photo & text by nacrowe
back in the day, ILLINOIS-based INDUSTRIAL-tinged ALTERNATIVE ROCK band STABBING WESTWARD were often unfairly tagged by critics as NINE INCH NAILS soundalikes and essentially OPPORTUNISTIC wannabes. it makes sense given that INDUSTRIAL MUSIC was largely a MISUNDERSTOOD underground affair until the genius of TRENT REZNOR and NINE INCH NAILS elevated the form from obscurity and found a national audience, especially with the ICONIC release of THE DOWNWARD SPIRAL (INTERSCOPE, 1994). pre-NINE INCH NAILS, national music critics were largely unfamiliar with or ignored entirely INNOVATIVE acts like SKINNY PUPPY, THROBBING GRISTLE, FRONT 242 or MINISTRY. so i understand why STABBING WESTWARD took flack for sounding tangentially similar to a major buzz band of the moment when they released their WITHER BLISTER BURN + PEEL (COLUMBIA, 1995) album.
but STABBING WESTWARD is its own thing. to my ears they have more in common with the ALTERNATIVE ROCK / METAL wing of INDUSTRIAL-influenced music; acts like FILTER, GRAVITY KILLS, RAMMSTEIN and even early MARILYN MANSON who basically utilized SAMPLING and DRUM MACHINES to augment their TRADITIONAL ROCK AND ROLL sound. NINE INCH NAILS is an entirely different part of that spectrum / continuum having effectively carved out their own respected niche in the process. the thrill of STABBING WESTWARD is in WELL-CONSTRUCTED singles like "SHAME" and "WHAT DO I HAVE TO DO?" that showcase the CHARGED, EXISTENTIAL howling of CHARISMATIC frontman CHRISTOPHER HALL, who often comes across as someone on the verge of a PSYCHOTIC break from this world. it is almost operatic in nature given the theatrical dynamics of their approach to songwriting, each song is almost a case study in longing, unrequited LOVE or bitter ENVY. its always FULL-TILT, TORQUED emotions and the EXISTENTIAL fear of subsuming ones identity to the paralysis of EXPLOSIVE romantic PAIN with STABBING WESTWARD.
or such is how i perceived their appeal when i learned of the group from a classmate and friend in the late 1990s while a sophomore at a boarding school in NEW ENGLAND. i remember being surrounded by people of INCREDIBLE means and access with their CHARMED lives seemingly on hold for them to finish high school and feeling alienated by it all. my peer group was on a different level and deep down i just felt like a lost dunce from ORANGE COUNTY who somehow through a break in the time-space continuum found myself attending alongside them. STABBING WESTWARD and the sound of WITHER BLISTER BURN + PEEL is SOCIAL ISOLATION personified. it remains an important FORMATIVE record in my life, especially at such PIVOTAL state in my life. even in retrospect, it is most definitely worth checking out.