Once billed as “China’s answer to Deafhaven”, North Dakotan outfit Ghost Bath have a lot in common with their San Francisco “Blackgaze” peers – combining black metal harshness with an almost uplifting streak of melody and atmosphere.
Their second album, Moonlover (Nuclear Blast/Northern Silence Productions), was described by many as the best BM album of 2015, and derided by others as an unoriginal rip-off of an already terrible sound. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle; a mix of black, post metal, and approachable melody.
There’s very little in the way of real songs on offer. It’s more soundscapes, atmospherics, ethereal instrumental passages and occasional blast beats. The nine minute ‘Golden Number’ breezes between swirling heaviness and almost pop-punk melody before gently fading away in haze of clean guitars and piano balladry.
‘Beneath the Shade Tree’ and ‘The Silver Flower’ are both ambient soundscape-type pieces, while ‘Death and the Maiden’ is the closest thing this album has to a normal song structure – and his probably the highlight. The vocals are definitely the weakest element; the shrill, distant screams, though used fairly sparingly, might suit the blasting but detract from what is often approaching beautiful passages of music. ‘HappyHouse’ is a great example where better vocals, or even no vocals at all, would have been welcome.
Given this record is nearly a year old, it feels a bit odd to be reviewing it now, but it does provide a chance to assess it without being surrounded by the hype it generated at the time. It’s easy to dismiss Ghost Bath and their ilk as black metal for hipsters, but in Moonlover they’ve created an album that takes the genre in a direction rarely heard before. Perhaps not as awe-inspiring as some proclaimed it to be, nor an affront to the genre as the trve kvlt would have you believe.
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