The coming together of Philadelphia’s Starkweather and Portugal’s Concealment is a meeting that makes sense on a number of levels. First, both bands have long, sparse histories. Starkweather is of course a somewhat groundbreaking band in the merging of metalcore and extreme metal, but has only released four full lengths and a smattering of splits and EPs over their nearly 30 year career. Concealment, while lacking their split-mates’ influential pedigree, have been around since the mid-90s and have only released two albums and one EP.
Label: Translation Loss.
Most importantly of course is that it works on a musical level. Concealment not only holds their own alongside the higher-profiled-but-still-grossly-underappreciated Starkweather, but both bands offer expansive, genre-splicing (or negating) pieces of music that find as much time to be harrowing and suffocating as they do cathartic and beautiful.
There’s no reason to beat around the bush: “Divided by Zero” is an absolutely monumental track, and arguably Starkweather’s greatest achievement. They have spent their career mixing death metal, metalcore, noise, post-hardcore tension, sludge, and prog, and on “Divided by Zero,” they really amplify the latter element in terms of both song scope (over 28 minutes long) and construction (like choreographed plate tectonics).
The band fills up all this space with individual elements that ought to be instantly appealing to fans, particularly those that enjoyed all the soloing on This Sheltering Night, but do so with an unprecedented knack for long form dynamics. “Divided by Zero” starts in immensely heavy fashion and only builds from there (if you’ve never heard Starkweather, you’re missing out on one of the H-E-A-V-I-E-S-T bands ever), frequently topping this thick foundation with a huge smattering of smooth and shreddy, if sometimes alarming, leads. The leads offer a warmer contrast to Rennie Resmini’s throaty, antagonistic wail-screams and tense, disturbing singing (he is likely to remain as much a point of contention for some listeners as he is a major draw for others).
These elements fill a song loaded with variation and several subtle, but key mood swings. There are moments of drawn-out tension, huge dynamic swells (and ebbs), pit-ready grooves, solo sections that almost rock, passages of true beauty, and the kind of dirging expressions of desperation that make similar moments on a Yob album seem like sunny days in the park. It all works together brilliantly, building towards a satisfyingly raging conclusion that you might not see coming. Even more surprising: the song feels deceptively compact and efficient considering the exhausting length and draining nature of the music, a credit to both the airtight composition and expert performances. Gargantuan stuff, this.
In terms of stylistic ambiguity and adventurous breadth, Concealment nearly equals Starkweather. Their side of the split, the 21-minute “Liminality,” filters the jangly prog/death vibe of modern Gorguts through healthy heaps of metalcore noise and chilling black metal furor. At different times it channels things as varying as Chaining the Katechon, Colored Sands, and well, Starkweather.
The later Deathspell Omega vibes are particularly notable in the song’s first several minutes, as rapid blasts are paired with scraping, dissonant, blackened riffs. Concealment then turns to seamingly lackadaisical, nearly free-form passages before again morphing the song into short bursts of brutality. Things get briefly pretty when it introduces and repeats what is almost a hook, albeit one that requires a fourth of a phrase to unwind itself. Still, even during these moments, Concealment doesn’t allow the listener to really get comfortable, which is something they maintain for the rest of the song. Dissonance rules the day, to the point that there are stretches when the band could have just gone all Jute Gyte microtonal and it might not have added much to the unsettling feel. The effect of all the dissonance is that Concealment creates a kind of limited atmosphere, one that perpetuates only when these chords are sustained, and is immediately swallowed by the song’s twitchy, punchy passages (which really show off the talents of drummer David Jerónimo) or their heaviest, most brutal moments.
If Starkweather’s heaviest riffs feel like planet-sized hammers that smash but also carry with them an endearing groove, Concealment’s biggest impacts feel like being run through by thousands of the tiniest ice blades. Or by blades of the fiercest of light, something along those lines. This stuff is stabby, and feels all the more unsettling when every element other than the actual notes seem to be playing something catchy. Again, the point is never becoming comfortable, right down to the wonderfully unceremonious finish.
When all is said and done, “Liminality” doesn’t quite measure up to “Divided by Zero,” but 1. Splits aren’t competitions, and 2. That says far more about what Starkweather achieved here than it does about Concealment. These are two monster songs that complement each other without creating the slightest sense of duplication. They work like opposite sides of the same destructive coin; that they fit together so well is almost shocking–as mentioned, the Starkweather song isn’t exactly new. But the connection between the bands goes back years — Resmini did a guest spot on Concealment’s 2011 album Phenakism — and they clearly share a similar focus on slow-burning devastation. This shared mentality only amplifies their shared success.
This is a huge release for long-starved Starkweather fans that haven’t had a taste of new tunes in seven years. It’s also a huge release for Concealment, who will hopefully get some new, very deserving ears for their music.
If you’ve read this far, you know your mission. Buy this.