Stabbing Westward - Wither, Blister, Burn + Peel

05 Jun 2022

Genre: Alternative Rock, Industrial Rock

After a short pause from the Records from the Heart series we are back with a very interesting guest review by none other than Michael Socrates who reviewed one of his major musical influences, the 90s alternative rock band Stabbing Westward!

Michael Socrates is much more than a musician in a really successful post-rock band - he is a complete musician in his own right, as he developed a solo project with a signature sound that goes back to 90s alternative rock. And he is part of another band which is somewhere in between these two soundscapes. When we asked Michael if he would give us a guest review he quickly agreed and also quite quickly came up with his choice, which surprised Thorsten a bit - Stabbing Westward. After listening to the chosen record, it becomes clear that this band is much better than we wanna admit it in retrospect. In that sense, Michael already came up with a very convincing review. Check it out now!

It’s hard not to think back on music for nostalgia sake and not much else. The true test of musicianship and songwriting power is its lasting ability to always make you feel like your hearing it for the first. The rush of emotions just reignites every time you give that certain song or album a spin. That’s been the true testament to whether a band becomes logged into the halls of my musical museum or get banished to the discard pile to never be thought of again. Thankfully, Stabbing Westward ended up in the former.

During my musically formidable years in middle school, I was a sponge for anything dark, synthy and moving. I found myself drawn to albums that shared a darker, more melodic quality to them than most of the traditional rock music that was happening at the time.

While staying at a good buddies house one night, the sounds of 120 minutes from MTV was swirling through the ether. As I drifted off, a riff immediately startled my senses awake and I was instantly energized, making sure my body was taking in everything that was emitting from that rear projection tv. As the video drew to a close, it was finally revealed what musical entity had jolted my body awake: Stabbing Westward. And the song was called “Shame”.

Since this was the late 90’s we’re talking about, I couldn’t just look up who this band was and listen to the song over and over again. I had to wait. And wait. And wait some more until MVT decided it was finally time to play the video again (at 1 in the morning). I was hooked and needed more.

After coaxing my mom to drive me to K Mart to spend the last $15 I had to my name, I finally had Wither, Blister, Burn + Peel in my adolescent hands.

I was expecting tons of songs that all sounded like “Shame” (which I was totally cool with), but what I got was a heavy slab of melodic industrial tunes that my ears had never heard before. The use and focus of synths, pianos, live drums and guitars just instantly magnetized my riff-hungry brain and I absorbed every note. From the dark and brooding opening of “I Don’t Believe” to the one-two punch of “Shame” and “What Do I Have To Do”, this album ran the gamut from depressed, lethargic croons to outright venom in equal parts.

“Why” provides a quiet to the storm as vocalist Christopher Hall croons about a relationship gone awry through pulsing bleeps and angelic piano taps. In fact, just about every song Stabbing Westward writes deals with this same separation of love and hate. The push and pull of what the heart wants and what the heart needs. It’s a constant anguish that Hall just can’t seem to let go of.

“Inside You”, “Falls Apart” and “So Wrong” blend together in great fashion. The band has always had a knack for writing songs that carry an arc over certain periods of their albums, and these three tracks are a perfect example of that. From faint whisps turn percussive beats, to driving guitars with pulsing bass dirtied up to it’s highest form, the ride provided creeps from quiet rage to a full blown assault of vitriol coalescing into a swingy, upbeat middle finger to the tormentors of Hall’s heart. While some might find Hall’s constant reference to love gone bad over indulgent, my adolescent love-worn heart felt every word.

“Crushing Me” is served up as a bit of a pallet cleanser meant to wipe your brain from the previous auditory onslaught. A slow cook, “Crushing Me” eventually descends to the depths of Hall’s soul. The song closes in chaotic fashion as the instruments bend and break into each other creating a cacophony of industrial madness. Once again, my young connected with these sounds in a way it hadn’t done before.

“Sleep” is a painful song to listen to lyrically as it delves into the mind of woman suffering abuse from her father. While the musicality of the track is brooding and driving, the lyrics stand out above all else as it dives into territory not normally explored from Stabbing Westward. I think that’s why this song latched into my brain so much. My brother and I would listen to that track on repeat, pointing all the little musical nuances that seemed to sound brand new with every repeat listen.

Last songs on Stabbing Westward albums always provide a deep dive into what the band was to me. Deeply electronic, but with heart and punchiness. They were able to explore darker musical territory, while keeping the melody in tact throughout. The last track on WBP+P is “Slipping Away”, a track that starts off sounding as if it was recording with one microphone and nothing else. It slowly drives further in as the production grows, showing the track to be much more electronically driven than first glance would suggest. The power of this track is paramount to the album, and one of my favorite parts of the entire record. Just the perfect ending to (imo) a perfect record.

I write all this to give some insight into what I do currently. My solo project (Brave Arrows) and my modern rock project (Artificial Astronaut) draw deep from my love of SW and industrial in general. I’ve always loved the use of electronics within the context of a rock back, and SW pushed all those buttons for me. Sure, lots of other electronic bands are great (Skinny Puppy, KMFDM, Ministry, Killing Joke, Gravity Kills, Front 242….the list goes on), but Stabbing Westward just blended it all so well, and changed my entire musical direction at my most musically impressionable time. And for that, I couldn’t be more grateful.

It’s worth mentioning that SW are back and still making amazing music. They just released their new record Chasing Ghosts and it’s a return to form for a band I’ve never fallen away from. On Bandcamp you can listen to it.


You can listen to Stabbing Westward’s Wither, Blister, Burn + Peel by using the player at the top and here you can find Michael’s last two records by Brave Arrows and Artificial Astronaut