Ghost Bath: “All of this was intentional, every little detail.”

Angels, depression, and the journey towards 'Starmourner'

Ghost Bath: “All of this was intentional, every little detail.”

By Glen Bushell

Apr 19, 2017 15:33

Concept albums have been a staple of music since the dawn of time. Whether it is a simple love story that weaves the songs together, or a fantastical, mythical journey as told by the great progressive rock bands of old, concept albums make for an interesting listen. In the case of atmospheric black metal band, Ghost Bath, the concept behind their stunning new album ‘Starmourner’ is one of angelology, and the hierarchy of angels within religious texts.

“In short, ancient shamanism,” states Ghost Bath’s primary songwriter, Dennis Mikula, when asked how he came up with the concept for the album. “I buried myself up to my neck in soil in the woods in Norway for 3 days. I had others to bring me water and salted crackers in order to keep my mind sustained and focused. In that time, I was able to conceptualize the new album fully. As a side effect, I am now able to bend silverware with my mind. The two go hand in hand.”

The album arrives after a gruelling few years for Ghost Bath in the wake of their 2015 breakthrough album, ‘Moonlover’. A record that combined harsh, vitriolic black metal with soaring soundscapes, drenched in sorrow and sadness, and brought them to a wider audience. It was written when Mikula lived across the street from a graveyard, and how he and his roommates would wander there guided only by the moonlight. While ‘Starmourner’ may have a grandiose concept, it too was born from a dark time in his life.

“‘Starmourner’ was written in lieu of wanting nothing more than to kill myself – something that still haunts me to this day,” explains Mikula. “I tried to write something happy and cheerful to make myself better, but all it did was destroy me further. I hate myself. I set out to make a record to try to save myself. I ended with something very complex and philosophical in nature. Also very long, like an epic religious text. All of this was intentional, every little detail.”

What separates ‘Starmourner’ from many black metal records is the emphasis on uplifting, euphoric sections. Tracks like ‘Ambrosial’ and ‘Luminescence’ have huge, triumphant guitar lines that break up the caustic blast beats and tremelo picked riffs. Musically, it is a dichotomy of styles that fit together seamlessly, yet Mikula is taken aback by the comments that it is uplifting. “Any happiness you feel when you hear it is something unique to you,” he says, explaining that ‘Starmourner’ is not a happy record. “It’s fucked up and sad. When I wrote this record, when I listen to it, and even when I play it live, it’s depressing to me and takes me to a dark place. There is no escape.”

Where the sadness can be heard is in Mikula’s unique vocal approach. Rather than use lyrics, Mikula shrieks, wails, screams and howls through each track, using his voice as another instrument. While he admits “I just didn’t care enough,” when it came to writing lyrics, it serves its purpose as a cathartic release.

“When you barely care about waking up and getting out of bed in the morning, who cares about things like lyrics, or telling people where you’re really from?” he continues. “It’s a primal exhale of built up anxiety and an attempt – a failed attempt at that- to rid myself of the increasingly strong Thanatos forces that reside in my very being.”

As for what Mikula hopes a listener will take from ‘Starmourner’, the idea is that people will realise that “we are largely insignificant when you look out into the universe,” and that nothing was made for us. It is something that stems from the Boltzmann Brain theory, and the way in which people feel the need to question everything.

“Stop believing your own consciousness has some immense effect on the universe itself and just appreciate it for what it is,” he states. “Explore dark matter. If you can’t live with the fact that you don’t know what happens when you die, and must instead posit a deity to help you sleep at night, consider killing yourself to find out the truth. As for me, I’m okay with not having absolute knowledge of everything.”

Ghost Bath: “All of this was intentional, every little detail.”

However, Mikula is quick to point out that he doesn’t take Ghost Bath’s current standing for granted, and appreciates where they are right now. “Over the past few years my life has completely taken a turn and looks totally different than I would have ever expected or predicted,” he continues. “I’m just doing my best not to take everything for granted and enjoy all the benefits of being in the position that I’m in. Until tax season, that is, at that point I just hate everything.”

Over the course of Ghost Bath’s existence, they have been a very divisive band. Black metal purists have directed a fair share of criticism their way, and some press insist on only comparing them to Deafheaven. Even Mikula himself admitted in a recent interview with Banger TV that people have said they either laughed out loud at Ghost Bath’s music, or have broken down in tears.

“I’m a little hesitant to call art good or bad or better or worse,” he says, addressing the way people perceive Ghost Bath. “I think it’s just a different approach. If people feel that it is wrong or laughable or terrible, then that’s a perfectly valid reaction. There are those that enjoy a certain style or sound and wish to listen to that alone. Fine with me. Although I must admit, seeing people get angry is hilarious to me. I think people feel that we are generally a very serious band. And I would have to say I think we are both more serious than they think and way less serious at the same time.”

Some of this hate towards Ghost Bath comes from seems to be the refusal of purists to let go of the notion that black metal is still only for the underground. No longer is it designed to be the antithesis to other styles, or made only to antagonise. The incorporation of new elements has been crucial to the development of the genre over the years. Ghost Bath seem at home under the banner of atmospheric black metal, but the ‘blackgaze’ term also gets mentioned in the same breath.

“Blackgaze to me implies I am influenced or tried to incorporate some kind of shoegaze bands or elements when that wasn’t the case at all –at least personally,” says Mikula, looking back at what first attracted him to atmospheric black metal. “It was Agalloch, plain and simple. They were the first, which led me into finding the atmospheric black metal albums channel on YouTube. And from there I fell down that whole rabbit hole. ‘Silencer’ was one of my big influences. Pure madness.”

With their current trajectory, and ‘Starmourner’ set to catapult them further, more eyes and ears a likely to be drawn towards Ghost Bath. They may be an avenue for people unfamiliar with this style to find bands such as Underling, Unreqvited, Coldworld and Violet Cold to name a but a few. “I’m sure there’s some who will check out Nuclear Blast, or maybe saw us at Bloodstock that had never heard atmospheric black metal before. So at least seven people,” laughs Mikula.

Looking towards the future of Ghost Bath, Mikula doesn’t just give the usual “more touring, writing, etc” response of most bands, but instead points us towards the parable that accompanies ‘Astral’, the opening track on ‘Starmourner’.

“You give in to your exhaustion as brilliant jade lights dance around you, The attention asked of you is too much and the universe slips out of focus. Your eyelids grow heavy with stardust and all of existence fades black. You drift into a deep slumber.

“Thus begins the first of infinite dreams.”

‘Starmourner’ is released on April 21 via Nuclear Blast Records, and is available to pre-order now. Ghost Bath will also be in the UK next month, opening for Katatonia.

07 LEEDS Brudnell
08 BRISTOL Marble Factory
10 SOUTHAMPTON Engine Rooms
11 MANCHESTER Sound Control
12 GLASGOW Garage
13 BELFAST Limelight 2
14 DUBLIN Academy
16 LONDON Sebright Arms (Ghost Bath headline show)