Artist: Ghost Bath
Album Title: Moonlover
Label: Nuclear Blast
Date of Release: 19 February 2016
It’s no wonder Nuclear Blast have snapped Ghost Bath up because, frankly, they are brilliant. And I do hang my head in shame that I didn’t pay any heed to the original release back in March 2015 on the label Northern Silence. But we are where we are and here I am in 2016, extolling the virtues of a band that have a very bright future ahead of them, if ‘Moonlover’, now reissued by Nuclear Blast, is anything to go by.
I’ve never really listened to Deafheaven, so I cannot comment on the frequent comparisons between the two bands. Instead, what I can do is explain why I believe that Ghost Bath are deserving of your attention, particularly if you have a penchant for music that juxtaposes dark and depressing black metal with elegant and soaring shoegaze-like melodies. Call it ‘blackgaze’ if you will.
It seems something of a contradiction in terms, but the output on ‘Moonlover’ is both miserable and strangely euphoric, almost verging on uplifting. It is an intriguing mix and one that has really grabbed my attention.
It was initially thought that Ghost Bath, a band named after the act of suicide by drowning, were Chinese in origin. It was a misconception that initially went deliberately unchallenged by the band, as they didn’t want to put faces to the music. Eventually though, the group who try to simply go via the collective identity of ‘Nameless’ revealed that their true origins were several thousand miles West of China in North Dakota, USA.
Whatever their provenance and ultimate location, it matters not a jot to the music itself. It is in the music where I feel that the deliberately mysterious Ghost Bath really excel.
Musically, ‘Moonlover’ effectively has two sides. The bulk of the material favours a heavier ‘blackgaze’ approach but there’s a softer side to Ghost Bath too, with the remainder being a much gentler affair where the shoegaze and ambient elements really come to the fore. However, whatever approach is taken on any given song, the music is saturated in atmosphere and a heady, potent mix of emotions that really toys with the listener.
And many of these emotions can be found duelling within the opening main track, the resplendent ‘Golden Number’. After a brooding and menacing intro by way of ‘The Sleeping Fields’, ‘Golden Number’ fades in with a simple fast-picked guitar riff before the track explodes with full force. The high-tempo riff continues apace but is joined by some frenetic drumming and violent, tortured screams creating an intense listening affair. But then, after a minute or two, the song opens up into the most beautiful of melodies. The pained and shrieked vocals continue, as does the staccato-based guitar work but the whole composition is transformed into an urgent blend of the despondent and the uplifting. And it works, by heavens it works.
If that wasn’t enough, the song is then closed by more beauty, this time in the form of a delicate and poignant piano solo. If you’re in a certain frame of mind, it is enough to get you welling up, particularly if listened to in tandem with the accompanying video, which appears to bring to life the meaning behind the band’s moniker. This is highly powerful and emotive music.
‘Happyhouse’ is another heavy track but displays more of a slow-tempo doom feel, made all the more stark thanks to the deliberately raw production. The reduced pace allows the full effect of the screams to come to the fore, screams that convey despair and anguish so wonderfully. The semi-discordant guitar lead at the half-way mark is unsettling but it leads into another huge crashing blast of intense melody that sees a marked increase in the tempo in places.
‘Beneath The Shade Tree’ ditches the black metal trappings in favour of a much more atmospheric clean guitar-led post rock-meets-shoegaze affair. It reminds me a little of Agalloch in terms of its simplicity and earthy delivery but once again the melodies are what draw me in; they’re not overly complex but they are honest and convey such emotion, both negative and positive.
‘The Silver Flower Pt 1’ follows in a similar vein but harnesses the sounds of nature to further increase that aforementioned earthy, natural feel. The composition that pulls at the heartstrings then segues nicely into ‘The Silver Flower Pt 2’ which incorporates the blasts and frenzy of black metal but in and around this, offers a looser, slightly more carefree and almost hard-rocking vibe as well.
If I’m being completely honest, I’m not so struck on the final two tracks of the album as I am with the first six but it’s not because they are weak per se, more that they are, in my opinion, overshadowed by the excellence of what has gone before them.
Despite my love for extreme metal in just about all its forms, I do gravitate to albums with strong production values. It is therefore quite rare that I find myself really enjoying an album quite so much that has a raw production, whether by accident or, in this case, by design. However, Ghost Bath have put together a collection of compositions that are a sophisticated blend of aggression, beauty and raw emotion. Now that they have been added to the bill, I recommend that anyone attending Bloodstock Open Air Festival in 2016, should check them out.
The Score Of Much Metal: 8.5
If you’ve enjoyed this review, check out my others right here:
Spiritual Beggars – Sunrise To SundownOceans Of Slumber – Winter
Rikard Zander – I Can Do Without Love
Redemption – The Art Of Loss
Headspace – All That You Fear Is Gone
Chris Quirarte – Mending Broken Bridges
Sunburst – Fragments Of Creation
Inglorious – Inglorious
Omnium Gatherum – Grey Heavens
Structural Disorder – Distance
Votum – Ktonik
Fleshgod Apocalypse – King
Rikard Sjoblom – The Unbendable Sleep
Textures – Phenotype
Serenity – Codex Atlanticus
Borknagar – Winter Thrice
The Mute Gods – Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me
Brainstorm – Scary Creatures
Arcade Messiah – II
Phantasma – The Deviant Hearts
Rendezvous Point – Solar Storm
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld II
Antimatter – The Judas Table
Bauda – Sporelights
Waken Eyes – Exodus
Earthside – A Dream In Static
Caligula’s Horse – Bloom
Teramaze – Her Halo
Amorphis – Under The Red Cloud
Spock’s Beard – The Oblivion Particle
Agent Fresco – Destrier
Cattle Decapitation – The Anthropocene Extinction
Between The Buried And Me – Coma Ecliptic
Cradle Of Filth – Hammer Of The Witches
Disarmonia Mundi – Cold Inferno
District 97 – In Vaults
Progoctopus – Transcendence
Big Big Train – Wassail
NightMare World – In The Fullness Of Time
Helloween – My God-Given Right
Triaxis – Zero Hour
Isurus – Logocharya
Arcturus – Arcturian
Kamelot – Haven
Native Construct – Quiet World
Sigh – Graveward
Pantommind – Searching For Eternity
Subterranean Masquerade – The Great Bazaar
Klone – Here Comes The Sun
The Gentle Storm – The Diary
Melechesh – Enki
Enslaved – In Times
Keep Of Kalessin – Epistemology
Lonely Robot – Please Come Home
The Neal Morse Band – The Grand Experiment
Zero Stroke – As The Colours Seep
AudioPlastik – In The Head Of A Maniac
Revolution Saints – Revolution Saints
Mors Principium Est – Dawn of The 5th Era
Arcade Messiah – Arcade Messiah
Triosphere – The Heart Of The Matter
Neonfly – Strangers In Paradise
Knight Area – Hyperdrive
Haken – Restoration
James LaBrie – Impermanent Resonance
Mercenary – Through Our Darkest Days
A.C.T. – Circus Pandemonium
Xerath – III
Big Big Train – English Electric (Part 1)
Thought Chamber – Psykerion
Marcus Jidell – Pictures From A Time Traveller
H.E.A.T – Tearing Down The Walls
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld