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MUSIC REVIEW

Stabbing Westward

Most Bands Don’t Self-Title Their Fourth Album

By Chaitra Chandrasekhar

Staff Writer

The Chicago-born, LA-based band Stabbing Westward recently released their new self-titled album. Signaling their change in musical style, this album is a far cry from the industrial metal timbre of their earlier albums. This is Stabbing Westward’s answer to the new mass interest in the alternative rock/pop phenomenon. The single “So Far Away” from this album is fast climbing the charts of alternative and rock radio stations all over the U.S. Stabbing Westward is produced by Ed Buller (of Suede, Crystal Method, and Ben Lee fame) and mixed by Tom Lord-Alge (Wallflowers, Hole, Live).

This album signals a mellowing down of their blistering guitars and screaming electronics. The compromise that they had to make is the loss of the raw energy and strong emotion that was present in Ungod (1994), Wither Blister Burn and Peel (1996) and Darkest Days (1998). Although the album is fairly dark, the lyrics border on the evocative sentimentality of pop artists -- a definite lightening of their earlier dark albums. This album is a clear departure from their early semi-industrial sound.

The second and third tracks begin with soft acoustic, but transition smoothly into power-rock. “I Remember” is an uncharacteristic love song from this predominantly anti-love band.

Their first three albums were recorded with Columbia/Sony records. After a successful stint, Stabbing Westward recently turned to KOCH Records (part of KOCH Entertainment) for their fourth album. They’ve reinvented themselves on the new record with a fresh label, a new guitar player (New-York based Derrek Hawkins), and an alternative sound. They are excited about their new experiment, calling it a “rebirth” (hence the self-title).

In Stabbing Westward, chords and riffs fill out the background (in places), replacing the old, echoing industrial strains. “Television,” the last track on the album, comes closest to their early leaning towards industry metal. Though they’ve made a smooth transition to the mainstream, somehow you can’t help feeling that their new sound isn’t something they’re particularly at ease with. They seem to falter just a little bit with their love songs “Angel” and “The Only Thing.”

Lyrically, they have proven their critics wrong. Angst-ridden lyrics have been replaced by lovelorn ones for the most part (although sometimes deceptively), and despite all of the love emanating from Stabbing Westward, their dark undertones spice up a large part of the album. Whether it is in “So Far Away” (“Desperately I try to fight this overwhelming sense that I may never find the strength to change how hopeless we’ve become ... Every time that I touch you, I feel so far away”), or in “Happy” (“Did you simply throw our life away just to be unhappy?”), or in “Perfect” (“Why can’t it be perfect like it used to be?”), the band shows it’s ambivalence between a cynic’s view and a lover’s view.

The band’s lineup has stayed fairly constant over the years. After “Ungod,” guitarist Stuart Zechman and drummer David Suycott left the band, and Andrew Kubiszewski (formerly of The The) came in. Marcus Eliopulos did a short stint on the guitar, and now Derek Hawkins is the additional guitarist.

All in all, the band is still rocking as they tour (from 5/29 to 8/10). “After two years of musical soul searching, we have finally finished our fourth album.” the band says. “With a new label, a new guitar player, and a new sound, this is both an evolution and a new beginning.” Although most old fans will definitely miss the old reverberations, Stabbing Westward has done a great job of entering the alternative/semi-rock stream and gaining a whole new audience. The guitar has replaced the keyboard, and light lyrics have replaced the old darker ones. The band has grown old -- whether they have matured or aged is for you to judge.