Transmissions: The Starkweather Interview
Starkweather are of a diametrical nature. The band has stood on its own for over twenty years, a flagship of the methods in which disparate genres of music can be incorporated creatively into a cohesive and enjoyable structure. While other bands have cheekily stolen templates from other artists to create “metal-core,” “death-core,” and every other “core” one can think of, Starkweather have prided themselves on always being ahead of the curve and only working to please themselves. Raking at the innards of metal, hardcore, fusion, and avant-garde classicism, the Philadelphia natives have managed to create a sound unlike any other while taunting their devotees to try and catch up. With This Sheltering Night, Starkweather have again illustrated how the godfathers of ugly, menacing music will always have the advantage over their countless followers, regardless of the length they hibernate between releases. I was able to track down vocalist/lyricist Rennie Resmini and guitarist Todd Forkin, who graciously lent their time and energy to Hearwax Media for an in-depth look at touring, a well-received new album, and the disastrous nature of the human condition.
Rennie Resmini sends me a message on Myspace. I have just posted a review for Starkweather’s latest opus, This Sheltering Night. His aura is not of a simple humouring, but one of a true and rarely found respect for his fans. It is immediately apparent that he has taken time to peruse my work, which he discusses at length with the same dedication and nuance I utilized in criticizing his. A few quick exchanges slowly developed into a correspondence, and the bricks were laid for an uncharacteristically personal look at the most important, yet underrated band in metal and hardcore.
The recording process surrounding This Sheltering Night is as weaving and intense as the album itself. Culled from separate sessions with two different producers, unmastered copies of the band’s central tracks, not including those produced with the assistance of Sophia Perennis and Oktopus, have been floating around since 2007. Some tracks, including album opener “Epiphany,” have been used in the live setting as early as the late 1990s. While the band treat Starkweather as more of a hobby-like release than an opportunistic business, I have yet to see another artist put as much time and effort into a release.
In our initial conversation, Resmini noted, “the sessions for This Sheltering Night were split in half. Three of the songs were started during the original Croatoan sessions. We were lucky that Alap [Momim, producer] was able to get the drum tracks from both sessions to mirror each other. He had a trick where he played the drum tracks from the stuff we recorded with Remillard in the Deadverse live room at a high volume and give them more 3-dimensional depth.” Intrigued about this “trick,” I asked Resmini to elaborate how toying with the volume could add a new dimension to drum tracking:
“It isn’t so much a matter of volume as it is mixing and mastering when it comes to 3-dimensional sound. One reason we went to Pierre Remillard for Croatoan was hearing what he did on [Gorguts’] Obscura. That album has everything placed just right: there’s a foreground, background, and a wide dimension to it. It’s perfect. From the music to how it’s captured on the recording. I honestly believe Steeve Hurdle is the main reason the music on Obscura is the way it is. He’s the one with the alien approach to guitar. We had drum tracks for 3 songs that were originally recorded during Croatoan. Initially there was chatter of finishing these 3 and either using them as bonus tracks for the UK/EU CD version or simply using them as a MCD. We weren’t at all interested in finishing them for bonus tracks. We didn’t take to the idea that Candlelight [Records, Starkweather’s previous record label] wanted to stagger the CD release date between regions. To me, especially considering how digital downloading is so commonplace, why bother with the regional releasing? It’s counterproductive. We had it in mind to complete the tracks as a MCD.
“To be honest the one good thing candlelight did for us was insist on remastering Croatoan. The master on the vinyl version is a bit off. I know Candlelight wanted the mix louder – we weren’t about to do that. Making a master louder isn’t a solution. If you want something louder, use a volume knob.
“Before doing the remaster we realized something was off in the master. Some songs jumped out, others were murky. This boiled down to mastering. Everything was mastered using one specific song as a template. It didn’t work because there are 4 different tunings on the album. So, the remaster corrected the problem and gave things more space and dimension, but didn’t make it significantly louder.
“Alap is full-bore on mixing. That’s his thing. You listen to what he does with Dalek and there is layer upon layer of texture and cross-cutting rhythms and it is crystal clear. He has a head for spatial dynamics. He’ll talk to you during a session about maintaining different space for instruments, layers, vocals – down to how he wants to hear a kick drum sit in the mix. He was real amped on doing something in a metal vein that would have bottom end and dynamics.
“A funny aside during our session being after we played “Samo” for him he was completely thrown for a loop and mentions, “This makes me re-evaluate what is heavy.” Prior to the first session with Alap he analyzed Croatoan and figured out how he wanted to attack things. The drums we did at Pierre’s weren’t really to his liking. He didn’t feel there were enough microphones on the kit to capture the full range of the drums so Alap engineered the drum tracks to sound bigger by playing the raw tracks into his live room at a high volume through Dalek’s PA, recording this and adding it into the mix. It added depth and dimension to the overall sound of the kit.
“As we’re working on the first three songs we’re quarreling with Candlelight. This is when we decide we’ll record a full-length on our own, just take our time and have it ready for release down the road. The second group of songs we recorded during a different session in 08. And with this second group of songs Alap can really go to town and have the drum kit mic-ed up to his liking. Basically work on all the engineering: nuts and bolts, the foundation up. We did some different things during the guitar tracking from the previous session, too. We just had to be mindful the overall tone wasn’t drastically different from one group of songs to the next.”
Working with a producer rooted primarily in electronic soundscapes proved a successful combination for the band, allowing them to reach new frontiers in terms of how far they could push the envelope with their sound. One of the first things I noticed about This Sheltering Night was its depth, a picturesque canvas that left enough space for every element to evolve, but cathartic and claustrophobic enough to provoke the dread they are known for. “The three original songs were basically pulled from the Croatoan scrap heap,” Forkin explains. “After Alap worked his magic to add an atmospheric dimension to the drums, we began tracking bass and guitar. It was kind of like a first date in that we knew we liked each other but were trying to determine where the common ground was. Alap is a fucking genius when it comes to rhythms and has a sixth sense when it comes to bass and drums but recording heavy, heavy metal guitar tones was something new for him. We very quickly found what we needed tonewise and then Alap did what he does best, which is push and pull the session to get the best performance out of us. Our best work is collaborative and with Alap we found a like minded soul that innately understands the twisted language that the guys in the band have developed over the years. Concerning the 3 dimensional quality to the recording, Alap doesn’t ‘see’ sound as being left speaker/right speaker. He sees width and depth and works to layer the tonal nature of each instrument so that they buttress up against each other without stepping on each other. He works at getting the tone correctly at the source rather than fixing things in the mix with EQ and compression. Alap is a very animated guy and to describe his approach to sound without seeing him waving his arms like a wild man and yelling does not do him justice.”
Legal issues with previous record label Candlelight Records further hampered the trajectory of the album and contributed to its nearly three-year delay. “The recording was finished in 2008,” Resmini notes. “We had to get out of the contract in able to make the move to Deathwish [Inc., the band’s current record label]. We actually recorded 12 songs for Croatoan, but we didn’t complete the guitar, bass, vocal tracking on 4 songs. We completely scrapped the version of “Nightmare Factory” we did at Pierre’s. The version you hear on the split with Overmars was recorded in its entirety at Deadverse [Studios] in 2008. The other three songs that weren’t completed during Croatoan (“Bustuari,” “All Creatures…” and “Epiphany”) we brought into Deadverse and recorded the guitars, bass and vocals there. Forbes Graham did his stuff at his studio and sent files to us. So, he was in on the recording even before the idea of doing a full length or incorporating soundscapes. I’m excited to have him on board because the additional element outside the traditional “rock band” set up is something I wanted to do in the past on different recordings. The songs recorded specifically for This Sheltering Night were from the foundation up. Looking back at the sessions Alap had gotten some new gear at the studio and was looking forward to trying some different techniques on the guitars and bass. A listener will definitely be able to discover different tones and textures throughout the record. Not to mention the soundscapes work in a way to meld everything together.”
The soundscapes on This Sheltering Night are spread amongst five tracks that range from electronic heart murmurs to borderline harsh noise. I have noted that the incorporation of these tracks works to encapsulate the record in its own little world, giving the proceedings a novel-like narrative bookended by living “chapters.” When asked if these soundscapes were preplanned or incorporated into the album at the last minute, Resmini responded, “yes, the idea to incorporate the soundscapes was there when we decided to do a full-length. It made sense to me since the noise element is something we had explored previously. First time was a complete accident when recording in the early 90s. We had stumbled upon tone clusters that were clashing notes causing some synth-like melodic noise. Then we intentionally did it on the original recording of “Hushabye: Goodnight” that Bill Molchanow first recorded with us. On that version there’s the processed, guitar loop churning beneath the mix. Around the time we were working on the newer recordings I had been writing to Liz Jacobs (Sophia Perennis) and asked her if she’d be interested in contributing some work to our album. We were fortunate that she was intrigued with the idea. The interesting thing with Liz’s work for This Sheltering Night is it is very different in tone than what she had released previously. She gave us her pieces and it was a surprise to hear she had gone in a far more aggressive direction. As we were recording the second half of This Sheltering Night we mentioned to Alap our plans to have more soundscape work involved. I mapped out how I thought the order of songs and interludes should be sequenced. There are things happening in terms of sound that I wanted to keep in particular: no interlude break between “All Creatures…” and “One Among Vermin” since the way one song ends and the other begins naturally works as noise coalescing into sound. Plus, there’s the tuning shift during “Bustuari” from B to A and “Martyring” is in A. Oktopus approached his interludes from a remixing angle. He used snippets of our music as his pallet and mutated it into what you hear on the record. Most of his stuff is more melodic than I expected. You figure, here’s Oktopus, you’re bound to get waves of sound and interlaced rhythms. His stuff is more delicate and musical. Go figure. Very cool. Always best to leave solo musicians to their own devices and you’ll get favorable results. Our friend Troy Coffee happened to be at the studio during the recording doing some film work. Troy had Oktopus do the soundtrack for a short-film he had been working on and the bulk of the soundtrack is culled from our recording. And, again, hearing it in the context of the film you would have no idea of the sound source being our recordings.
In my review of the record, I felt that each segment worked to bookmark different passages within the context of the album to make it pan out like a novel. Resmini has gone on record explaining that his songs pan out like a film, but I was curious to know how conscious an effort there was to incorporate that narrative on a grander level, replete with repeated motifs and the inclusion of Dalek and Perennis’s passages. Resmini explained, “I tend to look at each song as its own narrative. Incorporating the soundscapes was definitely a way to thread things together but not quite with the idea of tonal dichotomies. Initially I wanted them to work in a way to obscure the fact the songs were recorded during different sessions. To make it difficult to differentiate one session from another. Which was another reason we sequenced the songs the way they are. You can definitely attribute some of the cohesive nature to Oktopus in terms of sculpting the sound. The stuff Oktopus does on our release can be viewed as being more integrated simply because he knew the sequence of the songs and could tailor his work to accommodate the narrative quality. He listened to what Liz did and felt she brought a Throbbing Gristle or death-industrial aesthetic to the table and he wanted to play off it to add yet another dynamic. His line of thought being his approach was something akin to a digital Spacemen 3 with an underlying sense of unease. I knew how I wanted things to be sequenced before hearing what everyone did. I wanted the Sophia Perennis stuff to be the first and final soundscapes. I heard “Swarm” before “The End of All Things.” But, really, with the way Liz composed and titled her pieces there was no choice in the sequence. The CD has to close on “The End of All Things.”
Tracking of each album is preceded by a lengthy demoing period. The writing process is consistently different, giving each release a different feeling than those before it. “The way we write these days is a little bit different than in the early years,” Forkin explains. Most of it is a result of geography. I live almost 3 hours away from the rest of the band so I’ll usually string a few guitar parts together at home, bring them to Philly and we’ll find parts from some of my other guitar demos and construct the rough framework for a song. What I bring to the rehearsal room and what ends up getting recorded differ dramatically. Rennie has an encyclopedic musical knowledge base and he can hear song structures that the rest of us can’t imagine. It’s Harry and Vince that really bring the songs to life. Without Harry’s drumming the songs are solid but they’re not Starkweather songs. Vince is the missing link between Harry and I. He has Harry’s technical skill as well as a bit of the musical barbarism that I possess. Pull any of the four of us from the writing process and it’s no longer Starkweather.” Further, the inclusion of Resmini in the writing process from its origins to the committing of noise to tape allows the vocalist to get a handle on the material in an organic fashion that acts as a breeding ground for new ideas. “I’m involved with the entire process,” he explains. “Todd starts the ball rolling. I’ll help him arrange things into a skeletal structure and bring this to the rehearsal room and things will take a life of its own. We always have instances where Harry or Vince hear certain riffs and arrangements a specific way that is completely different to what Todd and I intended. Plus, there are times when we’ll hammer on something and realize it needs to be scrapped or altered. Vince and Harry are real good writing parts so there’s always that additional interplay. So, the writing process involves the entire band. I don’t bother putting in words/lyrics until a song can be played from beginning to end. Certain sections will expand/contract as we see fit – whether its to develop things in terms of musical or vocal attack. Nothing is ever static. There’s a constant ebb and flow with regard to dynamic and pattern.”
In terms of how the ideas for lyrics flourish, Resmini explains that he does not begin writing until a certain song is complete. He spends time with the band getting to know each track like a roadmap that slowly lends itself to the darkness his words are indebted to: “I used to have a lot of things written beforehand, but, I feel I don’t have as much time as I used to. Maybe this is something that’s simply in my head? I used to have to take time off to think… leave the city and write. I’m sure I have as much time to myself as I used to but I can’t even find time to read, let alone write what I need. While we’re rehearsing new material I can use lyrics I’ve previously used or plug in phrases from other songs that’ll help me develop patterns. Figuring out the nuts and bolts is the most important thing… if you happen to see us live you’ll notice the words and even patterns can be different from the recordings. Once something is recorded I don’t listen to it again. I’m finished. I’m looking forward to the next session.” The band is so concentrated on the evolution of a song that they have recently received cease and desist orders from tenants well beyond Alap’s recording space. One incident saw a telemarketing firm plugging their ears as Forkin’s guitars went past eleven: “To give some background on the loud guitars vs. telemarketers confrontation, I was tracking the intro to “Drug Holiday” [which will see release in the not-too-distant future], which features a very heavy and dissonant chord cluster, and the overtones for the chord created a strange undertow that resonated not only in the Deadverse building, but in neighboring buildings. The superintendent was irate and we had to work around the important and meaningful work of telemarketers to track guitars.”
Starkweather put a lot of time and attention into the layout and design of their releases. The vinyl release of This Sheltering Night features a beautiful design of a stopwatch careening through a vast mountainside landscape, while the inside of the gatefold has a richly detailed image of an arm melding with an insect amidst a bed of rose petals. Further, the band has worked extensively with Paul Romano (of Mastodon artwork fame) for a number of designs in their merchandise and discography. On their latest album, there is a line in the song “All Creatures Damned and Divine” that repeats the line, “time has always been the enemy.” When asked how the artwork ties into the recordings, Resmini mentioned that, “the original artwork for Crossbearer is a painting our bassist did. sort of her re-interpretation of Munch’s the scream. Croatoan has a lot of imagery Paul did that ties in with previous releases as well as specific lines from lyrics. The artwork for the release is very thought-out, deliberate. That’s how Paul works – he takes in everything from the music and the lyrics and develops a plan of attack. ??The artist for This Sheltering Night is Mikio Murakami. We stumbled upon his Silent Q design studio via myspace. It was a complete fluke to find finished work in his portfolio that lined up with specific lyrics. ?? With regard to the line from “All Creatures…” time is the great leveler. Nothing escapes it. The natural cycle of life is finite. A body and mind is at the mercy of the aging process. Some people simply want to live longer and there are age-related debilitating complications. There are instances when one wishes they had more time to take in the world, be with friends and loved ones, to achieve goals in their life.”
A few years ago the band and Romano announced a deluxe edition of Crossbearer and Into The Wire, both included on a single disc with expanded artwork and liner notes alongside a new mastering job. What happened to it? Returning to the issue of their previous record label, Resmini is frank when he states, “the only problem involves Candlelight. Not that anyone would know, but Candlelight/Tanglade has released the stuff digitally. I doubt they’ll ever release hardcopy. Download the artwork from Paul’s site and the music from a blogsite. The beauty of this pissing match is the fact the delay had nothing to do with the band. That involves someone at Westwestside who was fired for misbehavior ranging from leaking recordings, screwing up projects, and being caught in lies to cover-up what he was doing. Add to it the studio moved locations. A few of our masters went missing. It was a mess. In spite of knowing things were never going to make the original production date Candlelight was placing ads. When Westwestside did find things they noticed the project wasn’t even close to being completed. The person originally assigned the job had been canned before finishing the project. Essentially the project had to begin from scratch and Alan took it upon himself to do the work.” In the fall of 2009, Jacob Bannon and Tre McCarthy’s record label Deathwish Inc. announced that they would be handling all of Starkweather’s releases from then on. This was exciting news because any self-respecting hardcore fan knows the level of quality and care that goes into every one of their packages (seriously, go pick up This Sheltering Night on vinyl. The amount of detail is fantastic and it shipped with not a hint of neglect). “[Bannon and I] used to play shows together in the early 90s,” Resmini explains. “So we knew each other from the time both bands [Converge and Starkweather] were coming up. Everything is cool with regard to the label. No problems regarding the transition. We’re used to it. We look at recordings almost on an individual basis since we pay for our studio time. The splits we’re doing with Little Girl Terrorist and Thousandswilldie aren’t Deathwish releases. I don’t think Deathwish would be into doing more Starkweather splits. Funny enough if we kept those 2 songs together they would’ve made for a full-length. I hope we have enough time to concentrate on honing stuff we’re working on in the rehearsal room now to record at the end of the year for a new full length. I look toward recording rather than playing shows.”
I sat down with Starkweather’s lyrics for this album and the Overmars split and it was one of the first instances with music this year that I found myself reading them aloud without music, gesturing and picturing Resmini’s metaphors as though they were in a film. When looking at the progression from Crossbearer to This Sheltering Night, I could not help but notice a meticulous progression in lyrical themes. I found that the lyrics are especially personal, but often they return to the “swarms of locusts” from “Murder in Technicolor” to the evocation of the cicada’s drill in “All Creatures Damned and Divine.” Further, much of Croatoan deals with the serpentine, from the crawl of thoughts in “Slither” to the “taming of leeches with fire.” I also noticed a recurring motif carried over from Croatoan into This Sheltering Night, specifically in the lyrical content of “Vespertilian” and “All Creatures Damned And Divine:” Each alludes to a double meaning. Taking “vesper” in its literal context as prayer, the lyrics, “mold me a mortal form, wingless constrained to the laws of gravity,” can be interpreted as a critique on faith and in creationism alongside the reference to “Father Pestilence” with “his countenance crowned in a halo of flies” in “All Creatures.” However, the Vespertilian, the bat, can be seen as signifying darkness, something I found was an important aspect of This Sheltering Night. When asked about the bigger picture, Resmini said: “A lot of the nature themes – specifically snakes and insects – have to do with a lifelong fascination with these animals. I’ve kept reptiles since I was a kid. Different cultures view snakes and various insects as symbols of rebirth. Of course, there are instances when these creatures are cast in a negative light. Similarly, with bats, they are commonly viewed with a lot of reservation whereas I find them to be intriguing animals. It’s a shame we’re seeing entire populations decimated. ”Vespertilian” ties into my interpretation of the Azrael/Asrael myth than anything else. I remember a painting with Asrael having bat’s wings and carrying a scythe. Other descriptions have a multi-winged creature adorned with a multitude of eyes and mouths. The belief being each eye and mouth corresponds to the number of people on the earth. When an eye closes someone dies. ?? ”Father Pestilence” has to do with a person I met in a nursing home. While my grandfather had all of his mental faculties, he was suffering from PSP, and had to be in an assisted living facility. Residing on his floor was a little guy who was losing grip. While my grandfather was beside himself and annoyed I found the man’s outbursts comical: he’s swinging a cane, cursing, having bouts of inappropriate laughter. What made it all the more amusing to me was the person exhibiting dementia was a former priest. ? ? As far as overarching themes all of it tends to be based on personal experience and perception of time, impermanence, isolation, relationships – be it personal or with the surroundings. All of it dredging, purging.”
On the band’s facebook page, the timeline of the artists’ history is buffered with passages that say “transmission lost…” between 1997-2005 and 2006-2010. When asked if their new album was used as an allegory for the existence of the band, Resmini said it is “best not to read too far into the time-line bio. [It is] a simple way to present the different releases and growth of the band and its periods of rest and restlessness. People thought the same thing with Croatoan: this is a revival. People will read into things as they wish. I don’t view it in that sense. The band never went away. We simply stopped giving a shit about playing shows, playing scene politics, dealing with record labels. We tend to family and personal matters and meet up and play music. The band has never been our job. It’s an outlet. Creative anger management. I consider This Sheltering Night as a collection of songs and collaborations. You have to remember half of the material was written with our original bassist. She was involved with the writing of all of the Croatoan material. Vince [Rosa, the band’s current bassist] joined in 2005 and we’ve been writing at a furious pace since. Maybe the next full-length we do can be viewed as a rejuvenation since it’ll be written and recorded entirely with this line-up.”
Forkin adds, “when Rennie wrote “Transmission Lost…” the only transmission that was lost was our transmission to the outside world. There has never been a Starkweather reunion and I can say with near certainty for that there never will be one. Our interest in the outside world is almost nonexistent and the writing and recording process goes on with or without labels, with or without shows, with or without fans. With every release I expect to find that our shelf life has expired and I’m pleasantly surprised every time to find out that it hasn’t. Revival or rejuvenation to me implies a sense of nostalgia and nostalgia is the antithesis of the Starkweather ethic.”
I waxed nostalgic when I brought up the notoriety of Starkweather’s Philadelphia shows during the 1990s. A close friend of the band mentioned that violence was a primary motif at their shows during this period, and a single night could escalate into a cluster of broken heads, smashed teeth and riotous happenings. “I’m not sure that our shows were that spectacularly violent,” Forkin speculates, “other than the shows we played with All Out War. There was something about the combination of the two bands, the people we attracted, and the pretty tough economic conditions (Newburgh, NY and Troy, NY) of the places that we played that seemed to set people off. A few of the shows we played together ended in riots. There were times when the violence was somewhat amusing, at least watching it from on stage, but as the years passed it became less of a visceral reaction to the music and more of a jock/thug thing. When I first started listening to hardcore those were the people I was trying to escape from and the violence at shows back then tended to be a weeding out process for those that weren’t really all in on the whole thing. These days I’d prefer to not see people beat each other up at our shows but I have little say over the matter so slug away. The bottom line is that there was never anything romantic or cool about it, it was something that just happened.” Resmini adds that, “in Philly things were different in that we had completely split audiences. Audiences that hated one another. There would be the contingent of metalheads and the hardcore kids. They could never coexist. They’d be combative. It alienated us further than what we already were. We’d be in position where it isn’t worth playing shows since we’re simply background noise to fights. To these kids it wasn’t any sort of cathartic release, it was simply ritual. When I’m talking about a release mechanism, I’m talking kids just going to dance or something like coming unglued and smashing the place up.”
It is apparent that the traditional “hardcore” aesthetic no longer interests the members of Starkweather. Younger bands slave over the road amassing fans, but Resmini and Forkin are content on keeping this separated from their day jobs. “Outside the band, which, honestly, takes very little of my week, my time is concerned with “normal” life activities. Nothing spectacular. We all have family and work.” The odd European tour only refreshes the distanced priority of the band, finding the members of Starkweather relishing the sights and sounds of foreign cities when compared to the business of everyday city life. “Before we embark on any touring,” Resmini muses, “we’ll have to let the releases saturate for a little bit to see if touring is warranted. I’d like to go to Europe again. You get much more accomplished there than here in a short amount of time. A band can spend an entire week in New York where if you go to Europe you can have a couple countries covered, play to more people. Things in Europe are far more organized. Promoters there are less apt to fuck you over. People there are more open-minded and appreciative of music. In as far as touring in general, no interest. I’m not excited over live shows. The actual performance is perfectly fine; the 23.5 other hours in the day to account for driving, moving equipment, sitting through a lot of music I can’t stand listening to is enough to drive me crazy. I’d rather go to work and know I can pay my bills.” Forkin illustrates, “touring Europe was one of the greatest experiences of my life. To think about nothing other than loading in, loading out, and playing music was amazing. I do almost all of the driving for the band so my job starts and ends at the rehearsal space. To be able to just be a musician for 2 weeks was very cool. That’s the selfish answer. The less selfish answer is that we were treated like human beings. We were paid what we were promised, fed, given a place to sleep and we shared the stage with some pretty remarkable bands. The lack of violence and open-minded crowds were a bonus. I didn’t want to come home and would go back in a second. It’s easier for me to say that than the other guys in the band because I don’t really have much to come home to.”
During the recording of 2006’s Croatoan, Resmini came down with an illness that affected his vocals and prohibited him from doing many of the things that make Starkweather a unique entity in the vocals department. “It was funny how you picked up on the vocal clarity this time around,” Resmini pointed out in my review. “With Croatoan I was physically screwed up – costochondritis – and it hampered me.” In reference to the new album, Resmini states: “Recording the vocals for This Sheltering Night compared to Croatoan is night and day. Healthy I can utilize more voices, have better range particularly with the low registers. The costochondritis affected my breathing. I’d try to take deep breaths and it felt as if my lungs and heart were being constricted. My core was completely screwed up. Just a tremendous amount of pain for no discernable reason. I simply woke up in the middle of the night feeling as if someone smashed in my chest with a sledge hammer. It took forever for doctors to get a bead on what was going on. After doing x-ray, MRI, stress tests, and so forth for a couple of months one doctor finally figured it out. It took about 9 months to clear. Now and then it’ll flare up out of nowhere, but, after the initial bout it hasn’t lasted more than a week at a time. A few months ago I heard MMA fighter Doug Marshall had the same condition. So, I can imagine it wreaking havoc on a professional fighter’s training regimen.”
The voices Resmini and the band utilize ultimately bring up that oft-asked question: What are the band’s influences? Rather than go for the traditional route, I averted the traditional allusions to Gorguts, Nick Cave, Celtic Frost and Amebix, and asked what there is outside the realms of metal and within the local Philadelphia area that currently have Resmini and Forkin excited: According to Resmini, “Philly has a lot of interesting bands: Rosetta and Cleric immediately spring to mind. Plus there are newer acts coming up like Na Sadaa, Salvation, Distress Signal, Halo of Snakes. Earlier Philly bands are YDI, She-Males, Deadspot, Throttle, Legitimate Reason, Homo Picnic, Scab Cadillac, FOD. I’m forgetting many, old and new, forgive me. Currently listen to a lot of contemporary classical composers. Stuff that can be viewed as being in the spectral school (Grisey, Saariaho, Murail, Radelescu) and things that a conventional, traditional classical listener would consider noise or too “out there”: Lachenmann, Kuhr, Spahlinger, Xenakis and so forth. Plus, there are the soundscape artists and metal bands I like. Birushanah, Samo, Little Girl Terrorist, IRM, Moloken, Gerda, Celeste, Combat Astronomy, Paranoia Inducta, Halo Manash. It’s endless, really. ? ? To be honest, the opening harmonic riff from “epiphany” owes more to Voivod and Human Remains as the song was written in 95/96 around the same time as “bitterfrost,” “taming…,” and “machine rhythm.” I’m sure Hurdle and Lemay had written Obscura by then but it hadn’t been released. You ever hear the stuff Hurdle was doing in Purulence? He was making alien transmissions in 90-93. I look at Steeve Hurdle and Robert Gasperowicz from Samo as otherworldly intelligence.” Forkin explains, “From a guitar standpoint, no band has ever influenced me in the way that Steeve Hurdle and Gorguts have. The scraping noise, dissonance, and flowing song structures to me are the sound of desperation and paranoia. Obscura is the only album I’ve ever listened to that approximates the racket that goes on in my head. Before hearing that album it was as if my vocabulary had 26 letters and afterward it had an infinite number of letters. Philly bands that I loved? That begins and ends with The She Males. They were Guns & Roses before there was a Guns & Roses. They were a furious metal machine soaked in drugs and sarcasm. An unbelievable and unbelievably underrated band. These days I dig Rosetta quite a bit. Any band that plays so loud that it makes me feel dizzy is okay in my book. I’m currently listening to quite a bit of non-metal. I’m definitely a pretty specific listener in that I’ll listen to just pop, just metal, just fusion, and recently I’ve been listening to Flogging Molly, the new Deftones, Tryptikon, the complete Woven Hand discography, Death Cab For Cutie, Snow Patrol.” Quite a list of artists for such a heavy band, and a great look at what influences such dark and complex music.
Starkweather are here to stay. I’ve listened to what the future holds for this Philadelphia wrecking crew, and it only gets better from here. This Sheltering Night is already making top-ten lists in many publications, and its popularity is sure to expose the band to more who should be in the know. With so much time and care put into both their music and their respect for those who have gotten them there only adds to the visceral and cathartic experience this potentially alienating sound could have. Here’s to many more years of enjoying the band.