I might have made an album as good as GHOST BATH’S STARMOURNER if my parents were supportive of my music
With their third full-length, Ghost Bath accomplished a deep, multi-layered, solid contender for many a metal blogger’s Best Album of 2017 list. Still, my mom and dad will be the first to tell you that something even as good or popular as it won’t sell enough copies to make an honest, stable living; let alone raise a family.
Starmourner opens with the deceptively sweet piano melody of “Astral,” and straight from there, we’re torn from that false sense of security (you know, the kind that a career with benefits and stable salary-based income provides) and we’re thrown right into familiar mayhem-ic Ghost Bath territory with “Seraphic.” The guitar leads of this track, as well as those on “Celestial,” are just a tad gaudier than the band’s previous fare, almost reminiscent of an F-Zero or Star Fox level. I would know… You tend to play a lot of video games when you’re consistently reminded that the ambitions that matter most to you at your very core as an individual have no hope of ever panning out.
The honor of my personal favorite song from the album goes to “Ambrosial,” a track that was previously released by Nuclear Blast to tease Starmourner’s release. It, and certainly its follow-up track “Ethereal,” prominently feature beachy, surf-rock riffs, played in a style that immediately brings to mind a different album by a fellow post-blackened band all about One who Bathes in the Sun. I really don’t want to bring those guys into this, though. They talk about making a living from their music in their interviews and I just think that’s a bit more than I’m able to handle right now…
With Ghost Bath’s brand of uplifting melodies in the context of black metal despair, Starmourner successfully delivers a perfect, continuous contrast of soaring highs and punishing lows. I remember once I was punished for saving and spending my grocery store paychecks on a $600 Schecter guitar when I was still living at home. My father scolded me vehemently, insisting that if I was living on my own, I would never be able to afford a “toy” that expensive if I had my own bills to worry about. I still think about that sometimes on my lower days. I spend a lot of time getting high to try not to feel that moment anymore.
Ghost Bath’s unnamed drummer keeps a steady, pounding rhythm with the modest amount of flash and technicality you’d expect from a post black metal outfit. With that said, I wouldn’t consider it anywhere near too simplistic, nor overly-reliant on your typical ever-droning atmospheric blast beats. How the drums in Ghost Bath productions often overpower the rest of the mix with echoing shotgun-blast rim shots, smacks of something a bit more from a hardcore persuasion than anything experienced elsewhere in the DSBM genre. I was interested in drums too for a while; I wanted to be in high demand among rock musicians in my area and join a band as soon as possible. You see, when I was young, I wasn’t very popular. I thought being a drummer was my ticket to friends in the local scene. I bought a practice pad and a pair of sticks before I could afford to get the real thing as a teenager. My dad walked in on me practicing and asked me if I felt like a rock star yet… laughing at me tapping away at my pad. When I finally got a cheap Ludwig kit and started taking lessons, my mother would scream “enough already!” ten minutes or less into my practicing. I’m still not very popular.
Although we can argue Starmourner doesn’t quite have the initial impact that Moonlover certainly had on the metal scene, Starmourner offers us a glimpse at a slightly more sophisticated and grown-up Ghost Bath than on previous releases. When my mom asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I told her I wanted to play music and entertain others. She immediately rephrased her question to ask what I was going to do so I could buy groceries for her grandkids.
With Moonlover, Ghost Bath, much like their Black Gaze counterparts Alcest and Deafheaven had foregone black metal’s typical staples of overly saturated and compressed ‘buzzsaw’ guitar distortion for a cleaner, warmer, more rock-centric ‘overdriven’ guitar tone. That classic sort of British crunch was then, of course, colored with an array of reverb, delay and chorus effects to give it the ambient, spacey vibe that shoegaze and atmospheric guitar players are known for. With three different men on guitar, the layering of tone and effects greater added to the breadth of Ghost Bath’s room-filling wall of sound. Apart from perhaps some higher gain leads, Starmourner more or less seems to follow in Moonlover’s footsteps with this guitar tone philosophy, whereas if I ever were to follow in my father’s footsteps, I’d fucking hang myself.
Starmourner’s calmer interludes are reverberating, ambient, haunting melodies reminiscent of those heard on their former release. Haunting, much like the memories of my realist father’s disdain towards my creative ambitions and alternative style of clothing. I once borrowed a book called Guitar for Dummies from the library so I could learn the kind of catchy major chords and scales you’re going to enjoy throughout Starmourner. My dad said everybody who wanted to play guitar should own that book based on the title. One Christmas I asked for a new practice amp because the 90’s Peavey Bandit I bought second hand had electrical problems and kept zapping me while I was playing. Instead, Santa brought me about a practice amp’s price worth of shaving cream, razors, body wash, socks, underwear, gift cards to Dunkin Donuts and brightly colored polo shirts for the job interviews I should have been going to instead of “a buncha shit you don’t need”. I even got a barber kit so I could take the hint and cut my long hair… Considering Nameless’ competent playing, it sounds very much like he spent most of his time practicing on an amp that didn’t regularly electrocute him for trying.
The bass on this album – and this is a stretch to say—might be its only flaw, and not at all because it’s poorly played. Ghost Bath’s bassist proves more than competent as any musician on their roster and deserves his props for that. The bass lines are just not as clearly booming and audible in the mix on certain tracks as I maybe would have liked, especially considering the hardcore drum sound. Being a bass player myself, we can probably chalk this one up to personal preference. Just the slightest bit of extra grit and girth would have made Starmourner sound that much more huge. What definitely was audible, however was when my alcoholic stepfather screamed “WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS?!” at 4:00 in the morning at the top of his cigarette-tinged lungs when he saw I had discretely recycled a box for a new Acoustic B200 bass combo. My mother tried to soothe and shush him, always terrified of him and his often verbally – sometimes physically – abusive nature and how my brothers and I as grown 20-somethings and older teens were not as willing to put up with his shit and went toe-to-toe with him on more than one occasion. I will easily forgive the spotty bass guitar prominence in Starmourner’s mix, but shall remain ever resentful towards our mother for bringing someone so objectively scumbaggy into our home and family; tearing apart whatever small relationship we had left after a needlessly ugly divorce with our father, years of overbearing, confidence-damaging, cynical world-view parenting and constantly vilifying our father to us in a transparent attempt at deflecting all of the valid criticisms we had towards the rotten stain on all of humanity that was our white trash idiot stepfather. He wouldn’t even understand what makes an album like Starmourner great, the beer swilling, toad-faced fucking loser.
In my 20’s one day after garage band practice, I drank half a bottle of Jameson, buzzed a mohawk in my head with the old Christmas barber kit, got in a fist fight with my stepdad, got kicked out of my house and slept in my van for a couple weeks without even getting to say I went on tour. But hey, I guess that’s at least half the dream, right? You’re gonna have a much better night listening to Starmourner than I had that night. Although do expect similar amounts of harsh screaming, despair, and some rather unexpected uplifting moments that don’t feel like they belong anywhere near all the melancholy and hopelessness.
What I’m trying to say is Ghost Bath’s latest musical endeavor is sort of like how good it feels punching your stepdad while living in the reality that you have a stepdad who needs punching.
GHOST BATH – STARMOURNER
Five out of Five Punched Stepdads ?????
You can pick up Starmourner right now via Nuclear Blast. Order it here! You can also check out the Toilet ov Hell Radio interview here and be sure to stop by Facebook to tell the guys that this album empowered you to beat up your stepdad.