It is not often that a band as divisive as Ghost Bath comes around. Sure, you could argue that their genre-brethren, Deafheaven, are of the same ilk – challenging conceptions of metal imagery and genre casts altogether. In both cases, we look at bands who incorporate driven, post-rock rhythms into black metal soundscapes that fulfill their roles more typically with tortured shrieking and meandering, depressive melodies. In both cases, still, we have bands that will undoubtedly piss off the genre-faithful, but invigorate those who are more interested in the quality of the product, and not necessarily the “trve”-ness of its sound. My personal argument is that Ghost Bath’s ‘Moonlover’ is the dark, loathesome sibling of Deafheaven’s ‘Sunbather’ (seriously, the titles) and that each have a place in changing how metal fans interpret the next (d)evolution of its most grim, sorrowful and gritty genre: black metal.
Ghost Bath, rumored for some time to hail from China, have recently come forth and confirmed their location as Minot, North Dakota. In that confirmation, they carry a personal mantra forward: that they are so hateful of themselves and their personal existence that they chose to disguise their location, names and likenesses. We still don’t know much about who they are, but this is a group who have fully bought into their own image. Whether or not that’s a good thing is to be debated. The more crucial point, here, is that the music they write is actually good. It’s not traditional black metal, no, but this might be exactly what Deafheaven’s ‘Sunbather’ wasn’t: palatable and interesting. I’m not here to say that Deafheaven wrote a bad album at all. I enjoyed ‘Sunbather’, but I think that ‘Moonlover’ offers a better product, and a final confirmation of blackgaze as metal’s next big thing. To some, this will be for the absolute worst, but this kind of genre combination is not unprecedented. Bands like Agalloch, Alcest and Woods of Desolation have either toyed with or incorporated these ideas long before Ghost Bath ever conceived the thought of it. The difference? The floodgates finally seem to be open. The band have done the formula so well on this release that multitudes of copycats are sure to follow.
As for the album itself, ‘Moonlover’ achieves a sort of mystic completion by doing exactly what you expect, and turning that expectation over on its head. Melancholy is manifest here in both minor and major keys. Some motifs are of unexpected happiness, while others feast on abject sadness and the infinitude of deep atmospheric chord progressions. What surprised me foremost was how focused the instrumental sections were. With thoughtful composition, no second feels wasted, and the music itself survives despite lacking the highly characteristic shrieks that otherwise fill sonic voids. We are treated to a sense for songwriting, decent production and a product that knows exactly what it was meant to achieve. I know the reasons for which this album will receive flack. I have read countless arguments both for and against what this band is doing. That being said, I count myself amongst those who are intrigued, in addition to those who found the album to be wholly enjoyable. Is it completely original? Not really, but the execution is so tasteful that even those who hate the direction this takes seem to recognize just how complete the vision on ‘Moonlover’ really is; and finally, no remark can be made without sheer appreciation for the album artwork alone, which may be the most captivating image this genre has yet produce. If that doesn’t catch your eye, I surely don’t know what will.
Be it that this album finally defines the presence of blackgaze and its combination with atmospheric black metal as a complete and driving genre-shift, I cannot say that I disliked it one bit. Ghost Bath are rumored to have already completed over 10 tracks for another album which boasts a length double that of ‘Moonlover’. I also have my theories that these guys are, to the contrary, just one individual as opposed to the claimed four. We’ll see what more there is to learn about Ghost Bath in the coming months, but for now, I’ll go back to listening to an AOTY contender.
Overall Rating: 4.5/5
Recommended Tracks: All of it. This album is best as a whole.
If you want to hear more from Ghost Bath, please check out the Malicious Intent metal show hosted by myself every Saturday night from 10 p.m. – 12 p.m. Tune in at KJHK 90.7 FM or listen online at www.kjhk.org!