For the past decade, the rockers of White Hills have been rapidly expanding their discography. Since their formation in 2005, they have released a slew of albums that have consistently nailed the space rock aesthetic. Dave W’s eclectic songwriting approach paired with Ego Sensation’s throbbing bass grooves effectively molded a unique rock sound that was simultaneously heavy and airy. Yet, perhaps more impressive has been the duo’s ability to pull from a handful of stylistic influences in order to subtly — and, at times, not so subtly — transform this sound.
On White Hills’ latest offering, Stop Mute Defeat, we see them pivot quite dramatically, as they infuse their rock ‘n’ roll grooves with some unabashedly electro-industrial atmospheres. From the album opener, “Overlord,” listeners are quickly cued into the band’s chameleonic shift in style. Pounding drums and overdriven guitars maintain the rock overtones that have always defined the group’s catalog, but these are underpinned by wailing sirens, causing a sense of aggressive sonic discord that is a stark contrast from the relative unobtrusiveness of space rock. Meanwhile, Dave W’s vocals are almost punk-esque in both their abrasive timbre and the defiant lyricism, which features anarchistic calls to “defy the law.”
However, if Stop Mute Defeat’s stylistic departure was somewhat evident after “Overlord,” it becomes abundantly clear by the album’s third track, “Importance 101.” A pulsating synth bass line and a machine-like snare combine to form a retro, gritty sonic landscape that induces memories of Pretty Hate Machine-era Nine Inch Nails. This comparison is made all the more fitting by the duo’s use of looping musical structures, as they opt rather to build their sound outwards, adding layer upon layer in Reznor-esque fashion. The following songs, “Attack Mode” and “If…1…2,” continue to embrace an industrially-charged aesthetic. “Attack Mode” sees White Hills at perhaps their most violent, as they channel Ministry’s brand of hard-hitting, guitar-driven industrial metal; Dave W’s vocal delivery is also highly evocative to that of Al Jourgensen, while his lyrics are similarly pointed and political: “Societies where misogyny leads and the objectification of young girls runs free.” The following track also captures an industrial sound, albeit a much different one. “If…1…2” blends the avant-garde electronic experimentation of Throbbing Gristle with the gothic brooding of Joy Division. “Entertainer” is similarly steeped in ‘80s electro-pop, with its campy synth swells and New Wave-esque vocals, although it lacks the caustic grit of the previous offerings.
And on the final, eponymous track, White Hills reiterate the album’s clear industrial influence. The song’s highly uptempo, digitally-processed beat thumps along, reminding listeners of 1989’s “Head Like A Hole.” And, in the true spirit of industrial music, Dave W and Ego Sensation pepper their soundscape with harsh sonic textures, including backmasked guitars, a vibraphone and a bevy of other dizzying noises. The attention-challenged listener will surely remain engaged.
Yet for those simply craving the straight-ahead rock rhythms that typified much of White Hills’ earlier work, Stop Mute Defeat does not fully abandon this approach. “A Trick of the Mind” and “Sugar Hill,” in particular, offer tasty bass riffs that help to recapture the rock energy that went missing after a few of the album’s more introspective numbers. White Hills are at their best when they build music around Ego Sensation’s A+ bass work. While tracks like “If…1…2” and “Entertainer” certainly craft impressively dark, electro-inflected soundscapes, the vivacious “A Trick of the Mind” serves as a much better reminder of why the duo have amassed such a loyal following over the years: they are able to color infectious grooves with various experimental elements to prevent their sound from ever becoming stale.