As far as gimmicks go, a black metal group from North Dakota pretending to be Chinese worked far better for Ghost Bath than expected. That was, until their ruse was exposed in a 2015 interview with Noisey. That interview, coming out a few weeks before their second album Moonlover was released, derailed any kind of positive publicity for the album. Instead of a new release, people were talking about this “band from China that wasn’t from China.”
That description has stuck with them, though it hasn’t affected their career trajectory in any way. Ghost Bath continue to tour consistently and signed a deal with Nuclear Blast for the release of Starmourner. They made great strides with Moonlover, careening further into a dreamier sort of sound, eliciting apt comparisons to bands like Deafheaven. That hasn’t changed with Starmourner, though this time around the band goes for 70 inexplicable minutes in an unoriginal stew of endless roundabout compositions.
No album in recent memory has lasted so long and felt like double the time as Starmourner does. Brevity is Ghost Bath’s friend, and they were okay with leaving that friend in the middle of the woods to starve to death. A leaner listen could’ve came from trimming the one too many instrumentals and paring down the outros used for half of the 12 songs. Instead, this bloated monstrosity has enough false finishes to make The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King appear subtle.
For all the intolerable screaming that passes as vocals, this is a happier sounding album than any of their past full-lengths. Ghost Bath look to joy, paradise and the cosmos for inspiration instead of depression, suffering and pain. It works on the melodies, which have an almost snappy feel to them. This isn’t feel-good music, but it’s nowhere near the suicidal aura the band’s first album Funeral reeked of.
The heavy piano usage on opener “Astral” and closer “Ode” is the somber turn that acts as an arrival and departure for the album. The guitar-only “Angelic” lives up to its name, and the spirited “Cherubim” is one of the few songs wise enough to stay under five minutes. The music takes a lead approach over the vocals, which is fine considering their superfluous presence.
Beyond all the controversy and the internet opinions, Ghost Bath keep doing what they’re doing, which means one’s enjoyment of Starmourner will depend on how their other albums are viewed. They do nothing that could be construed as stepping over boundaries. It’s too long and too sucked up in repeating itself, building up to moments instead of tying it all together, something Moonlover was able to do.
(released April 21, 2017 on Nuclear Blast Records)