Monday, 1 May 2017

ALBUM REVIEW: Ghost Bath - "Starmourner"


 By: Josh Nichols

Album Type: Full Length
Date Released: 07/04/2017
Label: Nuclear Blast



From the gentle piano intro of “Astral” to the vibrant and triumphant radiance of “Seraphic”, the tone of the album is pushed ever outward to match the theme of an infinite dream. It’s a theme that weaves its way through the whole album. There are certainly tracks that dive back into blast beats and hyper tremolo picking such as “Ambrosial” and “Elysian”, but the theme always returns to shimmering and heroic major chords.

“Starmourner” CD//DD//LP track listing:

1. Astral (3:20)
2. Seraphic (5:50)
3. Ambrosial (8:30)
4. Ethereal (6:54)
5. Celestial (8:14)
6. Angelic (5:23)
7. Luminescence (6:08)
8. Thrones (6:20)
9. Elysian (5:22)
10. Cherubim (4:26)
11. Principalities (6:14)
12. Ode (4:28)

The Review:

On the April 7th, Ghost Bath released “Starmourner”, their much anticipated follow up to “Moonlover”, via Nuclear Blast.  If you thought their last record caused division in the black metal ranks, get ready for more vitriolic gnashing of teeth. With “Starmourner”, Ghost Bath reach heights of triumphant exuberance unheard of in the post black metal or “blackgaze” genre. The level of ebullience they surpass has only been hinted at by their oft mentioned contemporaries Deafheaven and Alcest. Going a great leap further into throwing out the cvlt playbook, Ghost Bath are opting instead to realize their vision without the constraints of genre limitations inherent with any label we can slap on them.

If you’re already familiar with their work, then you know that Ghost Bath had little regard for what black metal is “supposed” to sound like to begin with.  “Starmourner” stakes their claim to the vanguard of a growing metal subset that is reimagining heavy metal without boundaries or definitions. Where labels are unnecessary and genres again become what they were meant to be, simple guide posts for the listener, not artistic rules to live and die by.  If this sounds a little too much like Neo at the end of the Matrix, just remember that he wasn’t prepared for the red pill either.

It just can’t be overstated, that coming from their previous effort, “Starmourner” is strikingly different. Even fans of Ghost Bath and other bands from the new wave of post black metal will be caught off guard.  From the gentle piano intro of “Astral” to the vibrant and triumphant radiance of “Seraphic”, the tone of the album is pushed ever outward to match the theme of an infinite dream. It’s a theme that weaves its way through the whole album. There are certainly tracks that dive back into blast beats and hyper tremolo picking such as “Ambrosial” and “Elysian”, but the theme always returns to shimmering and heroic major chords. The best example of this is “Celestial”. The leads are so bright and soaring that they could have been used for a Top Gun promo. The now familiar vocals, part screaming eagle, part howling banshee, lend themselves to the ethereal quality of the music.

The pastoral interlude “Angelic” acts as a kind of reset in the middle of the album. The lovely and lilting plucking may serve as a pallet cleansing to those listeners struggling with the effervescent motif being built in their blackened ears. The OSBM sacrilege continues however, with the driving and anthemic “Luminescence”. Not surprisingly, this track shares qualities that their tour mates Astronoid have in spades.  Having caught their Portland, Or. Tour stop, I can tell you the bands complement each other very well. Ghost Bath really underscores all of the joyful elements found throughout “Starmourner”, while the live setting allows them to highlight their more furious and blistering dark side.  No track on the new album is more blistering than “Thrones”. Finding itself caught between the sweeping major theme and a tortured and guttural vocal delivery, it gives way to the crushing despair that’s been hiding in the shadows of the entire album.

The back half is easily the more caustic and aggressive half of “Starmourner”, still flirting with the airy theatrical qualities found earlier, but with more marked departures into brooding blackened rampages and intensified vocal cacophonies.  “Cherubim” comes on almost rock and roll before detouring into the dark abyss beneath the surface, and “Principalities” feels almost frustrated and subdued in relation to the larger body of work.  The lengthy album winds to a close with “Ode”, another gentle piano number that I find very reminiscent of the closing theme to the old Incredible Hulk TV show.  A lonely David Banner walking away once more, no hope and no end in sight.  “Starmourner“is going to leave some listeners exhilarated and some scratching their head. Either is fine.  Ghost Bath don’t seem concerned with the reception they are given. If you find yourself having trouble reconciling what you’re hearing with your hard wired preconceptions (and many of us will) take a look at recent interview with Locust Leaves (here), where the topic is discussed much more thoroughly.

Starmourner” is available here



Band info: facebook


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