Uplifting Depressive Black Metal: Ghost Bath’s Moonlover

  • David Lee Rothmund

Y’all know Deafheaven, but do they write good black metal or hipster black metal? Before answering, consider the unfairness: the preconception of what’s authentic and the stereotypes birthed by “what has already been done.” In a vacuum, what do Deafheaven and soundalikes really sound like? How do you really hear them, and have you actually heard it before?

This stuff is important to anyone considering music that’s different and eerily familiar, that which doesn’t disguise influences but reinterprets them. Just like skinny jeans and thick-framed glasses: Music, too, uses fads from days of yore and reimagines them in our Zeitgeist without attribution. But this strange ahistorical Zeitgeist is here and now, like it or not. Were dads actually the original hipsters, or are all these newfangled post-y bands who claim to write black metal really onto something?

For now, a Chinese North Dakaotan (?) band called Ghost Bath has authored what will be the unquintessentially quintessential black metal album of 2015. Their approach is distinctively literal. In a subgenre littered with reinterpret-this and experiment-that, Moonlover groin-kicks the legitimacy of trying something new just for the sake of trying something new. The album’s first full track (and only single), “Golden Number,” is microcosmic in this regard. It’s a cute snapshot of what follows: concrete and steel walls of blackened noise behind the deftest wailing ever heard in metal, interluded and/or suffixed with enough heartfelt piano and guitar melodies to pack a cathedral.

But Moonlover really starts to bleed by “Happyhouse”; with the single, this is Moonlover‘s path through the very scary Forest Of Black Metal Tropes. Instead of bringing a chainsaw (or getting totally lost), Ghost Bath dons a pair of ballet shoes. The planning that’s obvious from the try-harder bands is invisible on Moonlover, and in its place is effortlessness and spontaneous precision which lets us traverse unscathed. “Look, but don’t touch,” a sign says.

“Beneath The Shade Tree” is a hump, and a quieter track which to most will be the weakest on Moonlover. In fact, as a bridge between two halves, it is the most supportive to their structure; a gentle example of the album’s simplicity and sensitivity. The latter buds during both parts of “The Silver Flower,” the signature at the bottom of a report on Random Orgasm Syndrome. “Death And The Maiden” is culmination: it synchronizes denouement and coda as a way to attack the parts of our brains which feel those moments out, toying with our idea of narrative and with our desire for resolution. The juxtaposition of “up” chords with monstrous blastbeats, those bellowing howls, the feelings of verloren, and that subtle post-production — they all feel purposely arranged and extra virgin.

Moonlover is a blind dive into a black chasm whose bottom is made of big, cushy teddy bears. It is a real synthesis — not of disparate noises, but of their intensities. Note two types of attention to detail: the kind required to repair a Rolex, and the kind required to sculpt David. Listening to Moonlover is as fascinating as studying the inner workings of a fine watch, or as interesting as staring at a perfectly sculpted naked dude, whichever way you see things.

Ghost Bath’s Moonlover releases on March 13 via Northern Silence. Pre-order and listen here.

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