Ghost Bath – ‘Starmourner’

By Glen Bushell

No genre of music is so precious about its sound than black metal. Started as the antithesis of everything accessible and inviting, it was designed to shock, scare, and antagonise. While some purists refuse to accept anything that isn’t true black metal (or ‘trve’, if you will) the genre has progressed into something entirely different to the pioneering second wave the early ‘90s intended. It has spawned a number of sub genres, some of which may be laughable, but some carry a lot of weight, particularly atmospheric, depressive black metal.

It has also lead to a number of polarising bands, yet none as divisive as Ghost Bath. From the outset, they rubbed people the wrong way after it was believed they were from China, when in truth, they come from North Dakota. Then their breakthrough album, ‘Moonlover’, caused a stir when critics saw them as nothing more than a Deafheaven rip-off. None of this really matters, however, and Ghost Bath are far more unique than many would have you believe. It is something that is showcased perfectly on their new album ‘Starmourner’.

Clocking in at well over an hour long, ‘Starmourner’ is an immersive, expansive trip through the cosmos. Born from depression, misanthropy and solitude, Ghost Bath have turned sadness into a euphoric blend of caustic brutality and enigmatic beauty. Peerless and unique, the vision of Ghost Bath’s primary songwriter, Dennis Mikula, has been fully realised on ‘Starmourner’.

Conceptually, ‘Starmourner’ delves into Jewish angelology and the hierarchy of angels found in religious text. While that may be difficult to drink in when listening, each song is accompanied by a piece of artwork and a parable on the physical release to help understand this notion. It is a well thought out, meticulously planned concept that requires more than just pressing the play button; it is a transcendental journey.

Eschewing actual lyrics, Mikula uses his voice as an instrument: a pained, wailing instrument of shrieks and howls. It brings an element of despair to the sonically uplifting hooks of ‘Seraphic’ and ‘Ambrosial’. It will be like nails to a chalkboard to some, but when layered amongst frantic burst beats and lightening quick, tremelo-picked riffs, Mikula has a way of making you feel his anguish without saying a single word.

Yet for every moment of searing white noise and cascading wall of sound that make up the bulk of ‘Starmourner’, it is driven by the melodic passages; the thorn in the side of black metal purists. ‘Celestial’ is carried by triumphant, major key guitar leads that break through the cacophony of Ghost Bath’s airtight rhythm section, and the vibrant, dynamic arrangement of ‘Luminescence’ is delivered with elegance and grace. Don’t mistake this for a happy record, though, as the feeling of darkness and depression is ever present through the discord.

‘Starmourner’ adds twists, turns and excitement to a genre that didn’t want, nor need, to be accepted by anyone other than the known. Granted, one could suggest that black metal has become catnip for hipsters in recent years, but when a band like Ghost Bath are creating such grandiose compositions as ‘Thrones’ and ‘Cherbium’, who can blame a wider audience for being attracted to this world.

Ghost Bath are still going to divide with ‘Starmourner’ and no doubt there will be the detractors who write the album off as self-indulgent pretension. But those with an open mind, willing to accept something bigger than all of us and are prepared to take this dramatic, awe-inspiring journey, will find what they seek in ‘Starmourner’.

GLEN BUSHELL

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