Ghost Bath – Starmourner

There’s no point starting anywhere else. If you can’t get past the vocals, this is not the album for you. And stating that is not just about addressing the elephant, or rather addressing the yelps of the goat being castrated in the room, it’s worth highlighting as it is achingly and obviously Ghost Bath’s “thing”. They don’t have vocals (or lyrics, even) in a traditional sense. They have the anguished yelps and howls of frontman Nameless. And if you can’t deal with that, no amount of all-consuming ambient meanderings, lush Cascadian post-blackened swathes, progressive indulgences or melodic expositions that occur under, over and around the wails is going to make this an album you can get on with.

For the music is, for the most part, excellent; ‘Angelic’ is stripped down, bare, emotive Alcest-ian serenity. ‘Celestial’ is fantastic, moving from glacial tremolo-picking that envelops and draws you in, in the way that the best of Metals’ shoegaze/post-Rock inspired artists do, before leaving you on the opposite shore with a glitched piano coda. Elsewhere, ‘Luminescence’ sets off, carrying us along with its tumbling melodic lead line, very reminiscent of the excellent Astronoid (though with less manic drumming). But here comes the (ir)regular, extreme juxtaposition once again, with Nameless sounding like someone imitating a squalling baby in a busy coffee shop.

‘Ethereal’ marries post and progressive rock, vocals once again consciously shattering the atmosphere, though where Varg Vikernes ‘Feeble Screams From Forests Unknown’ projected a feeling of ultimate isolation and frustration, here the same emotions aren’t conveyed. But if the statement is deliberate disruption, it works, though the further Ghost Bath get away from their Black Metal roots, and Starmourner (Nuclear Blast), the bands third full-length along their path, in the main is very clearly a move away from Black Metal, the more the vocals become a stubborn, pig-headed defiant throwback that, from a purist standpoint, often acts to the detriment of the flow of the music.

Starmourner is an album of jarring contrast. Of exuberant, melodious passages. Of affirmative, progressive music led by glassy guitar lines. Of positive atmospheres imbibed. And of harsh, aural snaps of reality, piercing the tranquillity and pulling you back, never allowing you to be fully comfortable. It’s an uncompromising artistic statement in that regard, even if you are left wishing they’d play the game a little more, and there really is a lot to take from this album. But it all depends on just how much castrated goat bleat you can take…