Review Summary: Album is bad/10
I feel absurd when compelled to begin this review with “I’m not actually one of Ghost Bath’s many naysayers, believe it or not”, but it’s true. What’s more, it’s unfortunately integral to make that distinction when writing anything based around the divisive act, one that sparks the loudest murmurs of dissent in black metal since Deafheaven dropped Sunbather
. So I’ll say to hell with it, I didn’t hate Moonlover
. Not even close. Sure, I acknowledge its faults to this day, namely that nothing on the album is up to par with its delightfully glamorous lead epic “Golden Number”, making for a startling disparity in quality across the record. In addition, it’s hard to deny certain claims of a derivative style, making comparisons to Deafheaven in the album title, and numerous depressive BM acts in the music. I don’t really care that much anymore truth be told, but Ghost Bath’s follow-up in Starmourner
is making me have second thoughts.
What’s immediately apparent is that the popularity of “Golden Number” got to the band member’s heads and now many of the tracks feature similar melodic guitar lines pushed far up in the mix to serve as a hook. The rub is that they’ve been pushed too far up in the mix to the point that they stick out like a sore thumb, and there isn’t one that’s good enough to be worth remembering. “Seraphic”, the first actual song on the record, abuses this concept to comical levels with what sounds like a half-assed fusion of power metal guitar leads with quarter-baked happy-go-lucky black metal. This “happy” tone is a relatively common aspect of the album, but whether it’s wanted varies on a track-to-track basis. Some songs are outright laughable when saccharine guitar lines contrast with the ever-constant wails that are somewhat traditional in the depressive black metal scene. On the other hand, “Elysian” maintains that hopeful tone without going too far. Hell, it may be the only passable track here in retrospect. At another corner of the spectrum, songs like “Ambrosial” are more in line with the melancholic vibes of Moonlover
, making Starmourner
feel as excessively scattered mood-wise as it is quality-wise. Not every song may be comically horrendous, but those that aren’t mostly boil down to being astoundingly boring, derivative post-y black metal.
Even the flow of Starmourner
is somewhat scattershot. Intro track “Astral” is basically just building keys, but it feels like it’s meant to be a catharsis rather than an introduction, as though it should’ve been tossed somewhere in the back half of the album or even closed the whole thing out. Ghost Bath apparently had a similar thought as closer “Ode” is similarly interlude esque, but the music is even more directionless. Fittingly, the production is awkward as well, “Thrones” being one of the biggest offenders thanks to jerky channel switching in the intro and curious audio disparities between certain sections. With half a dozen clashing tones throughout Starmourner’s
ridiculously overlong runtime and uncertain direction, it feels appropriately ambiguous in the end. Doubtless many will wonder “Is that it?” when Starmourner
tapers off, not because they wanted it to continue, but because it feels like Ghost Bath sliced off the final act to an already convoluted pseudo-epic. I was just desperately hoping it would end by the time Starmourner
was supposed to be hitting its stride.