I'm a newcomer to Ghost Bath's music; I'll say that right now. Press blurb informs me that they play "atmospheric black metal focused on depression and human emotion." Sounds like it should be pretty bleak stuff, right? With two full-length releases prior to this one - 2014's 'Funeral' and 2015's 'Moonlover' - the latter is said to have been an album that represented purgatory and tragedy, through explorations of "melancholy, sorrow, depression, and earthly things". So, expectations would naturally be that we're in for a somewhat sombre and oppressive ride with their Nuclear Blast debut, 'Starmourner'? Not so. Far from it, in fact. This is atmospherically ecstatic black metal... well, on the whole. Further press blurb states that Nameless, the band's frontman, with this new record, opted to explore "joy (instead of sorrow), the cosmos (instead of earth), and paradise (instead of purgatory)" and "most importantly, it explores ecstasy - instead of tragedy - as its basic human emotion."
So, it's black metal, but not in the genre's nihilistic, fantastical, iconoclastic tradition. Ghost Bath are sonic iconoclasts in their own unique way. Sure, there are moments of axiomatic black metal affiliation throughout the album - blast beats; tremolo-picked guitar; shrieked vocals; extreme crescendos; pervasive atmospheres; and a smattering of nefariously darkened passages and sinister tones. However, it would be erroneous to regard this merely as black metal... at least in any generic sense. If black metal is how this is to be regarded, then it's certainly progressing the genre and pushing its erstwhile bleak parameters into a far wider scope. Who'd have thought the genre could be so upbeat? In one sense, it kind of questions the point of genre labels in the first place, and exposes the futility of all the bands who restrict themselves to musically generic parameters.
It's not an exclusively jovial outing, though. Some subtle melancholy creeps in too. This blends with the buoyancy, at times, to create a sonic paradox and ambiguous sentiment of melancholic optimism. The shrieks that accompanying some of the upbeat passages of music are a fine example of this. It's where despair and despondency meet triumphant sounding joviality to great affect. And then there are the moments that point towards a fragility in what might only ever be a jovial facade. The final 2+ minutes of 'Celestial' is the most prominent example of this, where the consonance of the instrumentation is punctuated with a layer of sinister sonics and a wavering dissonance. It's kind of like brief glimpses into a latent darkness lurking beneath the surface
On an album characterised by long instrumental passages in each of the songs (and some solely instrumental tracks), it provides an interesting listening experience where the vocals have be used almost as if another instrument in the songs. For starters, they're not prominent in the mix in any kind of vocal-centric manner or primary driving force of the compositions. Rather, the despair-fuelled screeches have been blended seamlessly into songs' overall atmospheric canvas. And that's the album's undeniable strength and essence - its aesthetic predominance resides within its finely crafted atmospheres.
There are as many moments of beautifully reflective and introspectively poignant art on this album as there are passages of heavied-up euphoria and exaltation. This is an exceptionally important album for the black metal genre.
Review by Mark Holmes
21st April 2017
1) Astral; 2) Seraphic
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
"...an exceptionally important album for the black metal genre."