Tuesday 14 January 2020

Stabbing Westward - Dead & Gone (2020)

Country: USA
Style: Industrial Rock
Rating: 6/10
Release Date: 3 Jan 2020
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2019's trend of bands crawling out of the woodwork with their first release in forever is apparently set to continue. Stabbing Westward were darlings in the nineties, landing heavy rotation with their Wither Blister Burn & Peel album in 1995; touring with the likes of Killing Joke, the Cult and Depeche Mode; and making the soundtracks of movies like Mortal Kombat, The Faculty and Johnny Mnemonic, as well as a True Blood season finalé. However, their fourth, self-titled, album didn't reach the studio's expected sales and so they split up in 2002. This is their first release in nineteen years.

I was born in 1971 so I'm a child of the eighties rather than the nineties, and the latter is when a lot of the alternative music crossing the Atlantic from the US prompted me to drift away from the scene. I'm much happier with Stabbing Westward and other major nineties bands returning with new vibrant music in the twenties outside the mainstream, meaning that they can do what they do and do it well without it swamping everyone doing something else.

While many fans who saw Stabbing Westward reform in 2016 for their thirtieth anniversary with two of the three founder members on board, surely wanted a full album, they're still happily welcoming this skimpy EP as something more than nothing. It includes three new tracks and two remixes, so it's a tease as much as a release. However, the three new tracks are pretty good, mixing the dance beats and industrial crunch they're known for with good hooks and the usual angsty lyrics. "I failed to realize I'd found everything in you," is just the first line of the first song.

Whatever you think of industrial pop music, the tempo escalation from verse to chorus in Dead and Gone is a statement of intent. The band are back and they're feeling it. This is urgent stuff and, dare I say it, deserves a pit to erupt at gigs because it's that sort of moment. This song reminds more of Depeche Mode than Rammstein, but it's a lot heavier than the former and has a chorus more comparable to the latter.

Cold continues the angst with a song about unrequited passion that kicks off with a surprising eastern flavour. That works really well and ably compares the emotional desolation of a failed "I love you" moment with a geographical desolation, all sand and wind and emptiness. It's catchy as all get out too, a worthy candidate for serious airplay, but it doesn't ditch that heaviness for commerciality.

Crawl is where the band turn the heaviness down a notch. It's a slower song that uses the power more for emotional weight than urgency. In its place is a clockwork riff that nods to the surprising niches they're finding of late. I see that they were a big hit at Dark Side of the Con and rolled over into the organiser's other event, Steampunk Con in New Jersey, alongside Victor Sierra, Rasputina and others. We live in interesting times.

I'm a lot less fond of the remixes, one of Dead and Gone and one of Cold, feeling that the glitchy manipulation only serves to remove most of the urgency from the original songs. So the Cold remix has a more overt dance beat? Shrug.

I'd give the three original songs a 7/10, because they all find that magic balance point between power and commerciality. Stabbing Westward are really back, not just throwing something new out for the cash. This feels like the band is a priority again and they have something to say. Frankly, that's a higher rating than I expected to give, but I'm happy to be surprised with a good set of songs. That said, those three songs only rack up a dozen minutes and I'd be feeling generous if I gave the remixes a 5/10, so let's split the difference and give the EP as a whole a 6/10.

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