Stabbing Westward -- _Darkest Days_ (Columbia)

Stabbing Westward follows up their magnificent "Wither Blister Burn + Peel" opus with another slab of industrial-tinged metal mined from the same vein. "Darkest Days" is a fine aural assault left of the musical center, easily outshining the less-polished metallic industrial murk that too often passes for music and only a few magical moments short of surpassing its predecessor.

Likely to be one of the most important metal bands of the next decade, Stabbing Westward stresses melody and composition over noise, their industrial elements fusing coherently instead of merely spewing attitude. On "Darkest Days," this coherence extends beyond individual songs to the entire album, 16 tracks divisible by mood and subject into four-song blocks. This added structure only enhances the effect of slams like the industrial and melodic "The Thing I Hate," the somber "Waking Up Beside You," and the Nine Inch Nails-ish thumps of "Everything I Touch" and "You Complete Me." The overall impact of the album (including the wonderfully affecting artwork) is not merely a step up from their previous work, but a step up from nearly everything else in modern metal.

While there are no weaknesses to the album, there are also no truly devastating singles like "Shame" or "What Do I Have To Do?" from "Wither Blister Burn + Peel." "Save Yourself" is too beaty (although fine for club play) and even strong tracks like "Sometimes It Hurts" and "Drug Store" just don't have the magic of past breakthrough chart-toppers. But condemning the album for this is like saying we shouldn't have paid attention to Eric Clapton for the past 25 years or so because he never pulled off another "Layla" -- it just misses the point. "Darkest Days" is a moody, melodic blast of skillfully forged metal with new strengths all its own, a mature and artistically superior statement from the top of the modern metal heap.

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