Review Summary: Stabbing Westward's first album featuring much more industrial influence than on future albums, but also featuring less of the catchiness that would come about later.
Stabbing Westward was one of those bands that came about around the same time Nine Inch Nails
was becoming famous. A time when every label thought that industrial might be the next big thing and were signing any band similar (Skinny Puppy
, Front 242
, etc were all signed to majors during this time). Due in large part to the media hype, some accused the band of being NIN clones but Stabbing Westward never shared much in common with them. What Stabbing Westward provided while they were around was industrial synths and beats combined with a catchiness more in common with mainstream rock than industrial (in varying ratios, depending on the album).
On their debut, they tend to lean more towards the industrial side of things with the choruses being much less melodic and catchy and much more angry and shouted. Also, this album has a much thicker groove then anything they released afterwards. There are a few reason why there is more of a groove on this album than on later ones. The first reason is that the synth lines and beats take a much larger role while the guitar riffs take more of a backup position than on future albums. The second reason would be that the guitarist was the one responsible for trying to get some sort of groove into most of these songs and he left soon after its release. The general mood of the album is also darker than on future albums, being comprised of mostly anger and despair in equal parts. An example of that is shown in a song such as "Red on White" which is about committing suicide by taking pills and slitting your wrists. This song isn't a fluke though, just about every track is in some way attached to failed relationships.
The album begins with a slow building intro that contains some synth and the anguished vocals of Chris Hall. As the intro is still fading away, the album breaks into the first song, “Control” which is catchy mainly due to the fact that the chorus is only eight words and repeated over and over. In case it isn’t obvious, while being catchy it doesn’t actually make for a good song. The next song,“Nothing”, does a much better job of being both catchy and good. It starts with some screeching, distorted guitar playing and pounding beats before the guitars drop away leaving a grooving bass line to introduce the vocals. Right before the chorus comes in all the music drops out and we’re left with an industrial beat and Chris singing “I don’t want to believe in you, I can’t believe in you
”. Again the chorus is just a simple repeating sentence, but this time it never gets to the point of redundancy.
Although "Nothing" was their single, more people would probably recognize "Violent Mood Swings" as it is one of the best songs on the album and was also featured on the movie Clerks
in a slightly remixed form. It features large amounts of distortion and feedback, Chris Hall’s anguished and pissed-off vocals, and a simple, catchy (yet angry) chorus. It also has the largest amount of industrial influence of any of the songs, featuring distorted beats, processed vocals, and some great synth. The main reason "Violent Mood Swings" was not the single was probably due to their large use of cursing on the song, as well as its uncompromising anger. In addition to the more aggressive songs and the songs that seem to be built for radio, there are also slower, more brooding songs like the aforementioned "Red on White" and "Can’t Happen Here". Both are almost entirely synth driven with "Can’t Happen Here" being the darker and more aggressive of the two due to the aggressive synth that they use, as well as the ending when the whole band breaks in for the last few moments while Chris Hall yells, “Just can’t happen here” over and over.
This album is definitely worth trying to track down if you’re into the industrial rock of bands such as The Hunger
, God Lives Underwater
, Gravity Kills
or other similar bands. Despite a few songs that might be a little sub par, it is still one of the better mixtures of industrial and mainstream rock. For those that have only heard Stabbing Westward’s more radio friendly songs on future releases, this album could be worth finding if you thought that they were a little too safe and friendly.