Ghost Bath – Moonlover
The fetishisation of mystery is perhaps more prevalent now in heavy music than ever. The ‘we don’t want you to know who we are’ mantra, at once a yearning for privacy and a powerful marketing tool, was popularised mostly by Slipknot in the late 1990’s, the band standing as a violent counterpoint to mainstream identity, taking on masks and numbers instead of names. Slipknot ultimately failed, though, when their success eclipsed the guise. The masks are crucial to their gimmick but now come off as a facsimile of their original purpose.
Bands like Gwar, and most recently Ghost have fared better. I have my suspicions about the identity of Ghost but knowing isn’t important because the band have successfully built that unknownness into the heart of their reason for being. I’d argue that they’re the first truly anonymous band who promote their anonymity as something to be cherished rather than as some elaborate mystery to feed the hype machine. I think fans understand that too.
This brings us on to this month’s media (albeit, underground media) darling Ghost Bath, a band who sign off correspondence with Chinese characters, write in fluent English and are completely unreceptive to interview questions regarding who the band are or where they’re from. Actually, their interview style is perhaps the most bizarre around, often digressing into philosophical, misanthropic musings rather than answering the question. It’s all wonderfully confusing and does a pretty effective job at making me a) focus on the music more and b) follow the band’s cryptic updates.
But hey, this is a music review and if the music is terrible then all of the above counts for absolutely nothing. So let’s discuss the new album by Ghost Bath – Moonlover. Ghost Bath’s sound is reminiscent of last year’s shoegaze-come-black metal sensation Deafheaven but with a few notable twists. Where Sunbather was bright (sonically and artistically); an album for summer, Ghost Bath embrace real darkness here. From the black and white surrealist cover art to the nihilistic lyrics, the band prise back the black metal aesthetic which Deafheaven largely neglected (and were criticised the hell out of for) in favour of shoegazing.
With the wretched screams as an anchor, Ghost Bath throw the kitchen sink at this record with piano, clean reverb drenched guitars, ocarina and orchestral arrangements to fill in the gaps when the fire dies down. In my opinion, they’re much better at doing this than Deafheaven and utilise a far more diverse array of sounds in more unexpected places.
When vocals kick in on opener-proper Golden Number, we’re treated to screams buried so deep in the mix that they recall Atilla’s performance on Sunn O)))’s Black One. It’s a claustrophobic and frightening performance which never lets up across Moonlover’s 40 or so minutes, heightening the emotive edge of the seven songs here. However, though the vocals remain constant, the instrumentation does not and this is the crux of what makes this album so enjoyable and unique. With the wretched screams as an anchor, Ghost Bath throw the kitchen sink at this record with piano, clean reverb drenched guitars, ocarina and orchestral arrangements to fill in the gaps when the fire dies down. In my opinion, they’re much better at doing this than Deafheaven and utilise a far more diverse array of sounds in more unexpected places. Sunbather very much followed the song-interlude-song-interlude structure, whereas Moonlover is more expressive and structured far more effectively.
After Golden Number and the ironically dreary Happyhouse, Ghost Bath turn down the gain for a few tracks and enter the instrumental, softer third of the album. The great benefit of this extended passage is that it breaks up the two halves of the record, increasing replay value and empowering the aggressive final two tracks. The band come back to life on The Silver Flower pt. 2 which simmers to the boil before exploding with the heaviest, most groove-laden riff on the record accented with eerie church bells and shrieks. It’s a moment that simply would not work had Moonlover not been structured this way. The album closes out with an ocarina solo at the tail end of the otherwise pacey Death and the Maiden, its soft whistle a cadence to the album’s intro piece The Sleeping Fields – a perfect conclusion to a record with very few discernible flaws.
What Ghost Bath have crafted in Moonlover is a ferociously focused study in melancholy. If you want a post-black metal band with a bit more bite and Burzum-inspired drear, then seek out this album. I’d also recommend this record to fans of classic Opeth and other melodic death metal bands who are expert in blending major and minor melodies to create polarising moods. For those seeking an entry into black metal in general, Ghost Bath have given you a suitable starting point, since Moonlover boasts superb production values (without being too glossy), a heap of melody pushed up front and enough chainsaw riffs to keep fans of other extreme styles of music happy. We might never know who they are, but the music here speaks for itself.
Words: Ben Armstrong
The album is available for under £5 from their Bandcamp page - https://ghostbath.bandcamp.com/