This is Stabbing Westward's first album since 2001, mostly because they split up after a self-titled album in 2001 that was poorly received and they stayed split up until officially reuniting for a pair of thirtieth anniversary shows in 2016. However, they obviously felt it and started releasing some new material, including a couple of EPs in 2020. I gave Dead and Gone a 6/10 not for lack of quality but because of how skimpy it was, teasing with three new songs and padding out with a couple of remixes. Clearly, it was always going to be about the next album, and that's finally here.
It's a good one too, if you're into their brand of industrial rock music. There's Nine Inch Nails to be found in the majority of the songs here, starting with a pair of driving openers, I am Nothing and Damaged Goods, but I never got the feeling that the band were flirting on the edge the way Trent Reznor is so good at. T he closest to out of control it gets is when Dead & Gone decides to rage. This is always controlled music and, when they shift more into a radio friendly European industrial pop vein on Cold, with its clean vocals, atmospheric keyboards and throbbing beats, it's all the more controlled. That does heavy up as it goes, but again it never has to haul out a safe word.
And that's a particularly American nineties alternative vibe. These are self-deprecating songs, to the point of being eloquent self-hate. "I know you wanna to fix me, but I am damaged far beyond repair," begins Damaged Goods. "I was broken when you met me, and entropy has carried on from there." That's a great lyric, as are many here, but it's easier to take from a young band who might never grow up to be an old band than it is from, well, an old band. Lead vocalist Christopher Hall, a fixture of the band since it's outset, turns 57 this year.
This whole approach gets old for me. The lyrics to Push are well written and utterly accurate from the perspective of an insecure kid struggling with mental issues in a tough high school. Even when things go well, they can't believe that it's really happening. "I never truly believed that I deserved you; why would someone like you love someone like me? I felt this self-destructive need to test you to justify my insecurities." This song, with its refrain of "All I want is you to want me" feels like it's a paeon to an entire generation, merely written thirty years late. It's brilliant stuff and it's given plenty of room to breathe, an effortless seven and a half minutes. Will it find an audience in 2022, when sung by a band the age of that insecure kid's grandparents? That's the question.
I don't know, but then I'm a grandparent too, even if I'm not listening out of nostalgia. The heyday of this band was later than the time I was deep diving into rock and metal in my youth, so I caught it only peripherally and at a point where these lyrics felt passé. What I got out of this was mostly a sense of urgency, driven for the most part by Bobby Amaro's drums, even though I'm surprised by the fact that he actually has a drumkit. There's so much electronica here, albeit fundamentally to provide texture, that I half expected the beat to be the work of a programmed drum machine.
It's also a surprise that there are two guitarists, Carlton Bost dedicated to that task and founder member Walter Flakus playing one in addition to his keyboard work. It's surprising because I found the guitars most effective at deepening the beat, making it heavier and smoother at once, rather than actually driving the songs. Neither guitarist does anything particularly fancy, though Flakus does handle that through his keyboards and samples. That's where all the texture is.
And so I liked this album without ever being blown away by it. It felt like a cross between Nine Inch Nails, Depeche Mode and maybe some more progressive post-punk band, all amped up to almost the point where the distortion becomes problematic and maybe sometimes beyond it. Push is where it all comes together, and The End is a standout too, but there are moments in many of these songs, sometimes in their melodies or tempo shifts but mostly for me with the beats and textures.