Review Summary: "China/North Dakota's answer to Deafheaven?" Contrary to initial reactions, probably not.
North Dakota's Ghost Bath is the latest in a long line of black-ish metal bands to be hopefully heralded as "the next Deafheaven." Given that
band's quick rise to fame with their highly acclaimed sophomore effort, Sunbather
in 2013, few can blame the black metal scene for endlessly hyping any "new" acts that sonically resemble Deafheaven in the slightest.
After releasing only the first track from their own sophomore album, Ghost Bath unsurprisingly became the next target of this seemingly never-stopping Hype Train To Blackgazeville after endless comparisons were made between this new piece, "Golden Number", and pretty much anything else Deafheaven had ever put to tape. So, after smartly creating an air of mystery and hype surrounding this lone 9-minute opus of powerful Deafheaven-meets-Woods-of-Desolation aural melancholia, the question unavoidably arose: Was Moonlover
set to be the "next" Sunbather
Sadly, the answer to that oft-asked question seems once again to be a disappointed "Nope."
While its more "depressive" take on aggressive-yet-shoegazy black metal was a fantastic opener and hype-builder with its tortured screams, uplifting melodies, and beautiful piano outro which together made it sound like a veritable Deafheaven/Woods of Desolation lovebaby, the rest of the album sadly does not really follow along this same line as “Golden Number”, and subsequently never again reaches that same level of awe-inspiring power.
For example: while track three, “Happyhouse”, does its best to experiment with slower tempos and atmosphere, it simply cannot compete with the intense heart-wrenching cacophony of the album’s opener. The same can much be said of the rest of the album; while Moonlover
’s take on depressive blackgaze isn’t bad--far from it!--it simply set itself up for disappointment by placing most of its eggs in the first track, then essentially coasting on those fumes through its remaining thirty minutes by never again really attempting to reach that same level of intensity and emotional depth outside of a few moments here or there.
While the other two black metal pieces on the record (“The Silver Flower pt. 2” and “Death and the Maiden”) mostly resign themselves to mid-paced-to-slow blackgaze, both do
excel through their smooth transitions between styles and tempos, as well as through their particularly powerful use of melodic lead playing--these melodies often creating more melancholic atmospheres, or providing ever more effective contrast between the uplifting quality of the instrumentation and the horribly tortured, piercing vocals. Through all their melody and atmosphere, though, none of the tracks really go anywhere to set themselves apart from the rest or raise themselves up to the level of “Golden Number”, which clearly holds the record back from ever realizing the true potential hinted at in the first track.
In the end, Moonlover
quite simply is not the long-sought answer to our prayers--our black metal messiah--but is better akin to one of his disciples--a lesser John the Baptist to Sunbather
’s Jesus of Nazareth, so to speak. In that sense, Moonlover
seems to only baptize its followers in water which, while currently
getting the job done, will be of no comparison when the next “true” king of the genre reveals himself and begins to baptize with more than simply water--but with spirit, too.
Like John the Baptist, Moonlover
will probably only succeed in tiding over the most fervent of followers until the next "true" king comes to claim his mantle, and little else.