Isn’t it amazing how one guy can define a band’s sound? No matter how many members there are or what the style even is, the key to it all lies on the shoulders of one person and one person only – the vocalist. Back in the 1994, the world was introduced to one of the coolest electro-rock acts, Stabbing Westward. The platinum selling quintet from Chicago released four incredibly dark and emotionally driven albums (Ungod, Wither Blister Burn Peel, Darkest Days and Stabbing Westward) before disbanding in 2002. “What’s the point”, you might ask? Well, what made them stand out among all the other acts just like theirs (i.e., The Hunger, Machines Of Loving Grace, Gravity Kills, The Clay People, Engines Of Aggression, etc.) was their frontman Christopher Hall and his instantly recognizable pipes.
Not long after Stabbing Westward dissolved, Hall started up a new project called The Dreaming. In 2008, the band released their debut album Etched In Blood and frankly, I didn’t like it at all. I found the album to be way too poppy and lacking any backbone at all. So when I read that the band had decided to go in a much darker, Stabbing Westward-esque direction this time around, I was interested but highly suspicious of what I was actually going to get.
For the most part, their statement held true because even though Puppet is an overwhelmingly upbeat record, it’s still much gloomier than Etched In Blood ever was. Much like with Stabbing Westward, the songs are totally engulfed with layer upon layer of soaring vocals, tasty melodies and devious, brooding overtones. The Dreaming’s sound is a solid combination of three of the band members’ former acts, Stabbing Westward (Hall), Econoline Crush (drummer-Johnny Haro) and Genitorturers (guitarist-Eric Griffin who also played in Murderdolls). Every now and again you can hear hints of Filter’s “muscle”, but like I said, that’s only every now and again.
With blasting distortion and towering choruses comes the album’s title track. It’s a nice opener that certainly pinned my ears back and instantly gained my full attention. “Every Trace” features stomping “The Beautiful People” (Marilyn Manson)-style rhythms and pulsating anthem-esque chants that should have crowds going wild. “End In Tears” has this really cool Stabbing Westward-meets-Muse vibe happening which makes it a definite standout amongst the rest. “Stitches” is an aggressive and in-your-face rocker that will have you singing along before you even know it. “Hole” is loaded with cool electros, hefty guitars and monstrous choruses. Musically, “Solo Crucifixion” sounds like it could’ve been a lost Gravity Kills track. Packed with crunching axes, vibrant vox and very danceable beats, this thing is so infectious that it’ll make even the hardest of asses shake, wiggle and groove. The band also take a shot at covering the Depeche Mode classic, “It’s No Good”. I’m not a fan of cover songs on albums, but it’s done well and different enough to at least keep you interested.
While I did enjoy a lot of what Puppet had to offer, there were two things that kept it from being a much more complete and noteworthy release. First of all, some of the songs felt way too sugary for their own good. Tracks like “There Will Be Blood”, “Too Late” and “Always and Forever” come off more like modern takes on 80′s pop songs. They are extremely gooey and should’ve disappeared before the album was even recorded. Secondly, I would’ve loved to see the band throw in a moody ballad or two just to break up the monotony. Hall mastered this with Stabbing Westward, and while I understand this isn’t the same band, there’s no doubt that that influence is the driving force behind The Dreaming’s overall style and sound. So, in my opinion it could (and should) have been done in this instance.
In the end, for any old-school Stabbing Westward fans like myself, this is a must-buy and a welcome addition to your catalog. Puppet is a good album that, with a few tweaks, could’ve been great. It also brings back a sound that has somewhat faded or all but disappeared over the many, many years. While our prayers for a new Stabbing Westward album may never be answered, that’s okay. We have The Dreaming now and that’s not a bad thing…not a bad thing at all.