Released: 2017, Nuclear Blast
Reviewer: Aaron Yurkiewicz
STARMOURNER is the equivalent of a German scheizer video, except in this case, the listener is the unfortunate participant forced to endure this hot, runny dump of an album. Think that’s harsh? Try listening to this steamer.
Ghost Bath are the Kardashians of the metal world right now – they’re famous only for being infamous. Ghost Bath is the band from North Dakota who tried to present themselves as an exotic black metal band from China and then deflected and finger pointed when they got called out on the lie, but in the course of events drummed up a ton of free press for their MOONLOVER album and scored a deal with Nuclear Blast on the heels of it and are now headlining major tours across the US and Europe. For what it’s worth, MOONLOVER was a decent album on its own merits, but the way they went about their business and leap frogged into the spotlight has got to be infuriating for any band that’s toughed it out and paid their dues.
So now Ghost Bath are tasked with having to follow up MOONLOVER and prove that they’re more than a tabloid sensation; enter STARMOURNER, an album so pretentious it should come with a free beret.
STARMOURNER sounds like a poor man’s Deafheaven or Vattnet Viskar record, at times even like Paradise Lost on anti-depressants. Jangly major key chord progressions + single note guitar melodies = song; lather, rinse, repeat. The key difference between Ghost Bath and those other bands, however, is that those other bands know how to cultivate those components into something entertaining and not just expect that "sounding" a certain way will guarantee success. “Seraphic” stands out the most on STARMOURNER only because it’s the first proper song to follow the intro; everything beyond that resonates less and less because it’s all same and samer. Play this album on shuffle and you’ll be hard pressed to differentiate one tune from the next. Actually, “Cherubim” sounds like a pop-punk/All American Rejects type riff, so that one stands out, but for all the wrong reasons.
And the vocals…oy vey, the vocals...they sound like a screaming toddler in an echo chamber in the next room throwing a tantrum because mom and dad won’t buy him a Happy Meal. There are no discernable lyrics, no enunciation whatsoever; just distant echoes of a man child wailing across the hall. I'm sure it's intended to be scary and/or mysterious, but it's laughably awful. And it’s like this across each tune, regardless of the melody or whatever else is going on. The whole time I’m listening to this mess, I can picture the members of Ghost Bath in the rehearsal room looking at each other knowingly, fully confident that this is important music that’s going to change lives. It changed mine for sure - every hour I spent listening to STARMOURNER is one I’ll never get back.
If you’re at all interested in hearing this corner of metal done right, check out NEW BERMUDA or SETTLER from the aforementioned bands, those are both game changers. Or check out anything from Japanese archetypes Sigh (who actually are from the Pacific Rim) released in the last 10 years, they’ve been ahead of this game for a long while and have the chops to do whatever the hell they want. STARMOURNER is like a child dressing up in his dad’s suit and pretending that he’s going off to work - it's cute for a moment, but really all you want is for the kid to be quiet and go to sleep.