Review – Ghost Bath: Starmourner

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  • Bio: "GHOST BATH refers to the act of committing suicide by submerging in a body of water. GHOST BATH writes and creates under the assumption that music is an extension of one's own soul." - Press release
  • Label: Nuclear Blast Records
  • Release Date: April 21st, 2017
  • Genre: Depressive Black Metal, Post-Black Metal
  • Website: Visit Website
  • Rating (out of 10):

The once mysterious depressive/post-black metal group Ghost Bath is one of those units that has divided the fan base of an entire genre. Their blend of emotionally charged material, crazed wails, and bouts of anime theme song influence have left people on one side or the other with each new release. Their most recent, Moonlover, an independent effort later picked up by Nuclear Blast for distribution upon signing the five-piece from Minot, North Dakota, has actually received a fair amount of negativity across the board. However, loyal fans who appreciate what they are doing have been anxiously awaiting the follow-up album Starmourner, which is finally upon us. But have the group improved their sound to swoon the naysayers, or will the die-hards not even find this one all that engaging?

Much like their previous effort, Starmourner doesn’t exactly fall in line with the overly digital or completely analog ideals of the style and its sub-genre many that find themselves in those realms feel the need to embrace nowadays. Instead, we’re kind of in the middle ground, and it doesn’t really work out all the time. Some songs such as “Astral” utilize the atmosphere to pull you in a little more, but others end up sounding incredibly flat and uninspiring, leaving you with the antsy sensation of sitting naked on sandpaper and waiting to finally be able to get off it.

“Celestial” is a prime example of what’s wrong with this effort. There are times where the band seems to repeat passages or riffs to achieve a shoegaze approach in a hypnotic manner. Due to how paper-thin the album sounds, these moments are just boring a hell. Even the most glorious of hooks in this song at the start and about four-and-a-half minutes in are equally as unappealing and are saved only by the raspy shouting that breathes a little life into the mix, though not that much. “Ambrosial” does this as well towards the end by repeating a simple chugging riff for way longer than it has any reason to be, adding more bland material to an already unimpressive performance in a way that screams padding. Thankfully, there are some tracks that manage to have enough life in them to overcome the uninteresting audio quality.

“The stories, or parables, look into Jewish angelology and the hierarchy of angels as found in the Bible and other religious texts. Although the album has a definitive joyful and hopeful feel, it is still drenched in depression and sorrow, as any true GHOST BATH record should be.”

– Nameless (vocalist)

“Luminescence” sounds torn straight from Moonlover, emphasizing a lot on melodic leads to set up the proper atmosphere you can sometimes drift away listening to. While the cosmos are captured beyond the anime opening that doesn’t quite fit the rest of the track, there’s enough diversity and changes in tempo to keep you satisfied, as well as a sudden shift into a heated, almost nightmarish world to wrap things up. “Thrones” has plenty of leads at work at a slightly depressing middle section that will grab your attention as it spirals into a chaotic blastbeat fit around four minutes in. However, it made me think the release was playing on full repeat given how similar it sounded to “Seraphic” most of the time. While not a dead ringer given the later passage and effects on the instruments and piano to attempt a vintage record player effect, this stands as one of the more memorable offerings the album has to offer, as well as one that doesn’t seem to try to fill the performance to reach a longer track length for what seems like no point other than fitting some expected norm for their sound.

And then there’s “Angelic” which is a softer, soothing instrumental that doesn’t really have much going in the line of atmosphere, but the composition itself isn’t too bad. It suits the astral and religious themes of the album with a hint of an aquatic tone about half-way through thanks to the build of shoegaze oriented guitar work that feels inspired more by French black metal acts than anything else. It’s a trait felt on other songs on this release from time to time as well. Sadly, it pales in comparison to the closing track “Ode”, a truly relaxing instrumental that also offers closure to an otherwise messy sounding full-length.

Ghost BathWhile Starmourner isn’t going to win over a number of those against the band, it does feel like more of a refined approach in order to lay out the proper conceptual aspects and Jewish religious beliefs incorporated. This definitely is an ambitious album that tries to accomplish a hefty goal, but it is simply hindered by the audio and mastering that was chosen, leaving an otherwise enthusiastic offering as nothing but a flat clutter of styles with the cuts mentioned above in a positive light really being the only ones that have enough strength to linger in your memory for any extended period of time. There are a few solid tracks left in its wake, and a number of moments you will at least find your head bobbing along to. Other than that, we’re stuck with clashing styles, cultures, and bad technical decisions that make this a mediocre release that just doesn’t stand out for the better in the ever expanding universe of black metal.

Ghost BathDigital review copy of this release provided by Nuclear Blast Records via Earsplit PR.