates sings about “sirens” singing for him, but there’s only one “melody” he wants. I asked him about relationships during our VIP Eat and Greet. He brushed it off in a casual way and I assured him I had no intent to pry, just to say the vulnerability is relatable. Our innate need is to share with others, whether it be knowledge and advice or love and time. Technology can both isolate us and connect us. It’s up to us what we choose.
4. WHERE THE SKIES END — Oh, man. This song is it, chief. This song is the album for me, at least the peak of the album. It begins with a soundbite from “To New Horizons,” a 1940 sci-fi short. When this single dropped, I connected in an instant. Do yourself a favor and listen to this trackback to back, then find the lyrics, and listen some more! It’s a beckoning call. It’s an anthem for anyone downtrodden by the weight of giants with feet on our throats; whatever immovable object is in your life, this song encourages you to push through and overcome it. Transcend your troubles. Rise and strive on. The tyrants won’t win in the end. It’s the people seeking “…new things in new places. New horizons.”
5. PERFECT MACHINE — As with the ebb and flow of the tide, when a wave crashes on the shore, it recedes into the ocean. Perfect Machine is the water rolling back off the sand, but be careful. It’s an emotional riptide that will pull you out to sea! It’s all about the contorting, twisting, compromising efforts of making a relationship work when you’re simultaneously trying to protect yourself from pain. Dustin Bates mentioned working on DIVISIONS in his living room, and you can feel that intimacy in songs like this one. I gravitate to the song for the lyrics and atmosphere. I don’t personally feel like a person who deserves love, and maybe I’m deceitful. It’s an imposter syndrome I think plenty of folks can relate to today.
6. TELEKINETIC — Telekinetic is an earworm. This chorus will get stuck in your head, but it’s not like “It’s a Small World.” It’s just the way he sings tele-tele-ah-ah-kinetic over the once again thumping riffs building up to a full-on screaming bridge we haven’t heard since Vessels until this song on the new album. This is where the metal fans get hyped, raise their horns, and maybe scream along. These moments happen so far and few between that they’re a treat each time with an awesome payoff. I hope those moments remain scattered thoughtfully in the future. Growling, screaming vocals are a crazy transition from Dustin’s clean vocals, and I can assure you, those transitions happen with ease in live shows, even in the acoustic set!
7. STRATOSPHERE — Again, we settle back into our seats for a descending glide. We’re floating along with more melodic ease for this one. A hint of that Hans Zimmer inspiration visits near the middle of the track, something noticeably missing since Transmissions and Vessels. The live shows still hugely feature violin and cello, but we don’t have the orchestral transitions on Divisions. I felt it in this song for a moment, though. Just a touch in the middle. More electronic this time around, but the climactic theme was there.
8. FAULTLINE — This song was a surprise to me in a sad way. It’s my least favorite off the album, the only song I might skip on a listen through. I’m bummed to say, this track feels like an Imagine Dragons song rather than a Starset song. Maybe it’s the two-step, nearly hip hop rhythm of the chorus. Maybe it’s the dryness and radio pop song vibe it gives off. It’s understandable if Bates was alone in his living room and needed one more track before the album shipped. I don’t wanna say it’s cd scourge, a term my friend taught me growing up where a filler song takes space between the good hits and helps them stand out by being the mediocre sacrifice; I just wanna stop here out of respect because I love this band, and some fans will love the song, but it was lost on me.
9. SOLSTICE — While Solstice is more electronic than other tracks on the album, it has an atmospheric haze with earnest layers that build up to a relatively heavier chorus. If the verses are white wisps in the sky, the chorus is the darker rain cloud that brings a gray day. It’s a plead for help to take away the pain, saying “don’t let me let go. Don’t let me let the dark take over.” Relatable if you live on a rainy harbor as I do. There’s natural beauty everywhere, but a cloudy day makes it hard to see. Then it comes. The orchestral, cinematic sequence I’ve been waiting for since the former albums. Solstice ends with a swell that perfectly segues into the string intro of Trials.
10. TRIALS — Trials is the second anthem song of the album that could have easily been on Vessels or Transmissions. It’s full of strings, vocals that invite the crowd to participate, a marching drum pace with rounded out guitars filling all of the space. My favorite lyrics are about taking our place in the dark and turning our hearts to stars, a place my thoughts dwell.
11. WAKING UP — If you’re gonna go full electric ins rock band, this song is how it’s done. It reminds me of Grabbitz, a tour partner the year we saw Starset at El Corazón. It also feels natural like the remixes the band featured on their deluxe albums that also had acoustic versions of the hits. I just love this song. I’m a DJ for weddings and parties, and I could get away with adding this chiller among the other EDM that’s requested now and then. It’s a juxtaposed uplifting yet dark tone and I wholly appreciate it.
12. OTHER WORLDS THAN THESE — The heavy riffs come back on the tails of the electronic beats and melodies with slightly edgier vocals from Bates. He lets his voice break on the higher notes and gets throaty at the end of the chorus. It’s a great, full sound. I’ll be honest, the relationship of rock and electronica sometimes comes so easily to the Starset as Linkin Park was able to do in their time. This song is one of those songs.
13. DIVING BELL — I wasn’t ready for Diving Bell. It has unexpected emotional quality. It’s bittersweet to me knowing it’s the last track, and we’re at the opposite end of the spectrum. We’re leagues under the sea rather than floating among the stars. The deep Abyss is comforting in this track. It’s a good one to close your eyes and lie back supine and sink into the comforter. When the main track gives way, a fire crackles as some unseen group of refugees sing a campfire call for the new day. The album ends with the immersion it began with. It’s exciting to ponder what the next book may be. OVERALL DIVISIONS is worth your time and money if you like heavy rock and EDM, separate or together. Fans of Transmissions and Vessels might feel a deviation here and there from that core sound that was built over those two albums, but diehard fans will find something to love in tons of places through this hour-long album. Blast it on your commute or stay in, turn off the lights and let your imagination take you somewhere else with the mysterious interludes among the music. There’s a story here, and a theme of unity among the divisions we face today. I fully recommend catching Starset live in concert for the full experience of what this band brings to the table. They’re very generous with their VIP experiences which help support the amazing theatrics of their performances. Get out there and find those new horizons.