21st April 2017 – Nuclear Blast Records/Northern Silence
Black metal is undergoing something of a rejuvenation as of late. With a focus on creating vast and bleak soundscapes over political content, anti-religious cliches and dressing like a sad panda, bands like Deafheaven, So Hideous and most recently Asira have and continue to show a bright future for a genre that was on the brink of collapsing onto its own obnoxious wrist spikes.
Among those setting out to breathe life back into black metal is Ghost Bath, and following the release of their brooding yet dramatic debut Moonlover, all signs pointed to a band on the rise despite the geographic controversies that surrounded them for a brief time. As these fade into a distant memory, the band return with Starmourner, a 70-plus minute exercise in experimental musicianship.
The ability to write an album with an extended run time is a talent that many bands simply don’t possess, and unfortunately Starmourner suffers greatly at the hands of songs that continually overstay their welcome. Both “Ambrosial” and “Celestial” exceed eight minutes, but the time is wasted on following a formulaic light/dark pattern that is both obvious and tired. Black metal wails that lurch disjointedly over a hammering of double kicks and speedy distorted guitar lines before stumbling into cleaner post-metal. The juxtaposition should be striking, however its lack of consistency is surprising.
The album isn’t without its plus points, however. While “Thrones” too sticks to the formula of light and dark, it does so in a way that feels less messy, which is more than likely to do with its shorter run time, making for a more condensed assault on the senses – but the fact it takes well over half of the album to get to this point can’t be forgiven either. Final track “Ode“, however, is a beautifully crafted bookend that relies on a piano and very little else. A melancholic finale, it only proves that simplicity is the key to projecting emotion into black metal.
Starmourner fails to live up to the multi textured releases of the band’s peers. With its overwhelming need to span as many genres as possible, the end result is a convoluted mixture of styles that feel forcibly wedged together in a contrived mess of meandering self-indulgence. Ultimately, it feels vapid and overwrought; by being so weighed down by avoiding the cliches of the genre that it becomes a cliche in itself. Those who go into the record expecting a paradigm-altering masterpiece will leave feeling short changed by its lack of cohesion.