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Post black metal and specifically the style that goes by the name of “blackgaze” has been relevant to the mainstream since DEAFHEAVEN brought it into the spotlight (although LANTLOS did blackgaze long before that). It was only a matter of time until bands popped out that bear resemblances and obvious influences. GHOST BATH are one of those acts, although they’ve proven out to be much more than a DEAFHEAVEN knockoff. Overlooking the fact they pretended to originate from China for… reasons, (I can’t make this shit up, look it up) their sophomore album, “Moonlover”, was critically acclaimed across the board, both by critics and fans. I was actually one of those fans, and I anticipated their next release anxiously. After signing to the giant label, Nuclear Blast and re-releasing “Moonlover”, the turned-out-to-be-American act came up with their third album named “Starmourner”
The album tries to experiment and push the envelope as far as black metal goes, which is a very difficult thing to do considering the talent, musicianship and passion for constant evolution that is associated with the genre, but oddly enough, it succeeds! “Starmourner” is a step away from the shoegaze side of black metal, as GHOST BATH tries to implement a more heavy metal and “positive” side to their music. The result is unlike anything I’ve heard before. That being said, unique doesn’t always mean good.
The key word that stands out after an amount of listens is “uninspiring”. Yes, I see the contradiction if you take the word out of context. “How can something that doesn’t sound like anything else, be uninspiring?”. Well think of it like this. It’s like your teacher asks you to draw the face of a person while adding a twist to it. You proceed to draw a piece of shit with eyes, a mouth and a nose. It’s nothing like the teacher has seen before, but it still looks like a piece of shit.
The songs are full of cheesy melodies and guitar leads that remind me of stock exercises my guitar teacher used to have me play at home. They sound so unrefined (and not in the good ol’ black metal way), that sometimes they end up being annoying. My main problem with the guitar department is not the fact that they are not skillfully played, but rather really, really dumbed down. Same goes for the compositions overall. The song structures are so predictable and sometimes repulsively repetitive that made me want to skip some of the songs after a certain point.
“The key word that stands out after an amount of listens is “uninspiring”.”
One thing that I do like about the album though is that although predictable, it is diverse in tempos and velocities. Undoubtedly, listening to the album is a journey. Cheesy, full of clichés but a journey nonetheless. In a song GHOST BATH can go from post rock, to atmospheric black metal with blast-beats and blackgaze-y tremolo picking riffs, until the most childish lead guitar melody hits you so bad, even your arm hair cringe to it. The vocals have always been a subject of controversy in the band’ss short career. Some people hate them, others dig them, but if you ask me this style of vocals are pretty common in the DSBM scene. If you are already into the genre, I’d say they are the most redeemable part of this release. Mikula’s screams is the closest thing to mourning in this album as his shouting cries emit fear and desperation that will sometimes creep you out in the best way possible.
Also, to be fair, there are parts of the album I enjoyed especially towards the end and in songs like “Thrones” and “Elysian” where the lead guitars stop… stealing the show and the music remind more of “Moonlover”.The leads are still there, but I feel like there’s an improvement in all departments as the album progresses and the focal point becomes instrumentation towards its conclusion.
A few words about the mix. It’s done by Josh Schroeder (FOR THE FALLEN DREAMS, FOR TODAY, THOSE WHO FEAR) and somebody under the name… “NAMELESS” who has only worked in GHOST BATH albums in the past (is “NAMELESS” a GHOST BATH band member, I wonder…). The result is ok, with the exception of the vocals that sound great and the lead guitars that sound REALLY underworked and unmixed as opposed to the rest of the album.
GHOST BATH is a name that has been connected to controversy for a while now and “Starmourner” only adds to that. All pretending-to-be-Chinese aside (seriously, what the hell?), I like to listen to the music behind the gimmicks and internet fights, and what the American act gave me is unfortunately underwhelming. If you were a fan of the band before this release, I do recommend checking the singles out though. Who knows, maybe this major-scaled joy ride tickles your taste bone. As for me, I just hope their next works are not another reason for me to mourn.