The sound of panic channeled over rushing waves distorts the reflection of the full moon above. Woven into the churning tributaries of guitar leads and white-water rapids of drenching feedback, one man’s cries echo and pierce the night. It gushes with pain as it strays into a nearby pond, splashing against the shores rubbed raw and shaking the pines lining the beaches. Eventually the pain explodes and a man drifts into the pond’s waters, surrendering to the muffling pool to silence his pain, his fear and his terror. Calm restores to the rushing tributaries. Only the babble of current could be heard under the full moon.
Ghost Bath’s Moonlover follows the currents of grand rivers, silencing all in its path as it cuts through a night-stained country. Its own current is strong, informed by the melodies and anguished black metal that paint its headwaters. That current aggressively erodes the land around it, taking from those lands the kind of instrumental power that’s driven everyone from pop rockers to fellow metal heads insane.
And that insanity undoubtedly carried Ghost Bath with it. The screams that shatter Moonlover’s serenity are matched only by its gunshot drums and sweeping guitars. At its most intense moments (i.e. the tsunami guitars of its second track “Golden Number”), Moonlover builds into torrents of melodic grief and thunderous rage that cut down the serenity made in softer tracks. Those softer moments can lull the waters, but they usually find themselves paired with self-destructive forces like “The Silver Flower pt. 2” that tear their peace apart in bipolar fits of panicked metalgaze.
Yet, for all of the wild destructive winds and curves in this river, there’s an order to it. Ghost Bath build their songs up and wind them down almost formulaically; every calm leads to a crescendo and every track leads a penultimate finale. “The Silver Flower” starts with the chirping crickets of a swamp before its whirlpool second half rips the swamp apart with frenzied instrumentals and throat-goring screams. “Golden Number’s” melody-strewn guitars swim through a heavy metal storm and into a coda’s grand piano. Moonlover as a whole has its own buildup; everything culminates in “Death and the Maiden’s” aggression before surrendering to the currents carrying it.
Moonlover wrestles with the world around it, lashing out with hysteria and washing it away in its metal-hewn currents. For Ghost Bath, pushing back was suicide; it was much easier to just let the metalgazed waters take them away. Their sound of surrender was a soliloquy; a sweeping metal epic that survives off its anguish and drifts beautifully across a moon-soaked musical landscape.
Depressive black metal: as if the genre could get any more lifeless, people started throwing the word “depressive” in front of black metal. The difference between the two? Where black metal is filled with nihilism, depressive black metal is filled with nihilism, dread, suicidal thoughts and, of course, overall depression (and no other genre does it better). The band Ghost Bath, however, is taking that despair and putting a light at the end of the tunnel.
Do not get that previous statement wrong; Moonlover is definitely the Debbie downer you would expect from depressive black metal, as proven by the introductory instrumental. But after the second track, “Golden Number,” fades in, you will see that light in full force. This song is instrumentally upbeat and even triumphant. However, the vocals are cries of pain and sorrow that add a lot of contrast to the sound. But they fit, seeing as there is a touch of black metal in the track anyway. Still, the vocals are hampered by the fact that you cannot understand a single lyric due to either how they are performed or mixed. This may not bother some because they are very well performed, but others may want to know the story behind the album without having to look up its lyrics. This track closes with an amazing piano performance, chock full of great melodies and use of dynamics that close out the track perfectly.
Ironically, the third track, “Happyhouse,” is actually one of the more depressing ones on the album. It’s a fairly straightforward depressive black metal track, with the only problem being the high-pitched guitar lead throughout that just does not mix in right. Following “Happyhouse” are two interlude tracks: “Beneath the Shad” and “The Silver Flower pt. 1.”
The first of these two is good and all, but it really just feels like filler in the context of the whole piece. “The Silver Flower pt. 1” is just a part of a whole song, so it works better with the album. Not only that, the additional swamp sounds and the choir in the background of the guitar melody work very well. This song oddly fades out before “The Silver Flowers pt. 2” fades right back in; it would have sounded way better had the two parts flowed together.
The last two tracks are a great way to finish the album off. Both are a mix of happy and depressing black metal, being overall solid tracks. My favorite part is the very upbeat guitar solo at the end of “The Silver Flowers pt. 2.” With wails from the vocalist and a melancholy instrumental backing the solo, the contrast really creates beautiful sounds.
The performances on this album, besides the previously mentioned flaw with the vocals, are interesting. The guitars and drums do not just stick to the black metal tropes of tremolo riffs and blast beats. It feels like the band took a real effort to expand from that, making this album sound that much more ambitious. The guitar playing does get slightly sloppy at some points though – most notably at the end of the interlude “Beneath the Shade.”
Ghost Bath did what many bands have been doing lately and redefined black metal in their own way. Moonlover is a mixing of genres into one cohesive piece, filled with plenty of aggression to keep the blood pumping and mellow sections to raise some anticipation. Some of the songs here do drag on slightly, and not being able to understand the lyrics takes away the message being said, but overall Moonlover is a rollercoaster ride I do not plan on getting bored of any time soon.
Favorite Tracks: “Golden Number,” “The Silver Flower pt. 1” and “The Silver Flower pt. 2”