It is every fan’s dream for their favorite defunct bands to rise from the dead. Such a resurrection gives a little shot of hope in this dreary world right now. Stabbing Westward is an old favorite of mine, and I was thrilled when they released an EP in 2020, almost 20 years after their 2001 self-titled record. Chasing Ghosts, their fifth full length record, released on March 18th, and it was worth the wait.
Stabbing Westward formed in 1985 and began releasing albums in the early 90s. Their current lineup is Christopher Hall, Walter Flakus, Carlton Bost, and Bobby Amaro on drums. Chris and Walter are original members while Carton and Bobby joined in the last 5 years. It’s a little fuzzy about who plays what, though Chris is obviously on vocals and guitars, Walter seems to play keys and samples, Carlton seems to be on bass and guitar, and Bobby is definitely on drums.
This band has been compared ad nauseam to many other groups out there. They play an alternative rock that is heavy on industrial and electronic sounds, with a side of psychedelia. You’ll see them compared to Nine Inch Nails and grunge bands and nu metal bands, but they never really fit in with any of them. They were always a little different, and they predate most of those other bands anyways.
Stabbing Westward’s beating heart is Christopher Hall and his spine-shattering vocals. Here he is, 20 years later, and I think his vocals might be better than ever. The band has always been about emotion and angst, and much of that is channeled through Chris’ amazing higher range—not quite a scream but with all the power that a scream carries. On Chasing Ghosts, Chris is in incredible form. His performance is not only powerful and nuanced and heartfelt, but also relatable and nostalgic.
Another heart of the band is Walter’ keys and electronica. I’m happy to say that the band has delved deeply in this area. While there are plenty of dark riffs that are greatly satisfying, much of the music is keyboard-based, especially to create atmosphere or a build up to climactic segments. I love the keyboard tones chosen on this record, as they add an eerie, haunting sound to the mix. I would also point to Carlton’s bass and Bobby’s drums as highlights. The bass lines here are groovy and riveting, and the rhythm section really makes the album feel alive.
Chasing Ghosts has so much going for it. While it certainly sounds like the band I loved in the 90s, it contains plenty of fresh ideas and electronic twists that make it feel layered and interesting. You can hear this in the singles, even. “I Am Nothing” has all the angst and potent vocals you could want, plus driving guitars and ambient tones to boot. “Ghost” is even better with its incredibly catchy chorus, instrumental portion, and sweet keyboard lines. We also already heard “Dead and Gone”, “Cold”, and “Crawl” on their 2020 EP, so I’ve discussed those songs elsewhere, and somehow they feel even more effective here, specially “Cold”, for some reason.
That leaves 5 songs to discuss. I’ll come right out and admit that “Damaged Goods”, “Control Z”, and “Wasteland” are great songs, though the lyrics are a little hammy. I’m not a huge fan of songs where the title is repeated in the chorus multiple times. Just feels weird to me. I will say, though, that all three songs have searing performances and some are even dance-worthy, and Chris makes effective use of the lyrics both in how he sings them and in how they are positioned in the songs. These three are good songs on an excellent album, and I have to admit that they are catchy as hell.
My favorite two songs on the album are “Push” and “The End”. I feel like fans have been talking quite a bit about them. “Push” is a seven-minute piece that is soaked in a soothing, ethereal synth atmosphere for almost half of its runtime. Yes, it really sets the tone well with its glorious keys and subtle guitar touches, almost like being in a trance. The lyrics, too, are fantastically written and bring tears to my eyes. Between the excellent chorus, otherworldly sound, and emotional vocals and lyrics, this song really sets the bar high for songs this year. It is a pure dream.
“The End” is almost as good. While “Push” features groove and beat, this closer is mostly a hovering, disquieted piece. Its synth tones are maybe a little more unnerving and hopeless, and this matches the sorrow and melancholy of the lyrics, too. This song is one that I think fans will love more and more, and I think it will sound incredible in a live setting. I love the way it weaves with shade and mood an intoxicating knot of emotion, one that is difficult to untie once it ends. You certainly will dwell on it for a little bit, at the very least.
Stabbing Westward have produced something way above expectations. Not that I expected the album to be bad, but that I expected them to settle for their original sound. Instead, they have combined it with utter ether, creative electronica, and superb song structures to create an album that stands tall with the best we’ve heard so far this year.
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