So yeah, Ghost Bath is from North Dakota, not China. Let’s move past that and get right to the issue at hand- the band’s 3rd full length album and one which sees founder Dennis Mikula add members from the band’s first 2 releases as opposed to go it alone as he did on 2015s Moonlover, my first introduction to the band.
Ghost Bath seem to be as divisive as Deafheaven, So Hideous and Liturgy when it comes to their shoegazy/post black label vs ‘Kult’ black metal fans and the supposed ‘true’ scene, though somehow Alcest gets a pass. But I digress, I rather enjoyed Moonlover, as it made my 2015 year end list, and was looking forward to this album immensely, though with a sense of trepidation, as the jump to Nuclear Blast screamed a more commercial approach.
For a band labelled as ‘depressive’, Starmourner sure is gorgeous, though it’s said there is a beauty in sadness. And I’d like to officially announce my new trademarked genre…….(drum roll) stargaze. At times, the shimmery melodies contained on the album are utterly knee wilting in their crisp, melodic, delicate beauty. And while there is a certain undercurrent of despondency, there is very little that’s depressive or bleak. The album rather has a heavenly, astral and star-crossed theme and aura that’s a far cry from depressing.
Dare I say, there’s even many ‘happy’, jangly moments on the album that will make many a spiked wrist band types cry afoul. I’d even go so far as to day the likes of “Seraphic”, “Ambrosial” (even with its meandering last third), “Ethereal” and “Luminescence” are in fact, wondrously uplifting. Sumptuously and unashamedly so. The grasp of these ‘happy/sad’ melodies are arguably unmatched except by maybe Vallendusk, Woods of Desolation and Deafheaven’s Sunbather. There are many such moments on Starmourner that left me speechless, such as personal favorite, the feverishly melodic “Thrones” (a contender for my favorite song of the year, the transition at 4;21 is black metal perfection, and the piano added in the song’s penultimate stanza gives me goose bumps), down right glorious, rousing march of “Celestial” and blistering shimmer of “Elysian”.
Those that disliked Mikula’s seemingly wordless, hawkish shrieks will be disappointed as they return here and are as high pitched as before and seem to be to black metal what John tardy’s early vocals were to death metal. Still, they add a pained sense of ghostly sorrow and angst the the proceedings, which as I stated earlier, are much lighter and uplifting that the post/depressive black metal tag would have you believe. Production wise, there seems to bit a little more oomph in the rhythm section, so the shrillness of everything else is balanced out nicely.
On the relatively small downside, Starmourner is a looooooong album, over 70 minutes, and even as wondrous as it often is, the length and the instrumental parts (“Astral”, “Angelic”, “Principalities”, closer “Ode”) could have been trimmed down, to let the album’s many highlights be more of a focus. In fact, the album probably could have ended with “Elysian” and been just as effective. Also, “Cherubim” and start of instrumental “Principalities” were a bit too alt/post rock-y for my taste, though the latter does finish with a nice little jangly canter.
Regardless, Starmourner will more than likely end up on my year end list, due to some of the utterly breathtaking melodies, let the haters hate. And now, I’m really looking forward to the next album and I really hope it’s called Sunfingerer…..[Visit the band's website]