I’ve reached what is referred to by some as the ‘Winter’ of my life, that is the time of reflection when you notice things that make you realise how long you’ve been flattening the mud in your chosen dwelling. There’s been a few, The Crow turned 20 this year, you can read about that here, Empire Records, one of the finest films ever made, turn 25 next year. So it’s with a bitter heart I celebrate 2 decades of an album that had a massive impact on my life, Ungod.
Now for some Stabbing Westward were the start of a sub-culture lovingly referred to these days as Screamo, but I refute that claim and insist that the genius and talent of Christopher Hall and his bandmates can not be likened to moody, make-up wearing, misfits who didn’t get enough “me time”. For me personally Stabbing Westward were my first foray into what real angst was and how that could be articulated into lyrics, and ultimately a song. When my friends discovered SW it was when they released Darkest Days and the epic “Thing I Hate” was used to give Duke Nukem some atmosphere, and most of them weren’t that into it. I however had already been listening to Stabbing Westward since 1994 when I was given Ungod on Tape!… yes a Cassette Tape, remember them?
I remember not liking it at first, I wasn’t hooked on the sound, but I listened to it a few more times and really started to listen to the lyrics, the things Chris was saying weren’t like I’d heard other people say (keeping in mind at this point I was 12 and my reference points were Nirvana, The Offspring etc. etc.). I remember thinking this guy was really angry at something and for an artist to convey that kind of emotion to a 12 year old is, well pretty much impossible. I took on board this style of really telling it how it is in my writing, which up to now had been influenced almost entirely by Jim Steinman, and as the years passed and life threw me it’s torments I developed my own ethos that evolved around a policy of pure truth, no matter how hard it may be to hear.
‘Violent Mood Swings’ is probably the albums stand-out track, it’s bassy throughout with the rest of the backing giving the angst-enriched vocals a meaner feel. It’s a track that feels as aggressive as it sounds, without the brutality of hardcore bands like Madball, it’s a different type of aggression, repressed aggression, like someone screaming into a pillow rather than punching a wall. Playing a close second in the highlights would have to be ‘Nothing’ which has the more electronic feel to it, the sounds made by the guitar were, again, different to anything I had experienced so after a time of listening to it I became hooked and it was Stabbing Westward, surprisingly, that led me to bands like Nine Inch Nails, Ministry and their contemporaries. All the tracks tap along, but without really ever getting into a pace that threatens to leave the melancholy, it ebbs and flows through it’s far reaching depths of varying misery but never hints at a light at the end of the tunnel. The album itself marked the bands first major label release, some say it lacked the real underground feel of Wither, Blister, Burn, Peel but it was still a hot amongst fans. Interestingly enough it was recorded in London, England, just up the road from me.
Ungod wasn’t Stabbing Westward’s best album by any stretch, in fact in the catalogue of four albums it is commercially the least favourite but for hardcore fans it’s the most stripped down and honest offering from a band who were known for emotional, no frills albums that spoke to a wider audience. I wonder how many bands today listened to Stabbing Westward growing up and were directly influenced by it, creating the “I’m 18 and angry at my mum” culture we see in bands today, but won’t admit to it. Stabbing Westward was put to bed far too early, there was so much promise in that band that the next album would have been amazing, in fact if you were lucky enough to get your hands on the early EP’s released by Christopher Hall in the early days of his new band The Dreaming, the promise was there, the old SW raw anger was there, it’s just a shame the album that we got was a slightly watered down version of that promise. I still really like The Dreaming, and I love Chris Hall as a writer and performer but I miss Stabbing Westward and will always regard Ungod as the album that make me think of music as a vessel for darker emotions.
I urge you to get a copy of Ungod, you can probably get it cheap second hand on some corporate whore house masquerading as a music store, or maybe if you’re lucky a local market. Give it a listen and appreciate the evolution of what eventually turned ten years later into Emo, and if you are someone of the Emo/Screamo persuasion then I encourage you to learn your history. Go and find Christopher Hall on Twitter and tell him what an amazing album this was, actually still is, tell him you want more Stabbing Westward and maybe… just maybe… he’ll listen.