Ghost Bath – Moonlover (2015)

Ghost Bath - Moon Lover

Artist: Ghost Bath

Album: Moonlover

Label: Northern Silence Productions

Reviewer: Marc D.

First things first: let’s get it out of the way that Ghost Bath is not from China and that “Nameless” is really some white dude named Dennis Mikula who was in a couple of post-hardcore or metalcore bands or something. Maybe it was mathcore. I don’t know, and I don’t really care. It’s a non-issue for me. As cool as it would have been to hear some more regional metal, what it really comes down to is the music itself. How it was marketed, as misleading as it was, is irrelevant.

What we have here, underneath it all, is a depressive suicidal black metal record. Or it plays with that general formula, anyway, while throwing in a bit of post-black influence for good measure. Guitars are bathed in a haunting reverb; the drums provide black metal’s characteristic atmospheric heaviness through blast beats; and Mikula’s ghastly cries of pain, while typically unintelligible, serve as a constant reminder that, even at the album’s most uplifting points, this is a sad fucking record and you should never think otherwise.

That said, whereas most DSBM tends to wallow in monochromatic misery (which, given the genre, is usually appropriate), Ghost Bath’s album follows a musical narrative. There are moments of seeming triumph, most apparent on the leading single “Golden Number,” which combines black metal’s characteristic darkness with Deafheaven-esque crescendos of reaching and desire. What light there is, however, is often extinguished by the pervasive loneliness of the record. Hope gives way to nihilistic meditations and forceful cries for death. Mikula, as Nameless, said in an interview that death seemed final and freeing, that only through death could one find peace. Life through Ghost Bath’s eyes is suffering; what good there is is doomed to unravel. It’s a horrifying cycle, and Moonlover sets out to express this bleak worldview.

But, aside from that big stinking heap of emo praise I just gave it, the album isn’t perfect, which is jarring given just how right it gets it sometimes. The biggest problem is that the record is filled with a lot of interludes, some short and generally unobtrusive and some quite long. While they’re all beautiful and evocative of the themes the album is built upon, frankly most of them are just kind of boring. And, sure, sometimes it’s nice to have breaks between songs, either to establish mood or to help set up the next song, but it’s often overkill on Moonlover, particularly when you get to the middle of the record where it almost feels like they just ran out of songs and had to put in something to fill the space on the record. It’s padding, and, while it might be pretty padding, it’s padding nonetheless.

Moonlover proves to be a gorgeous album with an immense and truly despairing drive that’s all too often brought to a grinding halt by the unnecessary interludes. Ghost Bath has encapsulated their misery romantically, eschewing the ugliness black metal is known for and thereby allowing the music to meditate instead upon death, depression, and loneliness with beauty and grace. One can only imagine how much better the result would be if they focused a little less on being subdued and a little more on that reckless yearning they convey so well. For what it’s worth though, the result, while imperfect, is still pretty damn great.

7/10

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