(Wil Cifer reviews the debut album by Ghost Bath, which comes out on March 17 via Northern Silence, with a full-album stream at the end.)
The Deafheaven comparisons will overflow Ghost Bath’s ethereal tub, but at its heart Moonlover favors its depressive black metal side over any of the shoe-gazing it flirts with. The opening “Golden Number” uses more synths and piano than Sunbather had as an entire album. On “Happyhouse” the band make it even clearer that the depressive elements are more important to them than the shoe-gazing. They drill into the blasting section, their drummer attacking with more feral precision than Deafheaven.
The crystalline ringing of the guitars in “Beneath the Shade Tree” is darkly beautiful, though it is just an interlude that gives some breathing room before the first part of “The Silver Flower”. From this point on the album takes a turn away from more vocal-centered music into atmosphere and ambience, dragging you along for a session of melodic hypnosis before the blast beats kick you off the cliff.
Single screams accent the doomy staccato build-up in the second part of “The Silver Flower”. When this riff begins its triumphant gallop into the octave chords and the sonic build, the vocals are left behind, until they resurface later, this time buried so low in the mix that I didn’t catch them until my second listen. At the kick off the cliff at the end of this one, the vocals come back in for anguished cries, whines, and blubbering gurgles, but are soon covered in a cascade of blatantly melodic guitar melody.
The final song, “Death and the Maiden”, takes a more metal approach. The guitar continues to deliver in-your-face melodies as the drums inflict a mid-paced pounding over the howling vocals, which die down along with the intensity when the blast-beat comes. This is a pretty cool effect, the drums hitting the blast-beat and then everyone else backing off and wandering around it.
The guitar melodies almost seem too bright for black metal on this one. I normally need more dissonance in my black metal, but these guys have opened the floodgates for cool accents, so its hard to argue against it. The most Deafheaven moment of the whole album comes in the final big build of the song, with a guitar melody that almost sounds like it would fit in a big, clean-sung chorus of a Killswitch Engage song. It’s the whistling synth that sounds like the theme from the X-Files that balances out that part and redeems the song.
The songs sometimes find themselves submerged beneath the ambient interludes, which eat up time better spent screaming at me. But if you think Deafheaven sold out by playing Bonnaroo (you might not be wrong), here is a band that has yet to do that and can fill that space in your heart. They are not just melancholy and introspective, they wallow in their beautiful misery.