By Greg Maki
No band defined my late-’90s musical tastes more than Stabbing Westward. Something about Christopher Hall’s emotive vocals and the heavy guitars layered on top of dark, electronic rhythms spoke to me. “Wither Blister Burn & Peel” (1996), featuring the hits “What Do I Have to Do?” and “Shame,” made me a fan, then “Darkest Days” (1998), headlined by the once ubiquitous “Save Yourself,” became the album of my college years. The less said about the 2001 self-titled effort, which veered off in a poppier direction, the better. It wasn’t a surprise to me that the band broke up less than a year after its release.
Hall went on to form The Dreaming, pursuing a rawer sound with punk rock influences. Stabbing Westward keyboardist Walter Flakus, who had been working in radio, came on board in 2015, planting the seeds that grew into a Stabbing Westward reunion in 2016. After a number of live shows, including a 2018 tour celebrating the 20th anniversary of “Darkest Days,” the band started releasing new music in early 2020, culminating about two years later with “Chasing Ghosts,” Stabbing Westward’s fifth full-length and first in more than two decades.
After all that time, the chemistry between Hall and Flakus—who are joined by Carlton Bost (guitars/programming) and Bobby Amaro (drums)—is as strong as ever. In short, “Chasing Ghosts” is the record that should have followed “Darkest Days.”
Hall seems to have not aged a day in the intervening years; if anything, his voice is even more powerful than it was in the band’s heyday. While in the past, he at times stretched his range to its limits, straining to hit some of those anguished screams, he now seems to have found a real comfort zone. His performance sounds so natural, effortless even, perfectly complementing soundscapes that seamlessly mix aggressive guitars with electronic and moodier influences, such as Depeche Mode or The Cure.
Songs like “I Am Nothing” and “Dead and Gone” sound like vintage Stabbing Westward tunes that could have been ‘90s outtakes revisited (the latter has heavy shades of the 1994 debut “Ungod”), while others, such as “Push,” “Crawl,” “Ghost” and “The End,” show a maturity that comes only from a band comfortable enough to be itself and not try to conform to what anyone else is doing. “Darkest Days” remains Stabbing Westward’s masterpiece, but “Chasing Ghosts” stacks up admirably to the band’s entire discography, showing it has a lot more to offer in 2022 than nostalgia.
COP International – March 18, 2022