Starmourner - Ghost Bath
Artist: Ghost Bath
Genre: Post-Black Metal/Shoegaze
Review by Steve Jenkins
Ghost Bath’s rise into the limelight was quick but relatively short-lived with their highly anticipated but underwhelming sophomore release, 2015’s Moonlover. Despite beginning strongly with epic depressive black metal akin to a more emotionally wild Woods of Desolation, it was unfortunately marred by problems with pacing and consistency. While the album indulged in both fast, epic pieces and emotionally weighty dirges, its general execution was so generally flawed that it never appeared wholeheartedly committed to any one style or direction, as if the band as a whole was still ultimately searching for its identity.
Two years later, Ghost Bath have released their third record, the ever so poignantly titled Starmourner, and with it have begun to actually solidify and devote themselves to one consistent direction. Unfortunately for Ghost Bath, though, a more stylistically uniform Ghost Bath is still Ghost Bath, and as a band have still never been known for their songwriting consistency. It’s no that surprise, then, that while Starmourner might be a step forward for the band in many respects (and it definitely is), it still makes so many inadvertent missteps that, on the whole, it still almost feels inferior to its predecessor, despite actually featuring much of the group’s best material.
On Starmourner, the band have opted to not only drift toward a more atmospheric sound, but also have also largely dumped their depressed shtick in order to indulge in happier melodies, more upbeat sections, and a generally faster pace. While these changes do make the band’s sound more consistent and powerful, changes to the rhythm ultimately make the band’s newfound direction feel much more repetitive and one-dimensional than before. Whereas before rhythm and bass guitars were clearly distinct from each other in the mix they now have been mostly aligned to work in tandem; the heavily reverb-laden bass now grumbles and booms along in the background to fill up space as the rhythm guitar growls slightly above it. This all seems more-or-less intended to create a lower end sound powerful enough to push songs onward, but benign enough keep the focus on the endless melodic noodling obviously intended as Starmourner’s true focus.
The real problem with this setup is the band’s newfound reliance on exceptionally basic rhythm playing, with the bass/guitar opting for power chords and exceptionally basic chord progressions over real riffs for the majority of the album. While just sort of bumbling along in every track definitely does help make Starmourner’s leads seem much more significant and center-stage, it also makes the album end up having only a handful of memorable riffs across its twelve tracks, which is a problem given its substantial run time. At seventy minutes, this one-sided focus and lack of clear dynamic songwriting makes many of these tracks feel quite the same: melodic leads come in, shrieked vocals accompany, bass/guitars grumble in the background, and blast beats are everywhere. Tide goes in, tide goes out.
The band’s ridiculous refusal to edit for quality and time further damages the record, forcing many of Starmourner’s truly quality pieces to become buried among piles of mediocre soundalikes. The one-two-three punch of "Thrones", "Elysian" and "Cherubim", for example, definitely contains some of the band’s absolute best material and is the strongest stretch of tracks on the album by far, but is awkwardly shoved into the latter half of the record over forty minutes in. While the first half of the album does boast some great songwriting here and there (the happy upbeat harmonies in “Celestial,” the Deafheaven style shoegazing and “Legend of Zelda”-esque synth outro of “Ethereal”), it’s hard to care about “Cherubim’s” happy upbeat rhythms and “Elysian’s” “so silly they’re fun” harmonized guitar parts when they’re shoved all the way back to the end of the record behind a mountain of far inferior pieces.
With so much repetition and such a run time, Ghost Bath are their own worst enemies on Starmourner. Although their change toward happier black metal may have helped improve their pacing and solidified their style, their repetitive writing and inability to edit for content has resulted in an album filled with moments of brilliance scattered among heaps of filler. While Ghost Bath still could very well in time become a notable black metal act capable of releasing solid records (if given the right guidance), that time is clearly not yet, and Starmourner is definitely not one of those albums.
6 out of 10 stars.
Starmourner is out now via Nuclear Blast Records and you can also purchase on iTunes or stream on Spotify.
Watch the music video for the track "Seraphic" below: