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Those who are unfamiliar with Starkweather's history might be tempted to compare the Philadelphians to Converge, Mastodon, the Red Chord, the Dillinger Escape Plan, Killswitch Engage, Losa, the Black Dahlia Murder, Coalesce, Strapping Young Lad, or other head-kicking agitators who emerged in the '90s or 2000s. All of those comparisons are valid (some more valid than others), but it is important to know that Starkweather have been around longer than any of the abovementioned bands and have influenced some of them (either directly or indirectly). The Philadelphia-based metalcore/alternative metal/noise rock unit has been providing vicious sensory assaults since 1990, and they show no signs of mellowing with time on their third full-length album, Croatoan (which was recorded around 2002 but wasn't officially released on CD in the United States until 2006, although Hypertension Records released an LP-only version in Europe in 2005). Croatoan is by no means an easy listen; Starkweather's material is dissonant, jagged, angular, and discordant as well as abrasive, noisy, violent, claustrophobic, and dense. Some of the most intense metal and hardcore albums have a groove, but Croatoan doesn't just groove, it assaults and confronts from many different directions. A Starkweather tune never follows a traditional verse-chorus-verse structure; these Philadelphians love to zig and zag all over the place, constantly pulling the rug out from under the battered listener. But that is not to say that Croatoan is incoherent or directionless; there is a method to Starkweather's madness, and the East Coast tormentors know exactly what they are doing. Croatoan offers the occasional melodic passage (melodic in a totally dark way), but most of the time, this release thrives on pure, unmitigated harshness, and despite those melodic passages, Croatoan is an exhausting listen. Starkweather are, at times, a little too self-indulgent for their own good. But more often than not, they command attention. At least if you have a taste for extreme sensory assault. Albums as harsh as Croatoan are not everyone's cup of tea, but those who are brave enough to go along for the ride will find a lot of intrigue in Starkweather's painful, tormented universe.

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