‘HORIZONS’ album review
genre: hard rock
release date: October 22, 2021
star rating: four out of five
review by Jeremy Costello
You can’t confuse STARSET’s sound with anyone else. From their synths and keys to their funny injections of transmitted voiceovers and other surprising little effects, fans (or Messengers, if you will) know that their music isn’t just something you listen to. You experience it. You take a journey with them. Their lyrics paint spectacles of cosmic proportions that take your breath away. STARSET’s recently released album, HORIZONS, is another incredible entry to their now-prolific library, and it is on par with some of their best stuff to date.
Having said that, HORIZONS is a bit of an emotional investment. You’d better buckle up for this ride, because it’s intense. I’m worried the heavier journey, however satisfying it is, will make it harder to take this ride over and over. I’m not saying the music doesn’t have high replay value, but its broader staying power may wane a bit sooner than it deserves. A whopping 16 tracks (a couple of which overstay their welcome) and a runtime of an hour and 12 minutes can make the album feel like a marathon by today’s music standards.
Throughout the album, the music tends to feel like it’s building toward a huge payoff with strong progressions, but the payoff results vary from song to song. At times, I’m left wanting more because they walk off on the perfect high note (“OTHERWORLDLY” is a good example of this), but at other times, I felt frustrated (“ALCHEMY” is a good example of STARSET not leaning into their potential enough). In the grand scheme of things, these are just nitpicks, but I probably will skip a few tracks sooner than I’ve done with their previous albums.
Overall, their sound is still as compelling and enchanting as ever. Dancing, free-flowing bass kicks and grungy guitars (no, nothing like the actual grunge genre) mix with the keyboards and high vocals to create a sense of both hypnosis and hard-rock familiarity that drives most of their songs; yet somehow, they never let you get comfortable or take the easy, predictable path. Lead singer Dustin Bates takes his vocal game to another level, though I will admit that, at times, his vocals and the music feel a touch too overproduced, even by STARSET’s standards.
“TUNNELVISION” is a great song with some of their absolute best riffs and kicks, but it was mired by too many vocal effects that proved more distracting than complementary. For the record, the message of that song is still really strong.
“EARTHRISE” is as good as any example of the incredible imagery that pairs well with the music; you actually feel like you’re picturing a geological event happening during that chorus (the “Just a hollow moon that you colorize” line is my favorite of the many good ones in the song). Still, it felt a little frustrating that the build-up in the bridge let down so quickly in the way many songs do when pressed for the time on the radio.
“LEAVING THIS WORLD BEHIND” seemed like it would finally amp up the pace and the music a bit, and it did not disappoint. STARSET used a static-filled opening (I feel like there’s at least one track on each of their albums that uses that trick) to establish a softer tone, but the hook perfectly transitioned to the harder, grungier chorus. The musical bridge blasts into a buffet of ear candy before cutting back to the chorus, leaving me wanting more in a way that, this time, felt more complementary.
“DEVOLUTION” picks up where “LEAVING THIS WORLD BEHIND” leaves off. Those keys dazzle throughout as the rest of the music builds up to a powerful chorus. This song’s strong lyrics resonated with me the most. The wordplay with de-evolution was clever, and the commentary was spot-on when talking about delusions, anarchy, and fake revolutions. The song also features another staple of STARSET’s: the distant voiceover that sounds like a recording getting transmitted over the airwaves (“ALCHEMY” closes with one of these, too). Love it. More than any other song, Dustin puts his vocal range to the test with some angry screams that perfectly encapsulate the tone of the lyrics. Easily my favorite track of the album.
“ANNIHILATED LOVE” rocks out the pace a bit but fully maintains the amped heaviness. The lyrics don’t pull any punches with their implications, and the music keeps you wondering where they’ll take you next.
“DISAPPEAR” was a bizarre track. It plays softly with just keys and vocals for the first verse and chorus, then slowly rises with soft drums and guitar before eventually rocking out the beat to give the track a traditional ebb and flow. It almost felt like a ballad. Then, all of a sudden, a livelier outro takes over, and it felt like it was straight out of a movie trailer – like the build-up before the final act of a highly produced action movie. That might’ve been the only time something felt out of place on the album.
STARSET is one of rock’s best bands going right now, and their ascent should continue with the incredible piece that is HORIZONS.