Tearing apart hearts and comment sections since 2014, the career of China’s North Dakota’s Ghost Bath has been deceitfully brief. The 14 months between debut Funeral and follow-up Moonlover catapulted the crew from the depths of obscurity to the position of most hyped (and most hated) band in recent memory. I’ve seen the band treated like the Second Coming, and I’ve seen the band described as “such a bag of ass.” Whatever your opinion on the matter, Starmourner puts the polarizing magnetism of Ghost Bath on full display.

If Moonlover greedily lapped up all those Sunbather fans looking for a little more atmosphere, Starmourner follows New Bermuda in trading that atmosphere for aggression. Awash with violence like never before, the album will satisfy dedicated fans of Moonlover’s atmosphere only if they take no insult from the accompanying aural assault.1 “Astral” welcomes friends old and new with the patient reflection of Nameless’ piano passages. But as “Seraphic” slowly unfurls, this sense of reserve is supplanted by blackgaze riffs marked by a fluid duality of mourning and hope. Post-black’s trademark snare pummels join the blackened riffs pervasive on the album, but never more traditionally than here. “Seraphic” and follow-up “Ambrosial” might feel like extensions of Moonlover, but for their crushing inability to yield. Neither has the internal breadth of “Golden Number” or “Happyhouse;” Ghost Bath instead pull out blackened strands that leave window dressings behind. If its first act is to be believed, Starmourner represents a concerted shift away from Moonlover’s musical dynamism.

Fear not: what Ghost Bath lose in depth, they gain in scale and diversity. Starting with fourth-slated “Ethereal,” the album begins an ascent that improbably sees each track top its predecessor. In spite of a trend toward stylistic homogeny, at least on paper, each song feels whole and easily identifiable. The chord-work of “Ethereal” trades in Deafheaven positivity, while “Celestial” flaunts a triumphant, airy melody that sounds downright, well, celestial. Even when ramping back into the black metal fold, the track only relinquishes that theme at the very end. Unfortunately, it is here that Starmourner’s lack of restraint becomes quite apparent. Track lengths balloon over the album’s 71 minutes, thanks mostly to an unwillingness to pare out unnecessary repetition and dilution. Aside from the free-flowing “Cherubim,” only the album’s piano bookends clock in under five minutes. The somber acoustics of “Angelic” offer revitalization at the album’s halfway point, before “Luminescence” provides pace and memorability at the edge of a knife. Its clanging bass thrums in the deep, a constant presence alongside Ghost Bath’s three guitar manifesto. When fully ensconced in Starmourner’s moonlit veil, I find difficulty in pulling away from this mind-numbing rapture.

The tri-pronged attack of “Thrones,” “Elysian,” and “Cherubim” caps the album with aplomb. In succession, Ghost Bath further embrace elements of thrash metal, show off Alcestian ethereality, and emulate the summery, poppy warmth of Astronoid, each achieving heights grander than the last. De facto finale “Principalities” wells up from subterranean depths, its down-fret caverns impervious to the album’s rather loud production. Though Starmourner provides enough interludes to avoid suffocating, tracks like “Thrones” suffer from modest clipping and sonic impenetrability when they lower the boom. The drums in particular hinder the level of clarity. Its standard post-black bustle is too boilerplate for how far up in the mix it is, especially in a band with three separate guitarists. Likewise, Nameless’ anonymous howls near “supporting instrument” territory, but regularly commandeer too much space for that standing. His wordless cries play well at times, especially when backed by Ghost Bath’s full assault, but feels mismatched at others. Lowlights range from distraction (“Ethereal”) to “Oh my, that flambé has set Julia Child’s hair ablaze, won’t anyone put the poor dear out before the bananas burn?” (“Cherubim”).

Despite this, don’t focus on the negatives; Starmourner deserves better. The album handles its newfound size like a field general deftly outmaneuvering an unworthy opponent. The immediate eclipse of Moonlover may put off fans unhappy to see Ghost Bath succumb to heavier desires, but it should delight those less rigid in their stylistic adherence. Starmourner shatters the already-high expectations in Ghost Bath’s young career, and if you’ve got ears, you should hear it for yourself.

Rating: 4.0/5.0
DR: 9 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Nuclear Blast
Websites: facebook.com/blackghostbath | ghostbath.bandcamp.com
Releases Worldwide: April 21st, 2017

Show 1 footnote

  1. Did I mention Ghost Bath signed with Nuclear Blast?
Tagged with →  
Share →
  • Brutalist_Receptacle


    • Sean Sky

      I love you.

      • Brutalist_Receptacle


  • AgonMcDuck

    Damn, didn’t realize it’s been over a year since Moonlover. I like me some Ghost Bath, so I’ll be checking this out once I’ve finished filling out forms.

    • Dr. Wvrm

      Oh, is there a formal process for handing in your metal card? I just chucked mine in a blender.

      • Tofu muncher

        A goat ran away with mine. True story tho utterly useless: EVERY DAY (yep, Sunday included) a tribe of goats pass my house to a grass field not far from the house.

  • ashcindersmoke

    This seems to be getting praise everywhere but I cannot for the life of me get into it. Maybe I’ll give it another spin today. Fantastic review!

  • But. I don’t understand. Isn’t this terrible?

    • ssorg

      It is. But free country and all that (WHOEVER THOUGHT THAT WAS A GOOD IDEA???)

      • ssorg

        And yes, I am implying that the internet is American.

    • Westpaceagle

      America needs to build a wall…between me and ‘blackgaze’

    • Cris Vel Med

      Oh! it´s terrible indeed, but in this times most of the post black fans and magazines just can´t stop dick riding these guys… Seriously I just can´t dig it!

      • We prefer the term “nut hugging.”

        • Cris Vel Med

          Hahahaha! nice one, that one said, Can´t stop nut hugging These guys, Nice review!

  • R.Daneel Olivaw

    this is failed attempt in other words…this is fucking lame!!!!!

  • Aesir

    And where is Hipster Heaven now?

    • Sean Sky

      You listened to (part) of a piano intro to the record and decided it was a bad album?

      • Aesir

        I listened to the track on this page. Any reference to Deafheaven…..not for me.

        • Sean Sky

          Oh, that’s a little more fair then, I suppose.

  • Eldritch Elitist

    Excellent review of an excellent album, and definitely in the running for my album of the year. I’ve really never liked Ghost Bath until Starmourner, so I highly recommend any naysayers to give it a fair shake, so long as you can stomach the positive vibes.

  • Sean Sky

    I enjoy Ghost Bath, and to be perfectly honest I like Deafheaven but I can completely understand why they’re polarizing bands.

  • VenomousHulk

    Great guys, all super nice when the played for all 20 of us in Oklahoma City. Can’t wait to see them again though

    • ashcindersmoke

      You’re from OKC? I’m about to see Gorguts in June here super excited.

      • Apple Tree

        Im seein them is june down here in atlanta

        • ashcindersmoke

          I can’t wait I hear they put on a killer show.

      • Zach Ward

        June 3rd here in Syracuse. I’m pretty sure first show of the tour. Stocked!!

  • Bob Lunger

    This album has great music, apart from the vocals. The vocals kill it for me. Fantastic review though.

    • ashcindersmoke

      I haven’t been able to get past the 2nd song for that exact reason

  • You wot m8?

    Would someone kindly explain to me in an objective manner why there is a battle of the keyboards being fought over this band…

    I would just go listen to a bunch of their stuff, but I have other… Things…

    • Sean Sky

      People consider bands like Ghost Bath and Deafheaven to be HIPSTER TRASH. Whether or not that’s the case is probably up to the individual to decide.

      • People consider bands like X and Y to be EXPLICATIVE WORTHY. Whether or not that’s the case is probably up to the individual to decide.

      • ssorg

        Here’s my mildly nuanced take: Metal is a loose set of aesthetic criteria (being aesthetic criteria they permit no formal definition). There’s a kind of sniff test when you listen to new music to decide whether it’s metal or not, and to my ears Ghost Bath and, to a lesser extent Deafheaven, just plain “don’t sound metal”. I have a similar problem with a lot of the other albums this website rates highly (Jan and Feb AOTM are prime offenders) — they don’t seem very metal to me. There’s nothing wrong with non-metal music, but I suppose some people get upset that this music appropriates something about the sound of metal without otherwise meeting the criteria to be considered metal, and thus has appeal for people who don’t like those other aspects of the metal sound.

        Me personally, I can’t stand this music, and that riff in the middle makes me laugh, but I don’t get angry, I just stay far, far away.

        • tomasjacobi

          That’s a lot of words just to say that you don’t like it and therefore it’s not metal :-)

          • ssorg

            Not exactly… I don’t like it and I don’t think it’s metal (invalidated by that painful riff stolen from get up kids). Others maybe don’t like it *because* they don’t think it’s metal.

        • jamai36

          I have always held a similar opinion of power metal and have never considered Maiden metal really, which is sacrilege to many.

          This sounds a lot more metal to me than most power metal, but to each their own.

          When you mix metal with a non-metal genre you are going to generally up with something that sounds less metal than had it been purely metal.

    • Distorted Culture

      I believe they pretended or implied themselves to be an obscure band from China when they started out and it turns out they’re a bunch of guys from North Dakota which irked a lot of folks.

  • AndySynn

    Taking the vocals out of the equation for a second (I know they’re a rather… divisive… factor), I still can’t see precisely what’s so incredibly polarising about these guys. Particularly since their whole sound/schtick appears to aim squarely for the middle ground as it is.

    At best/worst (delete as appropriate) I’d describe them as “aggressively mediocre”.

    • Lucas Lex DeJong

      That’s how I felt about their last album, but if the embedded track here (and that pop-punk riff at 1:30) is any indication, it seems they’ve strived for new ways to not be black metal.

  • mtlman1990

    Its like a shitty version on Violet Cold’s Anomie.

    • AndySynn

      Damn, that’s a good album.

  • Ferrous Beuller

    I still can’t tell if this is awesome or awful. Help me, Doc!

    • Dr. Wvrm

      Answer me this: Do you like goats?

      • Tofu muncher

        Gotta watch them goddam LDL so maybe once ot thrice a year

  • pfk505

    Boring, tedious and dull is how I would describe this band. Overrated as well (surprise, just like Deafheaven). And I like plenty of post-black metal, it’s just a hard style to pull off.

  • Excentric_13073

    “Lowlights range from distraction (“Ethereal”) to “Oh my, that flambé has
    set Julia Child’s hair ablaze, won’t anyone put the poor dear out
    before the bananas burn?” (“Cherubim”).”

    Holy crap my co-workers now think I’m insane due to the stifled guffaws erupting my desk in an otherwise silent office. Thanks.

    • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

      Probably they have been thinking you’re insane for a long time… ;)

  • Eli Valcik

    How come ghost bath is so exclusive? I still have yet to listen to any of moonlover and I’m not buying it on bandcamp before I hear any of it. But I did like their previous efforts, hopefully they’ll allow me to sample some of the songs on bandcamp

  • Noctus

    I actually lol’d at the riff that came in at 1:32 of the embedded video. So terrible.

    • Jesus Christ, you’re right. It’s embarrassing. The whole song is pretty terrible after that point.

    • Tofu muncher

      I started lol-ing seconds after the vocals started.

    • spoon dog

      Well, at least you prepared me. Worst riff ever man.

    • Lucas Lex DeJong

      I was nodding along to it whilst reading something else until that point. When that happened it actually shook me out of my distraction and said ‘what the fuck’. This just became Mayday Parade or Red Jumpsuit Apparatus at that point. Good on them for opening yet ANOTHER door to the fvlse.

    • Noctus, you judgy bastard!

  • Thatguy

    Best band photo ever.

  • Gage

    I’m sorry, don’t get it. This sounds just so… boring. Then again, I don’t know why I would expect anything else from this type of “metal.”

  • The vocals remind me of kids screaming at the playground… 20 years later. The drums sound decent on the recording, at least. And, even though it’s somewhat cheesy, I do like the cover art.

  • Even the unicorn on that picture can’t understand how this could get a 4.0.

  • Drew Music

    I love this album, I’ve been waiting rather impatiently for it ever since I learned Moonlover was the first part of an impending trilogy; I know I approached it from a very biased angle and expected to overhype the shit out of this, but while I do love Starmourner I think I could only go as high as 3.5 for now. Maybe I need a few more listens, but while I loved the overall experience there were a lot of parts that just weren’t really original enough. It works on a cohesive listening level, but dissecting it renders it all a little underwhelming. Still great though, and props for committing to thr listening experience for a fair and excellent review!

  • Panagiotis Krokidas

    Hipster metal and non-metal seems to wash over me more and more often, every day I open my favourite site. A pretentious love of retro rock over retro metal in the grounds that retro metal is retro, has turned into a banner over your castle. Retro rock is cool but metal is not?

    So what is happening with you guys! Is the metal meter broken? Are these metal grounds shaken? Did some dark usurper came over there and took the throne?

  • Sophocles

    Didn’t know that starbucks have Fanboy and Chum Chum’s Frosty Freezy Freeze … latte! Then again I hate starbucks

  • tomasjacobi

    I’m new to the band and I listened to the whole album for the first time yesterday and I think it’s good. I’m not sure whether I’ll grow to love it or it’ll join the massive amount of albums I “like”, but don’t feel compelled to return to.

    I don’t understand why the vocals have been singled out to be a problem.
    I think they’re jut fine and I find it funny how these sort of opinions spread on the internet.
    I’m sure hat least half the people complaining about how awful the vocals are wouldn’t have had a problem with them if they hadn’t read comments or seen YouTube videos mocking them before they even listened to the record.

  • Ondřej Hanus

    The best part about blackgaze and post-metal are the comment sections.

  • O Tempora! O Morons!..

    I like half these comments half as much as I should like; and I like less than half of this album half as well as it deserves..

  • Aidan Riess

    As much as I tried to dislike them, I couldn’t help but enjoy the embedded track. Good review!

  • Deez

    Ghost Bath strikes me as the black metal version of Pat Metheny.

    Really. It’s the wailing. Pat Metheny uses a lot of singers that just…sing. No words, just a lot of “aaahhh”ing through songs.

    Very much like Pat Metheny if Pat decided to become eveel and start writing garbage.

  • Wilhelm

    That artwork deserves better music

  • Jeff Manteiga

    I don’t really mind any of this, even the cheerful melody at 1:32 that has some people frothing at the mouth. The “WAHHHHHs” are pretty dumb though, and the riffs sound like stock post-black. Meh.

  • sweetooth0

    I liked the first two records, but I tried listening to this one last night and had to turn it off after two songs. Those vocals sound fucking ridiculous against that music. Happy guitar melodies and mournful wailing, um what?

  • AMG have given 2.5 to Numenorean … and 4.0 to this junkie Deafheaven… I believe if Numenorean was US band AMG had given it 4.5.

    • DeadHead

      The 2.5 seemed to stem from the “taboo” cover art. That album is way better than this trashy band. I prefer Oathbreaker when it comes to post black stuff.

  • Tofu muncher

    So will AMG be reviewing Firespawn’s The Reprobate? Like to hear your thought on that one.

    • Akerblogger

      I believe it’s on its way.

  • ” if you’ve got ears, you should hear it for yourself.”
    Oh I’ve got ears allright, and I can appreciate almost every (non-gimmicky) genre ever invented, but I don’t think I like Ghost Bath.

    How is that vocalist not ridiculous? He might be one of the worst things about the band, but I’m also not quite sold on their noisy brand of suburban teenage cracker post rock. I don’t know man, I just find it annoyingly unsophisticated.

    Is that 4.0 for real? This is the end of April, not the start, you know?

  • Meat Tornado

    Look at all of these opinions that are opinions and have absolutely no bearing on what happens in the world of music or other peoples’ opinions because they’re opinions and nobody gives a fuck.

    This, like most things, you either like it or you don’t. But maybe, just maybe, all the people losing their shit in here could find something better to do with their time than spew aimless opinion diarrhea everywhere?

  • JL

    Listen to the new Severoth instead of this dog shit.

  • Paul VH

    Generally the vocals should somehow enhance the song or punctuate the beat……strangling a rabid goat over the final mix accomplishes neither.

  • David Mackowiak Jr.

    Totally disagree with your assessment, though it is well written. This album is written sloppily, mixed extremely poorly and has some of the worst vocals I’ve heard since Drown in Solitude. And they aren’t even saying anything, so what really is the point?

    I appreciate some of the major key riffs here, but they don’t justify the seven to eight minutes of monotonous black metal passages that surround them on almost every song, and they, imo, don’t justify a listen. This is such a half-assed release and I’m incapable of seeing any redeeming factors in it.

  • Here’s Johnny

    Absolutely appalling but of course it would get 4/5 on this site.

  • Wojtek

    If Walt Disney’s Studio released it there would at least be some explanation for why it sounds as it does. I’ve found it terrible, really poor delivery on all levels, namely vocals. Pain. Perhaps that’s the strategy here…

  • Grimstrider

    These comments show more creativity and are more entertaining that anything I have heard from the referenced band. Which is sad, but also amusing.