Stabbing Westward have a mixed legacy amongst scene folks. While the band have their share of loyal devotees, they’re often unfairly lumped into the category of crossover also-rans, a product of the mainstream’s brief mid-nineties flirtation with industrial rock. The latter viewpoint is largely informed by two misconceptions; firstly that they were a standard alt rock band with industrial trappings (this narrative conveniently ignores their debut Ungod, a legit midwest scene classic), and that Christopher Hall’s emotional vocal delivery is unsuited for big, bad, industrial rock.
Comeback record Chasing Ghosts puts the lie to both of those points without discarding Stabbing Westward’s core appeal: while the performances and production (provided by longtime associate, the legendary John Fryer) remain slick and radio-ready, the programming and songwriting shows their industrial pedigree. The thick synth bass and ghostly pads on the verse of “Cold” set the track’s pensive mood and act as a foundation for a discontented and anthemic chorus marked by thick guitar chug. It’s classic Stabbing Westward, and they work the template tremendously throughout – “Damaged Goods” and “Ghost” vary the tempo and arrangement but maintaining the formula’s immediacy. They’re songs that would fit snugly with the band’s legacy hits on a playlist, but don’t feel derivative of them.
And while those who take issue with Hall likely won’t be converted by these songs, it’s worth noting how much the context around his style of delivery has changed. The further hybridization of industrial with darkwave and goth sounds in the decades since the band’s breakthrough shouldn’t be overlooked, and while he has always been go-for-broke as a vocalist, he walks the line between tastefully confessional and overwrought quite well. His lyrical concerns are largely unchanged, with lost love and bitter, broken-hearted recrimination the order of the day, but aside from a few missteps (“Control Z”‘s main conceit is a bit of an eye-roller), it’s a match for the band’s grand melodrama. Hall’s conviction and sincerity is as much a part of Stabbing Westward’s as anything, and he sounds as good here as he ever has; instrumentally minimal closing track “The End” really showcases his vocal charisma, and the mid-period Cure homage “Push” draws a handy line to the band’s broader, and more emotionally resonant influences.
The crux of all this is pretty straightforward: Stabbing Westward have always been very good at what they do, with Chasing Ghosts acting as both a proper comeback and an affirmation of their strengths. Regardless of any baggage carried over from the band’s major label era, they should be credited for their songcraft and broad club appeal, and for making good on what earned them their diehard audience.