Album Review: Ghost Bath—“Moonlover”

By James Li

Black metal is a genre that demands authenticity, but paradoxically, most musicians in the genre assume pseudonyms and create mythologies for themselves. Ghost Bath grabbed the attention of the metal community almost instantly — a black metal band from Chongqing, China? China has a black metal scene, but not a very active one, so the prospect of a Chinese black metal band intrigued people. They got signed to the German metal label Northern Silence, and fans and critics eagerly awaited their sophomore album, Moonlover.

But in the days leading up to the album release, the facts didn’t add up. How did they record their album in Michigan? Why is it so snowy in their press photos if they’re from one of the hottest cities in China? How come their Facebook posts are written in fluent English and not Chinese? Isn’t Facebook banned in China anyway? As it turned out, Ghost Bath aren’t from China but somewhere far less exotic – Minot, North Dakota. When asked in an interview whether they thought it was problematic that they pretended they were from China, they responded as such: “We are worthless humans. The fact that we cower and hide is no act. We genuinely loathe our very core, and out from that comes our music.”

Album art for Moonlover

Album art for Moonlover

Whether Ghost Bath are Chinese or not has no bearing on what Moonlover actually sounds like. The most immediate comparison is Deafheaven’s Sunbather. The album titles sound like mirror images of each other, and even some of the song titles on Moonlover (“Happyhouse,” “Beneath the Shade Tree”) are similar to those on Sunbather (“Dream House,” “The Pecan Tree”). The Sunbather similarities are clearest on the album highlight “Golden Number,” which opens with a shimmering guitar intro before soaring into an uplifting major-key solo.

But if we’re comparing Moonlover to Sunbather, it might be fairer to say that it’s a counterpart than a clone. The ironically-titled “Happyhouse” is darker than anything Deafheaven have ever done. If they’re being honest about genuinely loathing themselves, then it’s evident in that track. The vocals aren’t so much screamed or shrieked in traditional black metal manner, but wailed, as if the singer’s constantly choking back tears.

The vocals are distinctly performed but they’re also sparingly used on Moonlover, pushed to the back of the mix. In fact, about half of the album is instrumental, where the band’s post-rock and shoegaze influences shine through. The instrumental interludes add some sombre atmosphere and needed diversity, but they can also detract from the album. At around forty minutes, Moonlover is a brisk listen, but there’s a ten-minute instrumental stretch in the middle that throws off the pacing.

It’s true that Ghost Bath weren’t forthright about their origins and it’s also true that they sound like Deafheaven. It’s for those reasons that black metal diehards who value authenticity and kvltness might not enjoy Moonlover. But metalheads who don’t mind some post-rock flourish or people who want to ease into black metal will find something to like about this album. Ghost Bath might be a band of worthless people, but as one of the most melodic black metal albums of the year, Moonlover is definitely a worthwhile listen. (Northern Silence)

Listen: “Golden Number”

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