The Pitch: A kind-of review/opinion thing on the not-Chinese band you either love or love to hate, Ghost Bath. Now on Nuclear Blast, mourning stars instead of loving moons. FFO: Deafheaven, Bosse-de-Nage, Vattnet Viskar
Thoughts 'n stuff: I'm not entirely against the "post-black" genre label. It does an okay job of describing certain music, and there are certainly related bands I appreciate such as Underling and Entropia. But at what point do we draw the line and say that any use of the "black metal" tag, preface or not, no longer applies? There is an inherent counter-culture, shock and horror element to it that goes well beyond its sonic value. So I get why the kvlt crowd hates this movement: it's kind of like when you listen to a lot of hip hop and then dad ruins it by putting on a backwards cap and trying to talk to you using the slang. Or better yet, when you inject sappy lyrics and radio hooks into punk music and slap the word "pop" in front. On some level it makes people feel like their scene has been appropriated and made a caricature of its former self. A part of their identity has been tarnished.
So where does this latest Ghost Bath entry fit into all of this? Well if my jabbering wasn't clue enough, I don't really think it's even a little black metal. Starmourner makes Deafheaven's material look like Ad Majorem Sathanas Gloriam. Aside from the occasional grim vocals and blastbeats, it almost feels like the band is trolling the corpsepaint crowd at this point. But ultimately, I'm not rating this album based on how much it fits the post-black moniker; I'm rating it simply as a piece of music. After all, it's not very BM to be a "snowflake" about how some dudes from North Dakota somehow impact your ability to be you and enjoy the music you choose to enjoy.
Get to the point man! Is it any good? I have lots of mixed feelings. Let's get the negative out of the way first. For one, why is this album so damn long? Broken record: I enjoy long albums, but only if they justify their length. Starmourner spends much of its time dragging out tracks that have no business being 8 minutes long. This is a problem I actually think has only gotten worse since Moonlover, and it doesn't help that the album opens with my two least favorite songs. Which brings me to my second problem: while the musicians in Ghost Bath are strong performers (and even better live I hear), they aren't the best songwriters. There are some crappy guitar parts ("Seraphic"'s main hook just annoys me), and a lot of ideas either feel slapped together or stretched way too thin. Finally, the screams. By and large the "yaaaaaahhhhhh!"'s just make me giggle and I find them a bit distracting.
But they don't get it all wrong. Much like "The Golden Number" on Moonlover, "Luminescence" is proof that under the right conditions these guys can put together a really solid track. This is by far my favorite moment of the album, though there are a few others as well. Lead single "Thrones" and "Elysian" immediately after both have their own merits, and the latter is a good example of what a more concise version of these compositions might look like. I'm particularly fond of the drumming; an energetic mix of many different styles, but there are also some really fun riffs that sound like Astronoid backed with heavier vocals.
The Verdict: In the end, as with any aspiring band, I want Ghost Bath to succeed. I just want them to do it without the hype, without the trendy labels, and without fake origin stories. It is clear to me at many points on this album that they have the skills with their instruments to go far. Let's just replace the image with some better compositional skills. Honestly, Starmourner might have been a much more solid outing had it been carved down to a lean 35 minutes consisting of sharper versions of the middle tracks. As always, listen to it for yourself and form your own opinion.
Flight's Fav's: Luminescence, Thrones, Elysian