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.”