It's been nearly four years since Stabbing Westward released its debut album, Ungod, on an unsuspecting music scene. Having packed at least a decade's worth of experience into the interim, Stabbing Westward is taking the wraps off Wither Blister Burn + Peel, an album that increases the power of Ungod to a whole new level of intensity.
Following the release of Ungod, Stabbing Westward tore into a year's worth of non-stop touring, a period that saw the band as headliner and opening act for groups as disparate as Prong, Alice Donut, and Killing Joke, arena dates with Depeche Mode and a performance on the main stage of the U.K.s famed Reading Festival. In the twisted time-line connecting Ungod and Wither Blister Burn + Peel, there have been personnel changes and attitude shifts. There is one constant thread, however, in the music of Stabbing Westward.... Call it a goal, call it a vision, call it a mission, but there's an intangible something that keeps the band going and gives Stabbing Westward its ongoing integrity.
Stabbing Westward singer/songwriter Christopher Hall turns his emotions inside-out: intensely personal, painful, and obviously real, his words are signs and symbols describing the person who wrote them.
"I think the songs are much less bitter this time," says Hall of the new album. "There's less finger pointing. The last record was filled with a lot of 'you did this to me, you took this from me....' This album looks at the situation from the perspective of personal responsibility."Wither Blister Burn + Peel ups the ante on Stabbing Westward's evolving musical strengths as well. The sonic elements from that earned the band critical praise and a rabid fan base with Ungod remain intact, but Stabbing Westward has expanded those elements to include an emotionally sophisticated lyrical perspective and a new complexity of sound. UNGOD was hailed by Alternative Press as a mighty impressive first effort and stated ...Stabbing Westward manage to fuse together anger and adrenaline, traditional songwriting and some thundering earthquake-inducing melodies. While Hall's anger may've turned inward, Stabbing Westward's music has exploded outward.
"I can't decide if it's a radical departure or not," says Hall of the new record, "but it's different. I think that 14 months of playing live made the music really focused, in terms of what we liked and what we didn't like about it. One of the things that's always bothered me was the whole testosterone, hard-edged metal kind of vibe."With Wither Blister Burn + Peel, Stabbing Westward relegate shopworn terms like "metal" and "industrial" to the scrap-heap of history.
Stabbing Westward was formed, nearly ten year's ago, as an antidote to the sleepy college town boredom suffered by Hall and Flakus.
"We were living in a small, small town called Macomb, Illinois," Flakus remembers. "We were floating in and out of various bands, doing different things. Finally, we decided to stop playing in other people's bands and do our own thing."Moving to Chicago in 1986, Stabbing Westward began the first step in a long series of metamorphoses: they added a guitarist; Flakus played keyboards; Hall played bass; and a drum machine filled in as a rhythm section. Nine Inch Nails' drummer Chris Vrenna came aboard for a spell (Hall and Vrenna had both served in Die Warzau's touring ensemble) and was replaced by David Suycott. With the addition of guitarist Stuart Zechman, Stabbing Westward became a five-piece.
Columbia Records heard the future in Stabbing Westward's sound and flew the band to London to record Ungod with producer John Fryer (Nine Inch Nails, Love & Rockets, Cocteau Twins). That working relationship proved so successful that Fryer was re-enlisted (as producer and engineer) for Wither Blister Burn + Peel.
"We really liked what he did on the first record," Hall explains. "We knew it would be interesting to see what happened with the new line-up. I thought he could really help us a lot, because when we demo'ed this year, the songs were a lot more prepared than they were the last time. We were determined to do this record with a totally different philosophy from the last one. We were going to use as few effects as possible, make it more like a live band. We wanted it to make it sound as much like each individual player and their style as possible."The album was recorded at Bearsville studios in New York, and mixed by Tim Palmer (Pearl Jam, Sponge).
By the time recording Wither Blister Burn + Peel came around, the band had enlisted the talents of Andy Kubiszewski (replacing David Suycott) who was fresh out of the studio with Prick as well as some recording with Nine Inch Nails. Andy's background is so diverse that his resume includes a stint with the Cleveland Orchestra as well as time spent touring with The The and Crowded House.
"We brought Andy in to replace Dave and finish the tour," Flakus explains. "Then we asked him to stick around and he brought in some of his ideas. It opened up a whole new depth to songwriting; he ended up being one of our major songwriters."With the departure of guitarist Stuart Zechman following the last tour, the rest of the band ended up playing all guitar parts on the new album.
"Every step of the way has been interesting," Sellers observes. "You go from playing clubs to writing a bunch of songs to getting a record deal to getting a producer like John Fryer to going to London.... It was like graduating from high school and going to college."If that's true, then Wither Blister Burn + Peel is like getting outta grad school with a Ph.D. in the physics and psychology of sonic mayhem.