Old scars, fresh wounds: Stabbing Westward’s first new album in 20 years cuts just as deep as the band ever did
“Chasing Ghosts,” Stabbing Westward’s first LP release in two decades, shows the band’s evolution while still hitting listeners with the same energy that first made us fans.
Two decades after releasing its last LP, Illinois industrial band Stabbing Westward is back in musical rotation with the new release, “Chasing Ghosts.”
The first LP since Stabbing called it quits in 2002, “Ghosts” takes listeners right back to the band’s glory days in the mid- to late-’90s when the heavy nature of hits “What Do I Have To Do” and “Shame” brought fans together across shared struggles, experiences and doubts.
The music sounds new, with its modern flourishes and time-shifted topics. (Back in 1996, who would have known what you meant if you said your life needed a CTRL-Z? Here there’s a whole song about it.) But the Stabbing Westward energy is the same as it was when the band was a staple of radio and MTV rotations.
“It reminds (listeners) of where we were, which is great, because, I mean, it’s who we are. And the fact that we can still tap into who we are and still have it viable today is amazing,” said Walter Flakus, co-founder of Stabbing Westward and the band’s keyboard player. “We’re perpetuating the music that we love and grew up with and doing the most honest version of Stabbing Westward that we’ve ever been able to do.”
Flakus, who recently moved to Villa Park with his family, created Stabbing Westward with Christopher Hall when the two were in college in Macomb, Illinois. And while he was influenced in his early years by classic rock and bands like Van Halen, he said discovering Ministry and other industrial bands on college radio pushed him in a new direction.
“I played drums in high school. So I was attracted to the rhythms that they were able to add with beats and samples and bass lines. And I think those are the elements that really, really shaped where I wanted to go with music. And luckily, I had a guy right alongside me who felt the same way about this stuff,” he said about writing music with Hall. “And then we were in Macomb, which is a small town in rural Illinois. Even though there’s a university, it’s still small. And this sound was way out of left field. So we really were a fish out of water, and I think that kind of fueled that whole being alternative, being different and going to the beat of our own drummer.”
That musical camaraderie drove the duo to reunite in 2014 when Hall’s father passed away, bringing the former Stabbing Westward vocalist and songwriter back to Illinois.
“You start thinking about, you know, this guy is such an important person to me that we need to bury the hatchet. He’s my brother,” Flakus said.
The reunion was part a celebration of 30 years since the band formed and part in response to an invitation to play the Cold Waves music festival in Chicago in 2016.
“Jason Novak, who puts on the Cold Waves Festival at the Metro every year, he’s like, ‘One of my dreams is to get Stabbing Westward to play Cold Waves. Do you think we could ever make that happen?'”
Their tentative agreement turned into inspiration when the Stabbing Westward pre-party at Double Door sold out in three minutes, Flakus said. They slowly put the band together with some new members — Carlton Bost on guitar and Bobby Amaro on the drum kit — and started writing a new album.
“I’m blessed to have Christopher who can create these lyrics, write lyrics that are still so relatable all these years later,” he said. “I think that that’s always been one of the cornerstones to the success of Stabbing, his ability to write lyrics that everybody can relate to. Everybody can relate to one of the messages in almost all of the songs. And that he can still do that. I’m a lucky guy, because I get to write with that guy all the time.”
“The fact that everybody’s like, ‘Yeah, this is the Stabbing that I grew up with, that I love.’ That’s the best feeling that really makes it all worthwhile,” he said.
• Stabbing Westward returns to Metro for a benefit show for Charles Levi, former bassist for My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult and a longtime staple in the industrial community. The April 15 show will raise funds to help cover medical expenses Levi incurred during a long-term medical issue. Get details and tickets at metrochicago.com.