The Rickety Old Shack

Ghost Bath - Moonlover

Ghost Bath - Moonlover, cover

When I began my deep-drive back into the world of black metal a few years ago, Ghost Bath was one of the acts that first caught my attention. The bizarre gimmick, that the group was based out of China because whatever, was amusing — though it was the actual music that held my interest. The group's debut, self-titled EP, and full-length follow-up, Funeral, both proved to be interesting additions to my collection. The improvements from the EP to full-length were abundantly clear; I was very curious to see what Ghost Bath had to offer with Moonlover.

Comparisons to Deafheaven seem to come up quite often, though I would argue they are only superficially relevant. Both groups do borrow heavily from the bleak, minimalist framework of black metal; though both Ghost Bath and Deafheaven produce vastly different musical output. Aside from some common elements, like piano passages, melodic contrasts with harsh, blackened riffs, and long, sprawling songs — rather generic attributes, one would think — I find the groups differ more than enough for my liking.

As with all of the group's prior releases, there are no lyrics; there are vocals, but they are merely pained screams that litter each track on the record. At first glance, this approach would seemingly get tiresome, but given the fact most extreme metal vocals are largely unintelligible the concept isn't as odd as you'd think. The screaming is used sparingly, adding a bleak, tortured mood to the material which, musically, ranges from melodic slow jams to crushing walls of noise. "Golden Number" exemplifies this record — and Ghost Bath as a whole — as it shifts between serene, calm moments and devastating heaviness with beautiful execution.

It is very difficult to sum up everything that goes into the sound Ghost Bath achieves on Moonlover; melding aspects of black, doom, and progressive metal into a depressive mixture of sonic excellence. The production on this album is first-rate, giving the material a very clean, yet minimalist sound; it's not like Moonlover was recorded on a 4-track in a forest, but the overly glossy feel many digital recordings have is also not present either. Each instrument is well mixed, and the shrieking vocals are blended into the tracks perfectly.

Unlike the majority of releases I would classify as anything close to black metal, Moonlover is a lot slower in tempo; the blackened aspects I refer to come in the form of the tonal qualities of the riffs, and the harsh, desolate feeling the material evokes. There is, however, a world of difference between Ghost Bath and black metal icons like Emperor and Satyricon. This second wave of black metal has successfully melded a lot of progressive elements into an otherwise self-isolating genre; the grim, depressing aesthetic is still present, but Moonlover is still very far removed from the frozen wastes of Norway.

I find it very difficult to pick stand-out tracks on records, as I am very much a proponent of listening to albums in their entirety. If you're looking for a sampler of everything that Ghost Bath has to offer, then "Golden Number" is definitely where you should start off. The two-parts of "The Silver Flower" are also good examples, with the first part providing a slow build which leads into a much, much heavier second half. Ghost Bath have gotten really good at writing long, gloomy soundscapes; this still sounds like the group that wrote Funeral, but everything is a little more developed and refined on Moonlover. The aforementioned "The Silver Flower" takes almost five minutes to build up to an emotional payoff, and it's time well spent.

I really don't have a whole lot of use for titles like "album of the year," but Moonlover is certainly of the caliber to be included in discussions of that sort. Every aspect of the record is first-rate, from the song-writing to audio production and musical performances. Ghost Bath may have a bizarre backstory and an outright aversion to the spotlight — refusing to even name the members of the band — but they've managed to release another quality record for public consumption. I would strongly recommend Moonlover to anyone with an appreciation for black metal and an interest in the progressive leanings of extreme music in general.

Summary

Easily one of the best metal releases of 2015, Moonlover is an excellent collection of bleak, hauntingly melodic music. Eschewing lyrics entirely, plaintive shrieks fuse with each track and produce a feeling of epic sorrow — a wall of crushing sound with raw emotion soaring above it. It is very difficult to describe why Ghost Bath make such compelling music; I strongly recommend giving them a chance if you are at all a curious fan of metal. As a long-time listener of an incredibly diverse array of genres, Moonlover combines so many disparate aspects of music into an incredibly engaging record which I highly recommend to everyone. A first-rate effort, and one of my favourite releases of 2015 without question.

Album Information

Release date: April 10th, 2015
Record label: Northern Silence

Track Listing

  1. The Sleeping Fields
  2. Golden Number
  3. Happyhouse
  4. Beneath The Shade Tree
  5. The Silver Flower pt. 1
  6. The Silver Flower pt. 2
  7. Death And The Maiden

—by Derek

Published: October 26, 2015