Ghost Bath — Starmourner
Just a little over a year after releasing a genre-defining album in Moonlover, North Dakota's Ghost Bath has since signed with Nuclear Blast Records and now drops their major label debut in Starmourner. As one of the breakout acts making music in the "depressive suicidal black metal" (DSBM) genre, Ghost Bath get a lot of praise and criticism — how much of each is undue is an exercise left to the reader. As one of the first band I found when diving into the world of music available on Bandcamp, I consider myself a staunch proponent of the band.
Starmourner is 74 minutes of atmospheric, dark, brooding, metal with moments of beautiful melody and harmony. Each track flows wonderfully into the next, as the whole album is arranged with a continuous listening in mind. In a day-and-age ruled by singles and defering to the Shuffle setting on music players, I am always happy to see a band embrace the album format to the fullest. You don't have to listen to every song on Starmourner in sequence, but there is the payoff of a well-crafted tracklist that flows nicely from track-to-track — if you're the sort to care about such things.
The album opens with a calm piano intro, "Astral," which then slowly segues into the backing melody of "Seraphic" right before the track changes. As mentioned above, the each track is mixed so that it flows seamlessly into the next, although they still hold up if listened to individually. The segue portions offer stripped down melodies from the forthcoming tracks and provide a moments of respite from the heavier refrains on the album. The pacing of Starmourner helps keep the material from feeling stagnant or overly repetitive, which is really impressive when one considers the vocals are literally just shrieks of agony and horror.
Aside from what appears to be a bigger, more dynamic production style, very little has changed in the Ghost Bath formula compared to previous efforts. A thick, droning wall of guitars accompanied by backing harmonies and black metal tinged tremolo riffing. The band has, however, managed to hone their sound into a series of ever-maturing releases; Ghost Bath has carved out a clear niche but has by no means finished exploring it. You can tell that Starmourner and previous albums all came from the same band, but each release has its own distinguishing characteristics.
As a huge proponent of the album concept, Starmourner really nails it in my estimation. I find it difficult to rank this new album against the band's prior offerings, but I will say that this is an excellent release — and it doesn't feel immediately inferior to Moonlover. For a band that doesn't even have any lyrics, the vocals — tortured screams, really — still lend emotional weight to the brooding dirges and melodic flourishes littered throughout this album. The record clocks in at 76 minutes, giving each track time to establish a mood before weaving in and out of crushing riffs and hauntingly catchy melodies.
In spite of the album's long running time, everything feels like it serves a purpose. You get a few long tracks like "Ambrosial" that clock in around 8 minutes, and shorter more concise ones like "Cherubim," with everything seemingly just the right length. For those familiar with the band's past work, you can hear callbacks to past songs combined with evolved and more dynamic songwriting. For newcomers to the new wave of black metal, Starmourner serves as a good starting point for those curious about the various sub-genres.
A solid major label debut for a very underground band; Ghost Bath stay true to their melodic, DSBM roots while evolving their sound and progressing as songwriters. A worthy follow-up to the genre-defining Moonlover; a well-crafted album from opener to closing track. The stand-outs are "Seraphic" and "Thrones," though the whole record really blends together as a cohesive unit.
Release date: April 21st, 2017
Record label: Nuclear Blast Records
Published: May 27th, 2017